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Memory Foam Mattress Causing Back Pain? Here’s What You Can Do

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 12 minLast updated on February 10, 2021

Waking up with an “Ouch!” isn’t the perfect morning we usually envision.

But the reality often hits us hard (and I mean, it hits us with back pain).

So, what should you do when your memory foam mattress is causing back pain? And how do you know for sure your bed is the enemy? That’s what we are going to learn today. Let’s dive right in!

What Can Cause Back Pain Aside from Your Memory Foam Mattress

Now, the first piece of advice I want to share with you is:

Don’t rush to conclusions. Don’t be in a hurry to ditch your mattress and invest in a new one if you wake up with back pain. The thing is, it can be caused by many other factors. So, before you move on to searching for one of the best mattresses for back pain, let’s eliminate other potential issues and make sure that your mattress is the villain here.

So, here are the most common potential causes of back pain:

  • sprains and strains (1), especially if you tend to overwork your back;
  • arthritis and its variations;
  • unhealthy spine curvatures (such as scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis) (2);
  • injuries (even from simply playing sports);
  • spinal nerve compression or inflammation;
  • herniated or ruptured discs;
  • osteoporosis (3), spinal stenosis, sciatica (4);
  • infection (5);
  • poor posture (6), which is often common in those people who spend most of their day sitting (for work or any other reasons).

What Can Cause Back Pain Aside from Your Memory Foam Mattress

Source:
https://paindoctor.com/resources/chronic-pain-statistics/

Naturally, it would be safer for you to rule out all of these potential issues by consulting with your doctor. If the check-up shows that your back is more or less healthy, then you can blame your memory foam mattress for causing back pain with a clear conscience.

A quick note: while your back might be healthy (cheers to that!), the mattress may not be the issue anyway. Why? Because your pillow can also cause back pain. If your pillow is not suited for your body type and preferred sleeping position, it would cause your spine to fall into misalignment, which would put too much pressure and strain on certain parts of your back (which can make you go “Ouch!” in the morning). For instance, if your pillow is too high, it will make your neck and the top section of your spine elevate. If the pillow is too thin, your head will tilt, causing strain on the cervical part of the spine. Whatever the case is, a good pillow is crucial for proper spinal alignment and to keep your back neutral (and pain-free) all through the night. 

Also Read: How to Find the Best Mattress for Hip Bursitis and 5 mattress recommendations

How to Know When It’s Your Memory Foam Mattress to Blame

If you don’t want (or can’t) consult with your doctor about the previously mentioned issues, take a look at the main signs your memory foam mattress could be  causing your back pain (just to make sure we are right):

  • your pain gets worse in the morning (or appears only after you wake up and dissipates during the day);
  • you don’t feel comfortable enough during the night no matter how many times you switch positions;
  • you find it hard to fall asleep;
  • you wake up multiple times during the night due to discomfort.

Reasons Why Your Memory Foam Mattress Is Causing Back Pain

If you want to help your back (and start sleeping better), you need to deal with your mattress and eliminate the core of the problem. 

Once you learn exactly how your mattress is affecting your back, you will know which solution would help you improve the situation.

Therefore, let’s take a look at the main reasons why your memory foam mattress might be causing back pain:

  • It’s too soft for you. Even if you choose the best memory foam mattress that feels like a cloud, it might still make you wake up with pain if it’s way too plush. You see, an overly soft mattress isn’t able to support your spine in a neutral position. Instead, it allows the heavier body parts to sink deeper, which creates an unhealthy curve in the back, puts a lot of strain on  certain parts, and causes pain.
  • It’s too firm. Again, if your mattress is too stiff, it can’t maintain the natural curve of the spine (unless you sleep on your stomach, which isn’t the healthiest sleeping position on its own). An overly firm mattress would simply make the heavier parts of your body crush into the surface instead of gently hugging them, which typically causes misalignment. 
  • It’s brand new. When you’re not used to the foam mattress, you can wake up with back pain (7). That’s why most memory foam mattresses require a break-in period. During that time, the material softens a little and adapts to your body shape to deliver a balanced combination of support and cushioning.
  • It’s too old. With time, memory foam mattresses lose their supportive properties, develop body indentations, sag, or become lumpy. Whatever the case is, an old mattress simply can’t be comfortable. Additionally, in such a condition, a memory foam mattress can’t deliver the needed support for the spine, which may lead to an awkward, unhealthy sleeping posture and pain.
  • It’s sitting on the wrong base. For example, if the base slats are too far apart for your mattress, it might not deliver the needed level of support. Memory foam can simply push through the gaps between the slats. As a result, you won’t be able to enjoy uniform support and proper spinal alignment during sleep (and as we already know, back pain has everything to do with the posture).
  • It’s super cheap. Cheap mattresses typically use low-density foam that often cannot show the expected performance in terms of support. Such mattresses also tend to develop sags and lumps much faster than their more expensive “brothers.” Additionally, a super cheap mattress can never be 100% safe, as most of them are made with low-cost, toxic foams.

Reasons Why Your Memory Foam Mattress Is Causing Back Pain

Source:
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Anterior-posterior-and-lateral-views-of-the-spine_fig1_254899588

Also Read: Best Chiropractor Recommended Mattresses

Possible Solutions

Here’s the deal:

Even if your memory foam mattress gives you pain (literal and headaches about what to do with it), it’s not the end of the world.

There are many things you can try to start feeling and sleeping better. Here are the ones I believe would be the most effective:

  • Make your mattress firmer. If you sleep on an overly plush mattress, you can try to make it firmer and see how your back reacts. For example, add a firm topper. You can get high-density memory foam or a latex one to adjust the feel of your mattress. You can also put a piece of plywood underneath your mattresses to give it firmer support. If your mattress is flippable, you can try that too. Chances are, the other side is firmer as it didn’t experience as much compression. And since memory foam is sensitive to temperature, you can use your thermostat on a cooler setting to make the mattress slightly firmer. 
  • Make your mattress softer. Again, a topper is probably the easiest solution in this case. You can add plush foam, soft latex, down, wool, and so on (the options are almost endless). Cranking your thermostat up might help too, as foam becomes softer in higher temperatures. 
  • Change your sleeping position. Often, a mattress might be too firm or soft only when you are in a specific position. For example, if you are a side sleeper and your bed seems too stiff, try to sleep on your back. If you prefer lying on your stomach or back and experience too much sinkage because your mattress is too plush, try to sleep on your side. See how your body reacts and how these little changes make you (and your back) feel in the morning. Perhaps you won’t even have to change your mattress after all. 
  • Get a new mattress. The easiest (and probably the wisest) solution is to get a new mattress, especially if yours is too old, saggy, and unsupportive. You can find plenty of great options among the non-memory foam mattresses if you want a different feel or get a new foam model that would be suited for your body type and would meet your comfort requirements. Also, if you are worried about potential off-gassing and want to make sure that your memory foam mattress is safe, look for such certifications and GreenGuard, CertiPur-US, OEKO-TEX Standard, etc. Plus, there are plenty of good memory foam mattresses without fiberglass.
  • Get a new mattress base. If the distance between the slats is more than 3 inches, chances are your base simply doesn’t work for your mattress and makes it lose its supportive properties. You can try putting the mattress on the floor for a few nights and see how your back feels. In most cases, this will give you more support. And you will know that the fault was in the mattress base.
  • Give it some time. If your memory foam mattress is brand new, it probably requires a break-in period. You can speed the process up a little by rolling or walking on your mattress for a few minutes every day (8). Cranking the thermostat up might help too. Generally, give it some time before you decide to return your mattress. Perhaps it just needs to “loosen up” a little and adapt to your body.
  • Work on your posture. Yes, your mattress might be the one to blame, but poor posture can only contribute to back pain by putting too much tension on certain parts of the spine or causing back strain. By improving your posture, you are very likely to alleviate the pain (9), maybe even before you switch to a different mattress. You can do body stretching, exercise regularly (to strengthen back muscles), wear comfortable shoes, invest in an ergonomic office chair if your work involves a lot of sitting, and so on. What I’m saying is: take care of your back, not only during the night.
  • Use extra pillows. If you feel like your mattress can’t guarantee proper support, you might try compensating that with some pillows. I do not guarantee that this method will save the day because it simply might not be enough if your mattress has lost its properties. But! It can be a temporary measure that might help you feel more comfortable (and relieve pain, hopefully) while you are waiting for your new mattress to arrive. So, grab a few extra pillows and place them strategically. If you are a back sleeper, you can add a round pillow (or even a rolled towel) under your knees. If you prefer lying on one side, you can place a pillow between your knees to aid proper hip and spine alignment. And stomach sleepers can place a thin pillow under their abdomen to prevent spine curvature during sleep.

Also Read: 5 Best Mattresses for Back Pain based on consumer ratings, reports and personal experience

Conclusion

It is an unpleasant surprise when your mattress turns into a traitor and makes you suffer from back pain.

However, there are multiple solutions to the issue, and I’m sure one of them will help you keep your back healthy and pain-free. Just make sure that your mattress is the one to blame by talking to your doctor and explaining your back issues.

Now, how about you? How long have you been using your current memory foam mattress? And how often do you wake up with back pain? Let us know in the comments!

References:

  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (April 27, 2020). Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet 
  2. WebMD (August 16, 2019). Types of Spine Curvature Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/types-of-spine-curvature-disorders#1
  3. Félix Tomé-Bermejo, Angel R. Piñera, and Luis Alvarez (November 2017). Osteoporosis and the Management of Spinal Degenerative Disease (II). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5736884/
  4. Caroline Gillott (December 15, 2017). Sciatica: What you need to know. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7619#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
  5. Jonathan Cluett (October 23, 2020). Causes of Back Pain and Treatment Options. Retrieved from https://www.verywellhealth.com/common-causes-of-back-pain-diagnosis-and-treatment-2548504 
  6. Vijay Vad (January 09, 2020). Is Poor Posture Causing Your Back Pain? Retrieved from https://www.spine-health.com/blog/poor-posture-causing-your-back-pain
  7. P. A. Koul, M. H. Bhat, A. A. Lone, A. N. Koul, A. Wahid (September 2000). The foam mattress-back syndrome. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11198791/ 
  8. Lindsay Boyers (September 03, 2020). How to break in a new mattress: What to do and how long it takes. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/health/how-to-break-in-your-new-mattress-what-to-do-and-how-long-it-takes/
  9. Harvard Health Publishing (April 18, 2020). 4 ways to turn good posture into less back pain. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/4-ways-to-turn-good-posture-into-less-back-pain

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