Back and neck pains are some of most common reasons people visit their doctor. Living with these chronic pains every day can affect your quality of life, so it's important to know how to choose a mattress that gives your spine the proper suppor
Sleeping on the wrong mattress can make matters worse. If you often wake up with more aches and pains than when you went to sleep, this means your mattress is not giving you the support you need. This could lead to more serious health problems in the long run.
95% of orthopaedic surgeons believe that a mattress plays a role in helping to manage lower back pain. If you're worried that your current mattress might be doing more harm than good, consider talking to a health professional about orthopaedic mattresses or visit your local mattress store to try out different types of mattresses for yourself.
What causes back pain?
Temporary (acute) back pain may be caused by an accident or over-exertion, and usually lasts no more than six weeks. Back pain that lasts longer than three months is considered chronic and can be an ongoing issue.
Some of the common causes of back pain are:
- Strained muscles or ligaments – heavy lifting and other over-exertion or sudden movements can cause muscles and ligaments around your spine to strain. This is usually temporary, but can be more severe if the muscles are weaker.
- Slipped disc – overuse injuries and trauma can cause discs between the vertebrae in the lower back to protrude or become ruptured (herniated). If this presses against a nerve, it can cause extreme pain.
- Bone or joint disease – conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis can wear down bones over time, which can make back pain more intense.
- Skeletal irregularity – a curved spine (scoliosis) and other abnormal bone development can put more pressure on the nerves, especially from middle age.
It's not always possible to diagnose exactly what's causing back pain, but visiting your doctor for a diagnosis could track down the cause and help you take steps to treat the problem or manage your symptoms.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain may be accompanied by back pain or can be a separate issue. Most of the time, neck pain is temporary and will go away on its own, but a chronic condition is a cause for concern.
Neck pain is often caused by:
- Strained muscles – sitting or sleeping with bad posture puts strain on the neck muscles, such as sitting hunched over a device for hours. Whiplash injuries from motor vehicle collisions and grinding or clenching your teeth can also strain soft tissues in the neck.
- Worn joints – natural ageing and joint conditions such as osteoarthritis can gradually wear down the cartilage between the vertebrae, restricting motion and causing pain.
- Compressed nerves – bulging or herniated discs or bone spurs between vertebrae of the neck can press against nerves, causing extreme pain.
- Disease – if there is no obvious cause for neck pain, it may sometimes be an underlying symptom of a serious health problem.
You should talk to your doctor if you're worried about your symptoms and for advice about how to treat or manage neck pain.
How to choose a mattress for neck and back pain
There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to mattresses. The best mattress to help you manage your neck or back pain will be personal to you – the symptoms you're dealing with, your sleeping posture and your preferences.
A good mattress should offer proper support, spinal alignment and pressure point relief. Here are some questions to ask yourself when shopping for a mattress to help your back.
What's your sleeping posture?
The position you sleep in largely determines whether you're better suited to a hard mattress or a soft mattress, but you need to consider the specific back or neck issues you're dealing with too.
- If you sleep flat on your back, a medium-firm mattress offers the ideal balance of comfort and spinal support.
- If you sleep on your side, a soft mattress allows your shoulders and hips to sink into the mattress, preventing discomfort.
- If you sleep on your stomach, a firm mattress is generally recommended to help keep your neck and spine in alignment.
However, a firm mattress is not advised if you have back problems. Research published in British medical journal The Lancet found that switching from a firm to a medium-firm mattress makes improvement from back pain twice as likely.
If you do sleep on your front, it's recommended instead that you try to adjust your sleeping position. This will also reduce strain on your neck.
What's the best mattress material?
The materials your mattress is made from also have a big impact on the sleeping experience and how much support and relief they can offer. The most common types of mattresses are:
Memory foam mattress
'Memory' foam is so called because this high density foam mattress adjusts to the body's contours over time, minimising movement during sleep. This helps to keep the spine aligned and provides support in all the right places, as well as improving circulation.
Latex foam mattresses also adjust slightly to the sleeper's position, but these are generally less soft if you require firmer support. These high-end mattresses are also very comfortable and provide strong pressure point relief.
A natural latex mattress is a good choice for people with allergies, as the material is hypoallergenic, naturally resistant to bacteria and free from all harmful chemicals. The structure of the material also improves heat transfer to help you stay cool and more comfortable while sleeping.
Traditional spring mattresses are not ideal for neck or back pain, as they don't offer the same level of personalised support and the springs weaken over time.
On the other hand, a premium pocket spring mattress can offer tailored support by using different sizes and strengths of springs for different areas of the body. These are individually operated and supported, with soft comfort layers helping to ensure a pleasant sleep.
These can be a great option for stomach sleepers and combination sleepers who need more support than memory foam alone can provide, but don't want a mattress that's too firm.
What's the best pillow for neck pain?
As when choosing a mattress, you should base your pillow choice partly on your sleeping posture:
- Back sleepers need a pillow that conforms to their head and neck and minimises movement. Pillows may also be placed under the knees to relieve stress on the lower back.
- Side sleepers should choose pillows that are slightly raised at the neck to help keep the spine in alignment.
- Stomach sleepers should use the slimmest pillow possible to avoid raising their head too high, or try to change their sleeping posture. A body pillow can also help to reduce stress on the neck and spine.
Traditional feather pillows conform to the shape of the head and neck to an extent, but they need to be replaced every year. A contoured memory foam pillow offers more tailored support and can last much longer.
If you suffer from chronic neck pains, your doctor may recommend a custom-made pillow. These are more expensive, but are designed by the manufacturer to the exact dimensions of your head, neck and shoulders for the best possible sleep.
If your neck sometimes aches when you're sitting down or on public transport, a horseshoe-shaped cervical (neck) pillow can help to support your neck and keep your head raised if you fall asleep.
Other ways to relieve neck and back pain
As well as replacing your mattress and pillows, you could also reduce pain and discomfort with these preventive home remedies:
- Improve your posture – stop slouching by sitting up straight and keeping your knees and hips level. Place a small pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back if this helps to align your spine.
- Lift properly – avoiding heavy lifting is recommended if you have a back problem. If you do need to lift something though, keep your back straight and let your legs do the work.
- Aerobic exercise – activities such as walking and swimming give your back muscles a gentle workout without over-exerting them. Your doctor or physical therapist may recommend specific exercises to help you.
- Lose weight – being overweight increases the stress on your back.
- Heat therapy – applying a warm or cold compress can help to soothe aching muscles and reduce swelling.
- Get a good night's sleep – a disturbed sleep can make back and neck pain feel worse and put your health and wellbeing at risk. Upgrade your mattress today to enjoy a more restful and healthy sleep.
Tailored sleep solutions
DeRUCCI's designers work with some of the world's leading sleep health experts to design bedding that offers a personalised sleep experience for every customer.
Normand, M. C., Descarreaux, M., Poulin, C., Richer, N., Mailhot, D., Black, P., & Dugas, C. (2005). Biomechanical effects of a lumbar support in a mattress. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 49(2), 96-101.
Kovacs, F. M., Abraira, V., Peña, A., Martín-Rodríguez, J. G., Sánchez-Vera, M. & Ferrer, E. (2003) Effect of firmness of mattress on chronic non-specific low-back pain: randomised, double-blind, controlled, multicentre trial. The Lancet, Vol. 362, Issue 9396, 1599-1604.
This information is not to be considered as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose, prescribe, treat, or cure any medical condition. For further advice, you should speak to an appropriately qualified health practitioner.