By Jo Joiner

If you have trouble with your lumbar region, you’re in good company. Lower back pain is one of the most common chronic health problems in New Zealand. Around 10% of the population have trouble with lower back pain.[1]

For many people with ongoing lower back issues, finding the right sort of mattress is part of the management plan. Until recently, experts used to recommend a firm mattress for people with lower back problems. But that isn’t necessarily the best way to go these days. Keep reading to find out how a mattress should support your body.

The best mattresses for back pain keep your spine aligned

Good posture is important when you’re standing. It’s just as important when you’re lying down, especially if you have a dodgy lower back. If you’re lying on your side, your spine should look straight when viewed from the back. The same applies if you’re lying on your back. To achieve this, you need a mattress that will allow the widest parts of your body (shoulders and hips) to sink into the surface just enough. If you choose a very firm mattress, the mattress won’t compress enough to cushion your hips and shoulders. If you choose a soft (plush) mattress, it could compress too much and create the ‘banana spine’ effect.

In a perfect world, this is how your mattress should support you. Notice how the spine stays in a straight line, whether you’re on your side or your back.

Mattress performance is affected by age

Research conducted by Oklahoma State University involved giving participants a new bed for a month.[2] Almost everyone started sleeping better, whether or not they had a bad back. When researchers looked into reasons for this, they found that the average age of participants’ mattresses was nearly 10 years. As a result, they concluded that sleep quality depends on regular replacement of mattresses. However, they also discovered that people allocated the cheapest beds reported more back pain. The take-away from this is: getting a new mattress is the quickest way to get a better night’s sleep, but don’t go too cheap when you’re choosing.

Strategic ‘knee pillows’ can help

Even when you select the best bed for lower back pain, your spine could still require some extra assistance to avoid sideways twisting. That’s where a knee pillow comes in handy. Using a small pillow between your knees when you’re sleeping on your side helps to stop your top leg from flopping over and twisting your lower back. It also promotes proper spinal alignment. You can buy purpose-built knee pillows or simply use a small cushion with a washable cover.

The size of your mattress matters

When you share a bed with another person, getting comfortable and sleeping well depends on minimum disruption. You both need enough space to sleep in your preferred position and turn over without disturbing each other. If you have a large-enough bedroom, moving to a king size or super king could improve your sleeping quality immensely. Not only are you getting a new mattress, which is the first step to a better night’s sleep, you’re also getting extra space and less disruption.

Pocket spring mattresses are the gold standard

Another thing to look for when you’re buying a new mattress is the spring system. Cheaper innerspring mattresses are made with continuous spring systems, where the coils are connected to each other. When you share a bed, this type of spring system causes ‘partner disturbance’ – when one person rolls over, the other person gets shaken awake. The best type of innerspring mattress to buy is one made with pocket springs, which aren’t inter-connected. Pocket spring mattresses offer better cushioning, no roll-together and less partner disturbance.

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