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How to Find the Best Mattress for Back Pain

While it all comes down to personal preference, you'll stand up straighter and sleep more soundly with this expert advice for upgrading to the perfect bed.

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man sleeping bedbaranq/Shutterstock

Are you waking up on the wrong side of the bed?

If the first thing you utter as you roll out of bed each morning is, “Oh, my aching back,” then you’re probably starting to wonder if your mattress is to blame. It very well could be. “Aside from injury and general posture, it seems like your back and spine health would be greatly affected by the surface you sleep upon,” says Michael J. Breus, PhD, aka The Sleep Doctor. “Your mattress is a source of support while asleep.”

According to the Sleep Help Institute, a mattress that helps to keep the spine aligned and that relieves the body’s biggest pressure points is much more likely to prevent or alleviate back pain. For many, this is most evident around pressure points—most often the hips and shoulders, which require varying amounts of cushioning when laying down in order to support optimal spinal alignment. In short, the right mattress can help reduce stiffness and pain by supporting the natural curvature of the spine. Consider this mattress lifter for a back-saving bed-making experience, too. If you woke up with back pain, be sure to check out the 10 things you must do next.

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How many rounds of 40 winks has your mattress seen?

Mattresses have a shelf-life of seven to ten years—but that’s truly just a rough estimate. “If your mattress is sagging like a taco, and you’re a stomach sleeper, then it will put more pressure on your lower back and cause continued strain in that area,” says Dr. Breus. “If you wake up from sleep more than three times a week feeling stiff and sore, and it was not due to a big workout, then it’s probably the bed.”

Additional factors can also shorten the life of your mattress, including too much weight, a low-quality product, kids jumping on it, and failing to rotate it regularly. Not sure where yours stands? Don’t miss these 10 signs it’s time for a new mattress.

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Where did you last sleep like a baby?

Think back for a moment, to a time when you last woke up without back pain. Was it in a hotel room on vacation? The guest bedroom when your spouse was ill and you wanted to escape the germs? Look to these experiences as clues to help you understand what type of mattress may work better for you. Try to recall what was different about these comfortable mattresses that left you pain-free—were they more or less firm? More supportive? It may become clear that your current mattress needs replacing, and now you have a better idea of the best mattress for back pain. If you’re in the mood to do some research on the road, here are 10 hotels with the most comfortable beds in the world.

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couple sleeping bedfizkes/Shutterstock

Are you losing sleep over options?

If you’ve visited a mattress store recently or done a little window shopping online, you’ve no doubt been overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available: memory foam, pillow top, traditional coils/springs, gel, latex, and various combinations (hybrids) of these material types. Then, of course, there’s the level of hardness within each materials category (firm, medium, soft) and also the support level (how it keeps your spine aligned) to also take into consideration.

Finally, the position in which you sleep will also factor into the equation, says Dr. Breus. So, whether you sleep on your side, stomach or back will also affect your decision. Though the best mattress for back pain is the one that feels best to you, this list of the best mattress for every kind of sleeper is a good place to start.

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woman sleeping bedCozine/Shutterstock

Do the materials matter?

With so many more options on the market these days, don’t get too hung up on which material you’ve heard is better. “It’s really about personal preference,” says Dr. Breus. “For example, if you sleep hot, you probably want to steer clear of memory foam. But if you have significant back issues, the nice part about memory foam is that it helps keep the body in one place, so that way the spine is stabilized.” The Mlily Harmony mattress, for instance, offers the best of both worlds, because the gel-infused memory foam helps create cooler sleep.

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couple sleeping bedkudla/Shutterstock

Choosing the right foundation

It may not always be just about the best mattress for back pain—but the best foundation for your mattress. You may think the box spring or base of your bed is simply there to hold it up off the ground—but these foundational pieces can serve an important function, too. “One thing that many people with back pain like, are adjustable bases,” says Dr. Breus. “These are bed frames that can adjust the height and angle of the bed itself for the sleeper. These turn out to in some cases be more critical than the mattress.”

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couple sleeping

Take a showroom test drive, like Goldilocks

If you’re shopping at a traditional retail outlet, Dr. Breus suggests trying out various beds for at least 15 minutes in your starting sleep position to see how it feels. “In most cases, a new mattress will be much more supportive than an older one, so just the fact that its new will be helpful,” he says.

Don’t be shy about spending plenty of time in the showroom, moving around from bed to bed and getting into your comfy sleep position to determine the best mattress for back pain. The salesperson should begin asking questions that help you find the right place to start, then based on your feedback he or she can suggest which bed to try next.

Of course, 15 minutes hardly equates to how your body will feel after a full night’s sleep (or a full night’s tossing and turning). “You’ll need to sleep on the surface for a week or more before you can really tell if the mattress is a good fit,” says Dr. Breus. That’s why you’ll want to look for brands that offer an in-home trial period to ensure you’ve made the right choice.

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Take some time to sleep on it—at home

With so many mattress companies skipping the overhead of showrooms in favor of online-only platforms, you may be worried you’ll make the wrong choice—after all, think about how hard it is to buy a simple pair of shoes or jeans online! Thankfully, most online mattress retailers have taken the guesswork out of your purchasing process.

For instance, Tuft & Needle provides a 100-night trial—and if you decide for any reason that you aren’t satisfied, you’ll receive a full refund. According to Dr. Breus, 30 days will tell you everything you need to know.

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Choosing the right pillow for your sleep position

If you’ve found what appears to be the best mattress for back pain, but still wake up with occasional aches, first rule out these eight signs your back pain is actually an emergency. Then, consider exploring new pillow options or different sleep positions.

“Sleeping on your back is actually the best position for your back,” says Dr. Breus. If this isn’t immediately comfortable, The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) suggests taking the pressure off your spine by placing a pillow under your knees. It can take some time to train yourself to sleep in a new position, and consistency is key.

If you’re a devout stomach sleeper, choose the thinnest pillow you can find to keep your spine as straight as possible and minimize stress on the lower back. And, if you’re a side sleeper, the NSF suggests choosing a pillow that will support your head, neck, and ear as well as your shoulder comfortably—and placing a pillow between your knees or thighs may help maintain spinal alignment. These luxurious pillows can help you to get the best night’s sleep ever.

Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Jill Schildhouse
As an editor-at-large for Reader's Digest, Jill Schildhouse is an expert in health and wellness, beauty, consumer products and product reviews, travel and personal finance. She has spent the last 20 years as an award-winning lifestyle writer and editor for a variety of national print and digital publications.