There’s nothing worse than going to sleep knowing you’ll wake up with that nagging ache or sharp pain in your back—except, maybe, feeling it before you’re even asleep.
We all know the importance of a great Mattress, but what if yours still isn’t doing the job? Assuming it’s in good shape, the fix could be as simple as placing a new Mattress Topper right on top. Our buyer’s guide will look at the causes of (and solutions for) back pain, and evaluate some of the best mattress toppers for back pain relief.
Note: we are not medical professionals, and none of the information in this buyer’s guide is meant to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or injury. Use this guide at your discretion, and consult your physician if you have any questions regarding your back pain.
Zinus Sleep Master 2
Natural Comfort 2
What causes back pain?
This is a tough one to answer (again, we definitely aren’t doctors!), because every person is different, and any number of things can cause it. While your age, weight, physical activity level, pre-existing conditions, and genetics all play a role, only your doctor can determine the cause and proper course of treatment. Below are just a few possibilities for what can cause back pain, from minor aches to very severe/debilitating pain:
- Muscle/ligament strain, caused by improperly lifting something, carrying more weight than you’re able to, pregnancy, etc.
- Damage or misalignment to your spinal discs, which sit between your vertebrae and normally act as a cushion between each bone. These can swell, rupture (herniated discs), or “slip” (move out of place).
- Scoliosis/curvature of the spine.
- Osteoporosis, a severe calcium deficiency that causes bones to become more porous and easily fractured.
You are particularly prone to these and other causes if you:
- Are overweight.
- Are pregnant.
- Are 30 years of age or older.
- Live a sedentary/inactive lifestyle.
- Have arthritis or other pre-existing conditions that compromise your skeletal or muscular systems.
- Have depression or anxiety (people who suffer from these are more likely to have back pain; the link is not quite clear, but both could be due to/contribute to a lack of activity).
- Are currently or used to be a smoker.
- Play high-impact sports, such as football, or did in the past, even if you didn’t sustain any major injuries during the time.
- Drive a large truck for long periods. The vibrations of the engine and road can cause discs to slip or rupture more easily.
These are just a few of the risk factors for and causes of back pain. There are scores more, and no one but your physician can tell you why yours manifested when and how it has, or how it can be treated. We recommend seeing a doctor if you haven’t already, to rule out any serious causes that might require surgery or other forms of treatment.
How can a mattress topper mitigate or eliminate my back pain?
First, be aware that few people have back pain exclusively caused by their bed—it might be a factor, or even the main cause, but it’s very rarely the only one. In other words, it’s unlikely a mattress topper will get rid of your back pain completely.Related Post: Best Mattress for Platform Beds Reviews Of 2017 & Buying Guides
With that in mind, the right topper can certainly help your back pain, and in some cases, improve it so much you’re almost unaware of it altogether!
Mattress toppers are layers of foam (memory, latex, etc.) that go on top of your mattress, under the fitted sheet, and add additional cushioning to help make your existing bed more comfortable, without replacing the entire thing. Some toppers help regulate temperature, too—a huge bonus for hot sleepers who wake up sweating.
Essentially, the right mattress topper should provide effective contouring/”give” for your body, but also support your frame adequately in whatever position you prefer.
If you suffer from back pain and are a side sleeper, a very soft mattress topper can help to relieve pressure from your head, shoulder, and hip, while supporting the spaces in between; this, in turn, lets your spine rest in a far more natural position than a firm surface would.
For back sleepers with back pain, a thinner mattress topper without too much give is best. It should mold to your spine, allowing your back muscles to relax. If the topper’s too soft, your shoulders and hips might sink too low, curving your spine inwards; too firm, and the small of your back could “sink” and curve your spine outwards. Either would probably cause pain come morning (or in the middle of the night).
Lastly, if you have back pain and sleep on your stomach—it’s time to find a new position! Experts agree that stomach sleeping is the worst position a person can choose, as it forces the spine into an unnatural curve and strains the neck. If you truly can’t sleep any other way, skip the topper, find a firm mattress, and put a pillow or two under your hips.
What materials should I look for in a mattress topper? Is one better than the other?
There are a number of materials a mattress topper can be made out of, including egg crate foam (the cheapest, overall), polyester, low- or high-quality cotton, memory foam, wool, latex, and more.
There are also mixed-material mattress toppers, such as cotton quilting with down or faux down inside.
What you choose is partially up to preference—what feels best, which one fits in your budget—but also necessity. Are you or your partner allergic to feathers or latex? Do you run hot/cold at night? Do you plan to put your sheets over the topper, or sleep directly on it (requiring a removable/washable cover)?
Some mattress toppers are cheap and highly dispensable, like egg crates. These are common for children and teen beds or in dorms, because the topper will likely be thrown away within a few years for one reason or another (hygiene, upgrading to a bigger bed, etc.). These can be enough for some back pain sufferers, but most will need something of a higher caliber.
Overall, latex foam is an affordable and effective favorite for back pain relief, because it doesn’t “sink” the way memory foam can, yet still provides pressure relief. It also retains less body heat, which will help keep you cooler throughout the night. That said, some people greatly prefer memory foam—and that’s fine, too! The right material and thickness is personal, and only you can decide if a certain model will suit your needs or not.
My mattress already has memory foam—do I really need to add more layers?
Believe it or not, that memory foam mattress might be causing more pain! If it’s too soft, or if you’ve had it several years now (or if it’s poor quality, you’re a heavier individual, etc.), the structure can’t necessarily support you the way it should. A mattress topper can remedy this—but no, you probably won’t want to just throw an identical layer on top. That’s essentially a Band-Aid, rather than a true solution.
Instead, look for a very firm memory foam topper, or a latex one. Latex has the give of memory foam, but in a broader sense—think of when you press your hand down into memory foam. What happens? It leaves an imprint, each finger clearly defined. This is because memory foam contours to each section of your body with precision. And when you move your hand away, you notice the indentation because it takes a little time to decompress.
Latex foam, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. Instead, the spot where your hand presses will compress altogether (little or no foam molding to your fingers), and spring back almost instantly when you take your hand away.
If you find that most memory foams give you a sinking feeling—like you’re stuck—it’s compressing too much, and you need something firmer. Latex can be a great replacement, if you’re having trouble finding firm memory foam options. It also runs much cooler, which is great news for hot sleepers.
Latex is hypoallergenic; even those with latex allergies can sometimes use these kinds of toppers, because the component they’re allergic to is latex protein, which is usually removed in the manufacturing process. However, if you’re not sure, consult your allergist or doctor.