Among the most frequent questions I get asked is: “Should I buy a new mattress for my back pain?” The short answer is a firm no. Of course you should invest your hard earned money in a more useful solution – like treatment from our good selves. Rather than this Blog being just a shameless plug for our services it will more be an attack on the myth out there that buying a new very expensive mattress will make any difference. Saving you money. Whether you choose to invest that money with us is entirely up to you!
Does The Mattress Feel The Pain?
One of my key arguments for thinking that changing your mattress is a waste of money is that it’s not the mattress that ‘feels’. It is you. Structurally a mattress will not change you. Nor will it change how you hold yourself at any other time than when you are laying on it.
The point I’m trying to make here is that you as a person are far more important than any external factors. You are holding and controlling the bits that are causing the pain. Surely it makes sense to change the thing that is carrying the pain?
What Does The Research Say?
Well there really isn’t that much of it. Normally when I write these Blogs I’m spoiled for choice for bits of research to either back up my opinion or present a case against it. In this case there is barely any of it. Which makes any claims that miracle mattresses ‘fix’ your back very dubious indeed.
A review paper which compares multiple studies on the topic concluded that there is an overall ‘lack’ of evidence. Another study even cited a large number of drop outs due to increased pain or less sleep. Oddly enough this one isn’t often quoted by the mattress industry! Then we get to some research which concluded that there was a slight change in symptoms but the difference was negligible.
Finally this paper here confidently states that a medium firmness mattress does in fact reduce pain and limitation. However, scratching beneath the surface this was sponsored by the mattress industry. Scratching even further reveals this was the study with high drop out rates due to increase pain or less sleep. Hmmm. My ethical alarm bell is ringing. How about yours?
And that was everything I could find. Which probably means some anecdotal research from yours truly becomes even more relevant…
What Does Our Experience Say?
In the interests of science we need to consider that I see a skewed view of the population. Those that have pain. Some specifically with low back pain but some just with pain. I am less likely to see people who have invested in a new mattress that has cured all their ills because if such people existed they would’t need to see me. However over the last 14 years as soon as anyone has mentioned they have changed their mattress – whether that is relevant to the condition I am treating them for or not – I have been asking how it affected their symptoms.
Some have said yes it helped. Some have said it made no difference. Some have said it made it worse. Of the people that it helped most of those people, in fact all that I can recall, report the problem is still there, just not as bad. So grudgingly I have to admit that a mattress change MIGHT make a difference to some people. But how do you know if you’re one them? And equally things could get worse.
Why The Difference In Response?
For a start the back pain can come from a plethora of structures. Some close to the symptom area in the back. Others further afield. Referred from muscles higher up. Maybe even as high as the neck. Coincidentally, if the neck is the underlying cause of the low back pain, then a new pillow would probably serve you better than a whole new mattress. But not one of those memory foam ones – don’t get me started on those!
So if you get lucky and that medium firmness mattress happens to support your pain causing structures better you’re a winner and your symptoms will ease. A bit. Maybe. But chances are you’re still walking around during the day with the same body and same movement pattern which caused the underlying issue in the first place.
If you do feel better, what is happening? It could be as the manufacturers want us all to believe that we’re better supported. But I think it’s more that you’re doing something different. Much like if you started walking more or took up Pilates or Yoga. It could be that you are doing something different that your body likes. It could be you do something different that your body doesn’t! As stated in this study here where a change in mattress lead to an increase in back aches. The people in the study were not adapted to a different kind of mattress.
Another reason why it might work for some is that they paid a lot of money for it and they want it to work. Psychology is a huge factor in any condition (see our previous post on What’s is Pain here) and can’t be overstated.
If It Isn’t The Mattress Why Do I Get Pain At Night?
This is a really interesting one. A lot of people report pain at night and immediately assume it’s their mattress as they’re laying on it. But there are so many more causes. One important thing to note is that if you truly can’t get comfortable at night no matter what position you work yourself into, you need to get to your docs to rule out some nasty stuff. This will be rare, but better safe than sorry.
My belief is that most night pain comes from an inability to relax and let go. Your adrenaline has got you through the day and maybe you didn’t feel too much discomfort. But when your body comes to rest and supposedly regenerate overnight it seems to not know how to. This is a sure sign you need to slow life down a notch or six.
What Can I Do Instead Of Changing My Mattress?
Come and see us of course. We’ll work out what going on with you. Use our whizzy techniques to get you feeling better. Suggest a few life tweaks and away you go. Of course you may be reading this a long way from one of our clinics or simply just be short of cash – hopefully not because you spent all of your money on a mattress which has made no difference. So here’s our advice, for free, just for the good of the universe.
- Be Less Stressed – In our experience most long standing back pain is to a greater or lesser extent affected by stress levels. How are yours? See out previous post on some easy life hacks to take the edge off
- Do More Exercise – As tolerated by your dodgy back but focus on what you can do not what you can’t
- Try the advice on our How To Avoid Back Pain page
- Spend your money on getting treatment for your back instead!
What If It IS My Mattress?
Ok so maybe your mattress is a factor. But unless it’s shot to pieces I’m pretty sure it won’t be the main one. But if you clicked this link on promise of finding information about what to look for in a mattress here’s something to go on. There’s a million and one articles along these lines online. Which is why I’ve tried to make this article so different.
The best one is here. It applies common sense to things like Goldilocks syndrome – not too hard or not too soft. Light people need softer mattresses. Try before you buy. Consider zipping up two singles if you sleep with someone who’s a different weight to you. And then article links to a site that claims some mattresses are particularly good for a bad back – and then when you click the link there is no evidence whatsoever!
So there you have my independent take on the mattress industry and how it has very little impact on your back symptoms. Every back complaint we see across our clinics is very individual and multi faceted. I see no way in which a mattress can be a fix all (or even a fix some) solution for back pain. My clinical experience backs this up. It’s simply something that has been spread to help sell more mattresses.
It would be like us treating everyone who came in through the door with back pain exactly the same. No consideration to them as a person, their history, their lifestyle or their emotions. So if you’ve got back problems and you’re reading this. Do something to change it. We’d recommend getting it treated, but then we would. But really, don’t waste your money on a new mattress!