At least once on a week as a Toronto chiropractor, I’ll have a conversation with a patient about what the best mattress is for back pain relief.
Here’s my take on it.
First off, what’s the purpose of a good mattress?
Your mattress should be comfortable enough for your to sleep on it restfully for 7-8 hours per night (critical for back pain relief and for proper healing and repair to take place in your body), and should help your body to recover from the physical stress, mostly compression, that takes place during your day.
Your mattress should be firm enough to not sag excessively, so your whole spine doesn’t round into a type of “fetal position”, or get trapped in a giant rut you can barely climb out of. We’ve all slept a night or two on one of those mattresses, not fun, and really not good for your spine or your sleep.
However, the mattress should not be so hard that it doesn’t absorb any of the pressure of your body on it (like sleeping on hard ground while camping), which of course is one of the main purposes of a mattress.
The dominant issue for most of us is that we are in a flexed posture for most of the day. If you sit at a desk for even an hour or two a day (or for many of us, considerably longer), even if you try to maintain good posture, your head gradually starts migrating forward, your pelvis and low back start rounding, and you are hunched forward.
This is true for anyone who sits, but even if you stand while working, you’re likely doing something in front of you, meaning you’re at least partially flexed forward, looking down.
This is why after sitting hunched and flexed all day, like when driving on a road trip, the first inclination of most people when they get out of the car is to stretch their back backwards, into EXTENSION. It feels good, after being hunched or flexed for hours, to do the opposite, to put your spine into extension.
Doing this for a couple of seconds or minutes after sitting is good, but it’s also good to do this gradually, for hours and hours, while you’re sleeping. This helps to undo some of that chronic flexion stress and compression on your spine.
Along with keeping you comfortable at night for back pain relief, this is the central purpose of your mattress, to counteract all the gravitational compression during the day, and all the abnormal flexion stress.
So how do you apply this to choosing the best mattress for back pain relief in Toronto?
If you’re flexed all day, and compressed, you need to select a mattress which avoids flexion, either keeping you in a relatively neutral posture, or even in slight extension, to counteract all the forward, flexed posture most of us have all day.
Guess what sleeping on a really soft mattress does? It sags under you, and causes your spine to hunch and flex, causing more back pain over time.
So what kind of mattress is best for this?
For the vast majority, a firm mattress will be best for you.
On a scale from 0-10, where zero is like sleeping on a water bed, which has virtually no support and your whole spine caves in (there’s a reason you haven’t seen one of those since the 1980s!), and 10 is like sleeping on concrete, you probably want your mattress to have a firmness of around a 7 or 8.
Not the firmest mattress possible, but definitely not the softest.
Some other tips:
Be careful about pillow tops. I know they are all the rage and feel SO GOOD when you’re lying on them for a minute or two in the store, but thick pillow tops will round your spine (just like a really soft mattress), which is NOT good for it.
Foam versus coil. This really does come down to personal preference. I’m always a little skeptical of the most recent fad (like waterbeds back in the day…), but if it’s relatively firm, you find it comfortable, and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, get it.
As an aside, please avoid getting a mattress that has any other function other than helping you to sleep well. I know, you see those ads for those mattresses that fold up to 45 degrees, and one side can be up and one side flat, but don’t fall for it! Unless you’re in a hospital, or over 90, you don’t need it! What you gain in bells and whistles, you will pay for, and they will sacrifice something else, meaning the quality of the mattress (and your sleep!) will generally be worse.
I’d also recommend purchasing the mattress from a store that has some type of money back policy for a period of time, generally ranging from 30-60 days.
The issue is, it can be SO HARD to tell when you’re in the mattress store, when you only have 2 or 3 minutes to try to assess, without rolling around and moving all over and feeling like a total weirdo, how this mattress will feel for 8 hours a night for the next 10 years!
The last mattress I bought, even after rolling around on it in the store and trying my best to feel what it might be like for 8 hours of sleep, was too soft. I knew it after the second or third night, but was loathe to pack it up and return it to the store. What a pain!
As your typical guy, I procrastinated for as long as I could, about another month, before I finally said enough. I contacted the store, wrapped it up in plastic, and they came and got it.
The second time around, I got a firmer mattress, and have been happy about it ever since.
So if in doubt, bring it back, because you’re going to spend a LOT of time on that mattress over the next 5-10 years. Better a little inconvenience now, than wrecking your spine and sleep for the next decade, and regretting it for the rest of your life.
Any other questions on how to choose a mattress for back pain relief in Toronto, please feel free to contact us. Dr. Byron Mackay