Why your mattress may be causing your back pain – and what to do about it, according to sleep experts

Your spine alignment is just as important as your sleeping habits – here's why you need a mattress that can support both

bedroom with bedside table lamps and led reading lights
(Image credit: K&H Design)

When shopping for a mattress, it is likely that sleep quality is at the top of your agenda. However, while finding one that encourages a restful slumber is vital, sleep experts urge you to consider another factor that is just as impactful on your well-being: your spine alignment. 

With so many options to consider, finding the best mattress can often feel tricky. From sturdy innerspring pieces to soft foam, learning how to buy a mattress is a long process. Though your choice is one that will (hopefully) last for years – so it's important that your back is as supported as your sleeping habits. 

Here, experts discuss why your mattress may be causing back problems – and how to avoid pain where possible.  

Why your mattress may be causing back problems

'While back pain can be caused (or exacerbated) by any number of factors (such as aging or an inactive lifestyle), inadequate support from a mattress – that reinforces poor sleeping positions strains muscles and does not help keep the spine in alignment – can also contribute to back pain,' says Christina Heiser, a senior content manager for Saatva.

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(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

But what are the warning signals that you need to look out for? Christina explains that 'big dips or impressions in the mattress are 'clear signs that the mattress is breaking down' and may not be giving you the support your back needs. She also suggests inspecting the mattress for rips, lumps, or springs that may be seeping through, as these indicate it's time to make a new investment. 

'A sagging mattress can cause back pain by throwing your spine out of alignment. For pain-free nights, the goal is to keep your spine in a neutral position,' the expert says. 'If your mattress allows your spine to curve up or down, that's not healthy for blood circulation or resting your muscles.'

Published sleep researcher and CEO of Rise Science Jeff Kahn agrees. He adds that your mattress may also cause back pain when it does not allow you to keep a neutral spine position while you sleep. 'One way to do this is with an adjustable bed or with a mattress that's firmer and softer in different areas, as that reduces pressure points while side sleeping,' he adds. 

double bedroom with pink walls and white linen and bench wooden

(Image credit: ALUN CALLENDER)

Which mattress is best for preventing back pain?

The best mattress for your back is entirely personal. Each body has its own needs – both in terms of sleeping better and preventing back pain, so it's a good idea to research and test before you make a long-term decision. However, sleep researcher Jeff Kahn explains that a medium-firm mattress may be the best place to begin your search. 

'The consensus is [that] a medium-firm mattress is the best for those who have back pain or to mitigate back pain,' he says.' 

One study found medium-firm mattresses reduced back pain by about 48% and improved perceived sleep quality by 55% – and this was felt after just one week of switching mattresses and improved from there.'

If you can't get a new mattress, Jeff adds that choosing one of the best mattress toppers will also offer more support while sleeping. 'And don't forget your pillow, either. Opt for one that keeps your neck straight to avoid neck pain, he adds.

bedroom with black four poster with green headboard

(Image credit: Future/ Mary Wadsworth)

How can I stop my mattress from hurting my back?

Choosing a new mattress that encourages your spine to align correctly is one of the most effective ways to prevent back pain. However, CEO of Rise Science and sleep researcher Jeff Kahn, adds that your sleep position matters as well. 

'Those with lower back pain should consider sleeping on their side, with their knees bent, and a pillow between their legs,' he suggests. 'Sleeping on your back with back pain is not recommended, but if you can't get comfortable any other way, use a thin pillow under your hips to keep your spine supported.'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.