These best mattresses for back pain have features that put an end to all that tossing and turning.

By Megan Falk
May 13, 2020
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If you wake up with throbbing, get-me-an-Advil-stat back pain, you might think you need a soft mattress that hugs you in all the right places. Or, you might turn to a rock-solid mattress that keeps your back flat and prevents your hips from sinking.

News flash: Neither mattress is doing you any favors. 

In terms of overall spinal health and alignment, the best mattress for any sleeper is one that supports a relaxed, neutral spine position, or when all three curves of the spine are present and aligned properly, giving the spine a slight "S" shape. Most importantly, it should help maintain your body’s natural lumbar lordosis, a.k.a. the inward curve of the spine in the lower back, says Caitlin Redding, D.C., a sports chiropractor in Media, Pennsylvania.

But if you deal with back pain, the bed you spend eight-plus hours on every night can be a pretty BFD. “Your mattress can have a direct impact on back pain, in that the amount of support and cushion provided by your mattress will impact your sleeping posture throughout the night,” says Redding. “In some cases, this makes it difficult to stay asleep or get comfortable to fall asleep.”

When a mattress is too soft for back and belly sleepers, the lower spine might curve too far inward or not far enough, which can cause or exacerbate back pain. For side sleepers, the hips could sink too deep, diminishing that ideal neutral spine. “If you took your position and re-imagined it standing upright, you’d be standing with your hips jutted out to one side,” says Redding.

A mattress that’s as stiff as a board isn’t any better, as it can put too much pressure on those bony parts of the body, including the hips and shoulders, she adds. The result: sore shoulders, stiff hips, and a night of constant tossing and turning. (The wrong mattress might not be on the only reason you're up all night. Turns out the coronavirus pandemic can also cause sleep problems.)

Whether you have backaches from the moment you hit the mattress or are just in serious need of some shut-eye, a medium-firm mattress is your best bet, says Redding. This style provides optimal support for your spine by not loading pressure on one area more than others, which helps you sleep through the night with a neutral spine, she explains. Research backs up this idea too: A systematic review of 24 studies showed that medium-firm mattresses are optimal for promoting sleep comfort, quality, and spinal alignment.

But firmness isn’t the only factor to consider when purchasing one of the best mattresses for back pain. The capacity of airflow is just as important, according to Samantha March-Howard, D.C., a chiropractor for 100% Chiropractic in Dunwoody, Georgia. When you’re feeling hot and sweaty in the middle of the night, you’ll end up wriggling into funky positions, she says. (You know, like that time you woke up laying sideways, your arms above your head and your legs tied up like a pretzel knot.) With all that movement, your body isn’t able to drift off into the third and fourth stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which is when tissue growth and repair occurs and blood supply to the muscles increases, according to the National Sleep Foundation. “When we’re not sleeping well and that continues as a trend, then we’re actually reducing our overall health,” explains March-Howard. That means your restless nights of sleep can actually *aggravate* your back pain. (BTW, REM sleep is totally different from NREM sleep.)

Out of all the medium-firm, cooling mattresses on the market, March-Howard recommends a foam mattress over one with springs. That's because the steel coils wear out unevenly over time, which can result in too much pressure being placed on the upper back and not enough on the lower or vice versa. “All that pressure into one area can actually distort the entire spine,” she says. (Related: What's the Deal with Middle Back Pain?)

With all of these chiropractor-approved considerations in mind, start your search for quality sleep with these six best mattresses for back pain. Just remember that no two cases of back pain—or bodies—are identical, so there’s no single cure-all mattress out there. That’s why both Redding and March-Howard recommend testing out a mattress, whether in-store or through an at-home trial. “Similar to running shoes, sometimes you just have to try them out and see which one is the most comfortable for you,” says Redding.

Best Mattress for Back Pain Overall: Level Sleep Mattress

With its zoned support designed to align the spine and reduce pressure on the body, the Level Sleep Mattress takes the cake as the best mattress for back pain. The 11-inch mattress features softer foam under the shoulders and hips, allowing them to sink into the mattress rather than fight against it, and firmer foam under the lower back to help you achieve a neutral spine. Instead of standard memory foam, the mattress is built with Energex, an adaptive, pressure-relieving foam that’s naturally breathable and cool. But if these features don’t sell you on the mattress, the results from Level’s participant trials just might: After sleeping on the bed, 43 percent of people felt less fatigue, 62 percent had less daytime dysfunction, and 60 percent reported an improvement in sleep satisfaction. (FWIW, you might also be able to catch better zzz's when using these insomnia-curing best sleep products.)

Buy It: Level Sleep Mattress, $1,199 for a queen, levelsleep.com

Trial period: 1 year

Best Mattress for Back Pain in a Box: Nectar Memory Foam Mattress

This Nectar Memory Foam Mattress makes the list of best mattresses for back pain because it offers a medium firmness and is built with five layers of foam, including a gel memory foam sheet that distributes your bodyweight and heat. As a result, your shoulders, hips, and legs will gently sink into the bed, relieving any pressure points and aligning the spine while still supporting your back. (Related: The Best Mattress in a Box for Every Type of Sleeper)

Buy It: Nectar Memory Foam Mattress, $1,198 for a queen, nectarsleep.com

Trial period: 1 year

Best Mattress for Back Pain for Memory Foam Fans: TEMPUR-ProAdapt

The TEMPUR-ProAdapt isn’t a regular memory foam mattress—it’s a *cool* memory foam mattress. The luxury bed features a removable, machine-washable cover made from ultra-high-molecular-weight yarn that moves heat away from the body and is cool to the touch. Plus, the medium-firm mattress is available in a range of sizes, including Split King and Split California King, which allow for each side of the bed to function separately (think: you can raise your side to watch T.V. while your partner is fast and asleep lying flat). What makes it one of the best mattresses for back pain, though, is its pressure-relieving foam, which is the same material originally developed by NASA to absorb the g-force of astronauts during shuttle launches, according to Tempur-Pedic. Houston, we do not have a problem with our sleep anymore. 

Buy It: TEMPUR-ProAdapt, $2,900 for a queen, wayfair.com

Trial period: 90 nights

Best Mattress for Back Pain for Hot Sleepers: Nolah Original 10

When it comes to alleviating tension on the most common pressure points, the Nolah Original 10 gets a gold star. In performance tests, the Nolah Original 10 was shown to relieve pressure on the hips, shoulders, and back four times better than traditional memory foam. Plus, its specialty foam is designed to dissipate heat, rather than trap it, so you can stay cool and comfortable all night long. The cherry on top? A natural viscose cover that wicks away moisture. Raise your glass to the end of sweaty nights between the sheets, folks. (You'll want to grab one of these cooling weighted blankets too.)

Buy It: Nolah Original 10, $1,019 for a queen, nolahmattress.com

Trial period: 120 nights

Best Mattress for Back Pain for Back Sleepers: Helix Dusk Luxe 

Topped with a breathable, moisture-wicking cover, the Helix Dusk Luxe provides firm lumbar support under the hips and an ever-so-soft feel under the shoulders to help align the spine, making it ideal for back sleepers. Although this best mattress for back pain contains coils to cradle your body, each of the 1,000+ wires is wrapped and sits beneath three layers of high-density foam. Translation: Pressure relief and comfort that never fades.

Buy It: Helix Dusk Luxe, $1,799 for a queen, helixsleep.com

Trial period: 100 nights

Best Mattress for Back Pain for Side Sleepers: Winkbeds’ Memory Luxe 

Coming in hot with seven layers (!) of foam, Winkbed’s Memory Luxe will contour around your body like a ball of squishy dough, all while keeping your joints and spine aligned. These seriously comfy features are thanks to the AirCell foam, a type of memory foam made from billions of microscopic shock-absorbing air "capsules." When pressure increases (think: settling into a spooning position or turning over to your side), each capsule releases air, relieving built-up pressure that causes pain in the shoulders and hips when you sleep on your side. The back gets even more support thanks to the firm foam in the lumbar region. You won’t wake up in a puddle of your own sweat, either: The air capsules dissipate body heat, and the top two inches of the mattress contain cooling gel foam that enables airflow. 

Buy It: Winkbed’s Memory Luxe, $1,599 for a queen, winkbeds.com

Trial period: 120 nights

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