The firmness and material you want in a mattress if you have back pain

Updated

Select independently determines what we cover and recommend. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more. 

There are a lot of habits that can help relieve constant back pain. Sitting in an ergonomic office chair, using a lumbar support pillow and improving posture can provide some relief to strained muscles and bones. A mattress meant to reduce back pain can also make a huge difference in both your sleep routine and overall spinal health. “The main characteristics people should look for in a mattress if they experience back pain and want relief depend on firmness and pressure relief,” says Dr. Matthew Cavanaugh, a chiropractor at Cavanaugh Chiropractic. “I recommend a medium-firm mattress for people who are suffering with back pain because it is the right balance of comfort and support,” he says.

To find the best mattresses for back pain, we spoke with experts, including Cavanaugh, to learn more about what factors to prioritize.

SKIP AHEAD How we picked the best mattresses for back pain | The best mattresses for back pain | How to shop for the best mattresses for back pain

How we picked the best mattresses for back pain

There are several aspects to consider when shopping for a mattress that’ll help relieve any muscle or bone strain. Our experts recommended keeping the following in mind when shopping for a new mattress:

  • Firmness and support: It’s tempting to assume that the softer a mattress is, the better and more comfortable it will be, especially for someone with back pain — but this isn’t always the case, according to Cavanaugh. “If a mattress is too soft, it can cause spinal misalignment, and if it is too firm, it can create painful pressure points,” he says. That’s why you should prioritize looking for a mattress with the right ratio of firmness to softness. Plus, you should take into account any conditions or degenerative diseases that cause back pain, such as herniated discs, sciatica and lower back arthritis, according to Dr. Allen Conrad, a chiropractor at Montgomery County Chiropractic Center. “This pain comes from the inability to hold your spine in an anatomical position while sleeping. The tendons, muscles and ligaments of the spine have been damaged,” he says. “As a result, they are unable to hold your body in proper posture while you sleep.”

  • Pressure relief: Pressure relief is important because it “can help you evenly distribute your weight over the mattresses instead of placing the bulk of it on your hips and lower back,” says Cavanaugh. “This will help reduce lower back pain and inflammation leading to a more restful sleep.” Mattresses with pressure relief help make sure your back and upper body aren’t working overtime to compensate for the lack of support you’d experience in a more uncomfortable mattress.

  • Mattress type: Common mattress types include memory foam, innerspring, hybrids and latex gel. Memory foam mattresses are favored because of their ability to contour to the body and provide support to the back, according to Conrad. “This can help reduce movement or tossing and turning while you sleep,” he says. “Some people find this additional contour type mattress material helpful in reducing low back pain when you wake up.” That said, other mattresses like innersprings and latex can also provide lumbar support. “A firmer bed with reinforced lumbar support can curve to the lumbar region and provide that support you need,” says Conrad. “For those with severe degeneration, the firmer the better.”

The best products mattresses for back pain in 2024

All of the mattresses below are either direct recommendations from our experts, mattresses NBC Select staffers have slept on themselves or have at least a 4-star average rating from 500 reviews or more on Amazon.

Best overall mattress for back pain: Saatva Rx Mattress

Saatva Rx Mattress

DIFFBOT
DIFFBOT

Saatva Rx Mattress $ at Saatva

This mattress comes recommended by Conrad, who says it’s ideal for people with degenerative or chronic conditions related to back pain like sciatica and herniated or bulging discs. While it’s great for all types of sleeping position, it’s best for side sleepers, as its firmness helps maintain proper alignment of the spine, according to the brand. The core is made from multiple two-inch, heat-regulating foam modules held together by supportive coils and the top layers are made of gel-infused memory foam, which provides lumbar support and body contouring pressure relief, according to the brand.

Mattress type: Hybrid | Feel: Firm | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king, split king and California king | Warranty: Lifetime | Best for: Side sleepers with chronic back pain

Best budget mattress for back pain: Nectar Gel Memory Foam Mattress

Nectar Gel Memory Foam Mattress

AMAZON
AMAZON
  • Nectar Gel Memory Foam Mattress $ at Amazon

  • Nectar Gel Memory Foam Mattress $ at Nectar

  • Nectar Gel Memory Foam Mattress $ at Walmart

This gel memory foam mattress, which has 4.3-star average rating from 7,117 ratings on Amazon, molds to the shape of your body as you sleep while also keeping you cool, according to the brand. It has five layers: a quilted cover that promotes airflow and wicks sweat, gel memory foam, a transition layer which provides support to spine, stability base layer and a shift-resistant lower layer. It arrives in a box — all you have to do is unroll it and let it fully expand for one to three days.

Mattress type: Gel memory foam |  Feel:  Medium firmness | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king and California king | Warranty: Lifetime | Best for: All sleepers 

Best mattress for pressure relief: Helix Sunset Mattress

Helix Sunset Mattress

DIFFBOT
DIFFBOT

Helix Sunset Mattress $ at Helix Sleep

This memory foam mattress comes recommended by Conrad, who says he recommends this brand to patients. “It’s super soft for those who like a plush type mattress feel,” he says. “It’s also firm enough for those side sleepers who need additional lumbar support.” It has pressure points, which helps provide support to the body and keep the spine aligned properly, according to Conrad. The inside has steel coils on the bottom and a layer of contouring foam that molds to the body. Plus, you can get a version of the mattress with a cooling layer on the top if you’re a particularly hot sleeper.

Mattress type: Memory foam |  Feel:  Soft | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king and California king | Warranty: 10 years | Best for: Side sleepers

Best mattress for athletes with back pain: Serta iSeries Hybrid Mattress

Serta iSeries Hybrid

This mattress comes recommended by NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin, who used to experience back pain related to running. “My previous mattress was super uncomfortable and didn’t help my back and hip pain,” she says. “This mattress reduced some of my pain and I don’t wake up feeling weak anymore.” It has over 1,000 coils built into the base, which provide support to the body and contour to the body, according to the brand. The top layers have pressure point relief and have sweat-wicking properties, so you can stay both cool and pain-free while you sleep.

Mattress type: Hybrid |  Feel:  Soft, medium and firm | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king and California king | Warranty: 10 years | Best for: All sleepers

Best cooling mattress for back pain: Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Breeze Hybrid Mattress

Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Breeze Hybrid Mattress

Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Breeze Hybrid Mattress $ at Tempur-Pedic

Cavanaugh says the Tempur-Pedic ProBreeze mattress is good for both pressure relief and staying cool when sleeping. It has a breathable cover made from cooling fibers that helps get rid of body heat. It also has a machine-washable cover and pressure-relieving middle layer made of over 1,000 small coils that also promotes airflow, according to the brand. Plus, you can pair the mattress with an adjustable bed frame, so you can position the bed at different angles to help with conditions such as snoring, according to the brand.

Mattress type: Hybrid |  Feel:  Medium softness | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king and split king, California king and split California king | Warranty: 10 years | Best for: Side sleepers with chronic back pain

Best hybrid mattress for back pain: Purple Restore Premier Hybrid Mattress

Purple Restore Premier Hybrid Mattress

Purple Restore Premier Hybrid Mattress $ at Purple

This mattress comes recommended by Cavanaugh, who says it’s great for getting continuous uninterrupted sleep. It has a firm and resilient feel with a great amount of “bounce back,” so it’s ideal for those who prefer a firm mattress, according to the brand. The base also has multiple coils that help regulate temperature and provides pressure point relief, according to the brand.

Mattress type: Hybrid |  Feel: Soft or firm | Sizes available:  Twin xl, full, queen, king and split king, California king and split California king | Warranty: 10 years | Best for: Side and combination sleepers 

Best medium-firmness mattress for back pain: Amerisleep AS3 Memory Foam Mattress

Amerisleep AS3 Memory Foam Mattress

DIFFBOT
DIFFBOT

Amerisleep AS3 Memory Foam Mattress $ at Amerisleep

The Amerisleep mattress was also recommended by Cavanaugh, who says it’s a good choice for those who like a mattress with medium firmness. It’s comfortable and soft feel makes it easy to relax, but it’s not so soft that getting out of bed feels strenuous, according to the brand. Plus, the foam layer has just enough firmness that it helps with pressure relief for back pain. In addition to the back, the mattress provides support to the shoulder and hips.

Mattress type: Memory foam |  Feel:  Medium firmness | Sizes available: Twin, twin xl, full, queen, king, split king and California king |Warranty: 20 years | Best for: All sleepers  

How to shop for the best mattresses for back pain

Since you spend many hours on your mattress, it’s important to make sure it’s best suited for your body, especially if you have back pain. Here’s what our experts recommend keeping in mind before buying:

Prioritize firmness over softness

The joints in your spine, hips and lower back often experience pressure when they’re not consistently supported, according to Conrad. Over time this can lead to back pain in the form of herniated discs. This is why he recommends looking for particularly firm mattresses with product descriptions that mention pressure relief. Don’t automatically assume that a softer mattress will be more comfortable on your back. This is especially true if you’ve experienced an accident of any kind and are looking for a new mattress, Conrad says. “If you have sprained your back or had a whiplash accident, your body loses the ability to hold the spine in the proper place,” he says.  “This leads to additional spasm on the spinal nerves, and in turn causes low back pain.”

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Why trust NBC Select?

Cory Fernandez is a commerce editor at NBC Select, where he writes about cooking, cleaning, wellness and other lifestyle topics. He spoke with two chiropractors for this story.

Catch up on NBC Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

Advertisement