Warning! Choosing a mattress can give you sleepless nights.
Choosing a new mattress can be tough and a ludicrously expensive decision. Working as a chiropractor in a dedicated spine clinic, I get asked a lot of questions about mattresses and have given this area a lot of thought. Based on my professional opinion and experience, I plan to navigate you through the, surprisingly complex and often stressful, process of replacing a mattress, hopefully preventing you from unnecessary pain and suffering – both physical and financial.
How do you know your mattress needs replacing?
Is it a time thing? As a general rule, a good quality mattress should be replaced every 10-12 years. However, some beds get used more than others and it’s not always possible to know how old a mattress is when you are renting. However, if you’re waking up tired due to lack of sleep or stiff and sore with a niggling back or neck, it’s probably worth checking your mattress. At Bodymotion, we always ask about the timing of pain and the age of the mattress as there is little point wasting our time and, more importantly, our patient’s money if a major contributing factor is not addressed.
The best way to spot wear and tear on your mattress is to give it a quick 5-point check over. I have written a brief summary of a simple Mattress MOT test below:
1. Remove the mattress and inspect the base: is it level? Is it broken? Are there any slats missing? Is it firm enough to support the mattress? A mattress will only ever be as good as its base, so replace or repair where necessary.
2. Then put the mattress back and have a look to see if there are any signs of dips or sulci – these typically occur half way down the mattress where the pelvis is positioned.
3. Get on the mattress and start pushing down with your hands. Feel for any lumps where springs may be protruding or damaged. Try to apply a repetitive, even pressure each time you push down and check for the general resistance of the springs/foam to compression. Sometimes, the mattress can appear fine when not under load, so no dips or sulci, but the springs or foam may still have significantly lost its ability to resist compression.
4. Lay on the bed and focus on being aware of your body position (harder than it sounds). Are certain areas less supported or dipping? Are any springs protruding?
5. How do you know which mattress is right for you? If you have back or neck pain first thing in the morning or at night, then try to be aware of how you feel when you are sleeping in a different bed. Better or worse? What is different about the mattress? This may sound a bit anal, but I advise patients to get the name and model of the mattress they are sleeping on if it’s really comfortable. This can be done by lifting the mattress (watch your back, as they are surprisingly heavy and awkward) and looking for the stitched label at the foot of the mattress.
How to choose the right mattress
Again, a far trickier question than you may first realise. For a long time, there have been ongoing discussions on what the best mattress is for people who suffer from chronic back pain – the thought of this alone may even give you pain.
Many companies and brands claim their product “is the best for back pain” or even that “our mattress will cure your bad back”. While this may be true to some extent, you have to make sure it is the right mattress for you! The old myth of having a firm mattress if you’re a back pain sufferer is long gone, as people with firm mattress still claim to have back pain.
Studies have shown that there is no generic mattress for everyone. There are a number of factors to be considered when choosing a mattress. Below are some important aspects that you need to take into account.
1. Body Shape – If you have bigger than usual hips, you need a somewhat softer mattress to be able to keep the body in a neutral position. An overly firm mattress will force the lower back to slump to reach the mattress. If your mattress is too soft, your body will tend to sink on the lower back and your back will accommodate this by shifting towards the opposite direction. Therefore, a good mattress should be able to support the natural curvature of your body in all points.
2. Sleeping Positions – Wrong sleeping positions can also contribute to back pain, I’m sure we’ve all done it once. If you are lying on your back with your legs straight and the mattress is firm, then this will result in an anterior pelvic tilt and an extension (arching) movement on the lower back, also known as ‘increased lordosis’. This is similar to a mild McKenzie extension type effect. I find this can help some disc patients, but almost always irritates facets complaints. Any discomfort can be relieved by bending the knees and this is why patients gain relief with putting a pillow under their knees. So it is generally recommended to sleep on your side, alternating from left to right from time to time. This is a huge topic and I will be sure to elaborate on this in the coming months.
3. Bed Selection – Keep in mind that it’s just not about the mattress. Your investment will prove useless if you place the mattress on an old worn-out bed. Give it a good foundation. Go through our 5-point check list above.
4. Space – Normally, a sleeping person shifts position a staggering 40-60 times during the night. You want to make sure there is plenty of space, especially if you are sleeping with a partner.
5. Comfort – There are a number of mattress options, such as water, foam, spring and air. Any of these types can work for back pain, but you need to personally test them to properly gauge which one will best suit you.
* Choose your mattress based on comfort.
* Buy the best quality you can afford.
* Make sure your body is well supported in good alignment, with no gaps between you and the mattress.
* Make sure you can move around on the mattress with ease.
* Lie on the mattress in the shop for as long as you can to make sure it is comfortable.
* If you share the bed, make sure you and your partner both lie on the mattress at the shop.
* Check the type and quality of the inner support system.
* Check the type and quality of the padding.
* Check the quality of the base.