Is Your Mattress Causing You Back Pain?

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There are a lot of different reasons that people experience back pain. Figuring out where your discomfort is coming from can be difficult, especially if you lead an active or challenging life. However, the mattress you go to sleep on at night can play a big part in how you feel in the morning. In other words, it’s important to find out whether your bed is to blame for your back soreness or not.

10 Signs Your Mattress is Causing You Back Pain

You may be in love with your bed, but that doesn’t mean it’s ideal for you. If you notice these signs on a regular basis, it may be time to replace your mattress.

1. You Wake Up Frequently During the Night

Waking up during the night is relatively common. In fact, 35 percent of people[1] report waking up during the night at least a few times a week. If you are waking up multiple times per night, though, and it is affecting how rested you feel, it is a problem. 

This can be due to many reasons, including insomnia, stress, or just getting older. However, it also might be something simpler to fix: your mattress. If you are waking up with back pain throughout the night, it’s a good indicator that you might need to change your mattress.

2. You Can’t Get Comfortable

If you’re unable to get comfortable throughout the night, your bed might be at fault. For example, if you’ve tried sleeping on your back and that doesn’t feel right, it might be a sign your mattress isn’t supportive enough and is causing your hips and back to curve downward. Additionally, if the bed is too soft, you may feel “stuck” in the mattress rather than “on top” of it, which can be uncomfortable for some and could lead to poor spine alignment.

3. Increased Pressure On Your Body

If you sleep on your side and you wake up feeling pain in your shoulders or hips, it might be because your mattress is too firm and putting too much pressure on your body. Side sleepers are usually advised to use a slightly softer mattress, especially one that contours and supports the body’s curves like a memory foam bed, to take the pressure off of the shoulders and hips. You can also try putting a pillow in between your knees while you sleep on your side or underneath your knees if you sleep on your back in order to relieve some pressure. 

However, if your mattress is just too firm, you’ll ultimately need to get a new one or a mattress topper that helps alleviate some of the pressure on your joints and back. 

4. You Sink Too Much

Likewise, if you sleep on your stomach or back, you might be putting too much pressure on your spine if your mattress is too soft and you sink right in. Remember, you want to keep your spine in neutral alignment, no matter what position you’re sleeping in. That means, your spine should be as straight as it is when you are standing. If you have a mattress where you sink too far in, your spine will be out of alignment and cause you back pain. 

5. Temporary Morning Back Pain

If you deal with back pain, you’ve probably noticed that it can be more intense or obvious in the morning. This is usually because during the night while you’re sleeping, your body isn’t moving and there is decreased blood flow to the area. This combination of stiffness for a long period of time and decreased blood flow can lead to back pain upon waking up that usually subsides once you start moving around again. 

If you wake up every day with morning back pain that goes away after you move around and doesn’t come back throughout the day, chances are, it’s something about the way you’re sleeping.

6. Your Mattress is Too Firm or Too Soft

Studies[2] show that sleeping on a medium-firm mattress is the Goldilocks of beds – it’s not too soft, it’s not too firm, it’s just right. If your mattress is too firm or too soft, you’ll likely feel it in your back, shoulders, or hips the next day. 

If your mattress is too firm, you won’t get enough cushioned support against your pressure points, and if it is too soft, it may not provide enough support to keep your spine in a healthy, neutral alignment.

7. Your Bed is Too Old

According to a 2009 study[3], switching out mattresses older than nine years for newer ones can reduce back pain, minimize stress, and improve sleep quality. In fact, we recommend changing out your mattress about every 5 to 7 years, depending on what type of mattress you have. If your mattress is older than this and no longer performs as well, it might be time to replace your mattress.

Illustration of a Woman Sleeping on an Old Bad Mattress

8. Your Mattress Sags in Certain Areas

Older or even poor-quality mattresses tend to sag in certain areas, especially right down the middle. This is because with repeated use every night, your body weight softens and compacts the material of your mattress, creating an indentation in the most-used area of the mattress. For most people, this is going to be somewhere in the middle, and unfortunately, this means that you’ll start to sink or roll into this spot each night. Your back won’t get the support it needs once your mattress is sagging, so you’ll either need to replace it or try adding support to it.

9. The Mattress is Poor-Quality

We understand that budget is an important consideration when buying a mattress, but if you spent less than 500 dollars on your Queen sized bed, it might indicate poor quality. We aren’t saying you need to spend thousands of dollars on a mattress for it to be of high quality, but sticking to something around 1,000 dollars for a Queen sized bed tends to be a good rule of thumb, giving you good quality for the price. 

Keep in mind different materials are also going to be more or less supportive. For example, innerspring and polyfoam mattresses will be the least expensive, but they’re also not going to provide you with as much enhanced support or pressure relief as hybrid, latex, or memory foam mattresses.

10. You Sleep on Your Stomach

Stomach sleeping is often considered the worst sleeping position because it puts pressure on your lower back, forces you to turn your neck, and it’s not recommended for pregnant sleepers.

If you can’t comfortably sleep in any other position, though, there are some ways you can make stomach sleeping a little easier on your back and body. These tips include using a flat pillow, placing a pillow underneath your hips to keep them lifted, and keeping the legs lying flat against the mattress.

lady sleeping on her stomach in the skydiver position

What Makes a Mattress Good for Your Back?

Some mattresses are better and some are worse for your back pain. A bed’s compatibility with navigating back pain comes down to features like firmness, material, pressure relief, support, body weight, and your preferred sleeping position. That's why we recommend reading our best mattress for back pain guide

  • Firmness – Firmness reflects how soft or hard a mattress feels when you lie on it. The ideal mattress for your back is medium-firm. A mattress that is too soft or too firm will either cause you to sink too far into the mattress or not provide enough cushioning beneath you. Do note, this is somewhat subjective, depending on your sleeping position and weight. 
  • Material Quality – There are several different mattress materials, all varying in quality, price, and durability. If you decided to save some money by buying a lower-quality mattress, you might now be noticing some premature sagging, which could impact back pain. High-quality latex, hybrid, and memory foam mattresses will last longer and shouldn’t sag as early as other mattresses. So, even though these higher-quality beds may cost more upfront, you won’t have to replace them as quickly and they should be better for your back, giving you a better return on your investment. 
  • Pressure Relief – If you have back pain, one of the most important things to consider in a mattress is the amount of pressure relief it provides. An improper mattress will create extra pushback on specific areas of your body, which can exacerbate pressure points. Therefore, it’s important to make sure you’re not sleeping on a bed that places too much pressure on your spine or other major joints. 
  • Support – Support refers to your spine’s alignment while you’re sleeping. If your mattress is properly supporting you, your spine will remain in neutral alignment through the night, no matter what position you sleep in. Keep in mind, this is different from firmness. You can have a soft mattress that is still supportive (keeps your spine in alignment), and you can have a firm mattress that isn’t supportive. This depends greatly on your body weight. Specifically for those with back pain, zoned support can be especially helpful. This is when the bed has added pressure relief and support in certain areas, like the center of the bed where most people need more support. Beds with zoned support can have advanced lifting to keep the body well-aligned and prevent the hips and lower back from sinking in too deeply.
  • Body Weight – The firmness of your mattress should depend on your body weight and sleep position. For body weight, it is a general rule that heavier sleepers should choose firmer mattresses and lighter sleepers should choose slightly softer mattresses. Generally, a medium-firm mattress will suit most people, but that same mattress might feel different to a very heavy person versus a very light person. The ideal mattress will feel supportive of your weight and curves and not be so firm that it puts pressure on your joints or spine. 
  • Sleep Position – Even if you have a supportive and comfortable mattress, sleeping in the wrong position can still hurt your back. We advise sleeping on your back, perhaps with a pillow beneath your knees. If that doesn’t work, sleep on your side with your legs long and a pillow between your knees. This should help alleviate back pain. 

Most sleeping positions work well with a medium-firm mattress, though side sleepers
might want something slightly softer than back or stomach sleepers, in order to keep the
spine in proper alignment.

Illustration Showing Man Sleeping in a Different Positions During the Night

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if my mattress is causing my back pain?

Back pain is common, especially as we get older, so how do you know if it’s your mattress causing the pain, or something else? There are some clues.

If you wake up with back pain and then it fades throughout the day, it might be your mattress. Struggling to get comfortable or waking up throughout the night are also signs a mattress may be causing back pain. If your mattress is older and is sagging in places, especially in the middle or on the edges, this could result in back pain. Not getting enough support or pressure relief are also potential indicators that your back pain is caused by your mattress.

How can I stop my mattress from hurting my back?

If you have the ability, you can buy a new mattress that is better suited for your back. We recommend a medium-firm mattress that is made from high-quality materials like memory foam, latex, or a hybrid, which is a combination of foam and innerspring.

If it’s not the time for a new mattress, there are other ways you can prevent your current mattress from hurting your back. If your mattress is too soft, you can: flip the mattress over (if it is a flippable mattress), get a firmer mattress topper, replace the box spring or platform or even place a board under your mattress. You can move the mattress to the floor to add support and be sure to air the mattress out as a damp mattress could feel too squishy or soft.

If your mattress is too firm, you can soften it up by stepping on it, buying a softer mattress topper, rotating or flipping the mattress, making your room warmer during the day (if it is a memory foam mattress), or you can add some pillows for support and contouring.

What are the signs of a bad mattress?

If you purchased a Queen-sized mattress (or larger) for less than 500 dollars or if your mattress didn’t come with any warranty or trial period, it might be a sign that your mattress is lower quality and won’t be supportive enough for your back. Of course, the most expensive mattresses won’t necessarily be the best ones, but we recommend sticking to around 1,000 for a Queen-sized mattress to ensure high quality, and look out for a warranty period of at least 10 years.

Also, keep in mind, not every mattress is suited for every body type and sleep position. A heavier person will likely feel more supported on a firmer mattress, as will those who sleep on their backs and stomachs. A lighter person will likely feel just as supported with a slightly softer mattress, as will those who sleep on their sides. This doesn’t make one type of mattress better or worse; it just means that different bodies will feel more supported by different mattresses.

Conclusion

Back pain is an all-too-common ailment for people caused by a variety of reasons. There’s the added stress of daily life, the long commutes sitting in a car, bus, or train, the hours spent working in front of computers, and of course, a bad mattress won’t do your back any favors.

We can’t advise you on ditching your desk job, but we can at least help you minimize the back pain caused by your mattress. If you are experiencing any of the signs covered above, the issue might be your mattress.

Luckily there are things you can do, such as changing your sleeping position, adding pillows for support, investing in a mattress topper or pad, or buying a new mattress altogether. The important thing is keeping your spine in neutral alignment to mitigate and heal your back pain.

Sources:

Natalie G.
Natalie G.
Writer

Natalie is a content writer for Sleep Advisor with a deep passion for all things health and a fascination with the mysterious activity that is sleep. Outside of writing about sleep, she is a bestselling author, improviser, and creative writing teacher based out of Austin.

When she's doing none of these things, you will most likely find her outdoors, at the gym, or... asleep.

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