'Beds for Bad Backs'
I often get asked, “What is the best bed for bad backs”, and of course there is no straight forward
answer that suits everyone. There is certainly a lot of misinformation, old wives’ tales, and hyped up
marketing, resulting in a lot of confusion when faced with the daunting proposition of choosing the
right mattress for you. Also keep in mind, a good new mattress is not necessarily a cure all for “Bad
Backs”. In most cases the right new mattress will not exacerbate further injury, and certainly aid in
the repair and recovery in certain cases.
Like most technologies these days, the mattress industry is also evolving rapidly, each year bringing
something new and improved, making it even more difficult for consumers to determine what is
right for them, through too much choice.
The following is a guide, to help you choose the right mattress for you, and ultimately a good night’s
It serves no purpose to talk about “Brands”, since the same mattress from the same manufacturer,
may have a completely different name, labelling, and quilted fabric covering, from one store to
another. As if it’s not hard enough to choose, this makes it even harder for the consumer, unless you
are buying the look, not recommended if you are seriously after the best mattress for you.
Additionally it is not necessary to seek well promoted brands. In Australia most consumers would be
aware of 2 or 3 Brand names, whereas there would be more than 50 reputable mattress
manufacturers in this country, as well as more and more imported products. What is very important
is that you find a professional experienced retailer, who really knows his products and clearly
understands your needs, physically, emotionally and financially.
In this guide we will not discuss bases or the foundation on which the mattress sits, suffice to say,
sprung bases are a thing of the past, the more stable the base, or a good strong solid platform, will
help all modern mattresses to perform at their best. Certainly don’t use an old sprung base to
support a new mattress, it could be totally self‐defeating in enabling the new mattress to support as
So it’s all about you. You are unique.
・ You are a certain height, weight, shape, and age.
・ You sleep mostly on your back, side, full front, side/front or all four.
・ You have unique sensitivities to pressure and comfort, or you are a hot sleeper.
・ You have possible injuries or conditions affecting neck, spine or hips.
・ You have possible breathing issues.
・ You have allergies to certain materials or dust mites.
・ You adjust to sleep surfaces easily and quickly or with difficulty.
・ You prefer to be “on” a mattress not “in” a mattress, or vice versa.
Before you go searching for the right mattress, consider all of the above, know what you do, and test
accordingly, and ask the right questions.
Height, weight, shape and age will determine the amount of conformability you need in the
mattress, coupled with your preference for firmness/softness. It is usually a mistake to buy too hard
a mattress. The old saying “the harder a mattress the better” is quite wrong. Conformity is essential
to avoid bridging in the lumbar region, if a back sleeper, or enabling your spine to stay straight if a
side sleeper. If you are average weight for height or lighter, medium to softer beds conform around
hips and shoulders, without you being too deep in a mattress, whilst minimising pressure in these
Back sleeping distributes your weight over a larger area, and there is usually less pressure. Side
sleeping presents a narrower profile with the shoulders and hips being pressure points. Front
sleeping should be avoided due to severe twisting of the neck.
Sensitivity to pressure and comfort can best be accommodated by “pocket coil” springs, (of which
there are many versions) and some of the newer “pressure sensitive” foams (reacting to pressure,
not heat) are excellent, with the added advantage of limited to no partner movement felt.
Foams have come a long way in recent years, water based in their manufacture, with no toxicity, no
heat, extremely durable, yet with an extensive range in softness/firmness. The European trend is
very much toward the latest all foam mattresses.
If you have medical conditions prohibiting good sleep, consider electrically adjustable bases with the
mattress that suits your need. The costs of adjustable bases have reduced dramatically in recent
years, and they can be very useful for those with breathing issues, reflux and other health issues,
and for the weaker and frail older person, who has difficulty getting into or out of a mattress.
Testing new mattresses in a store is a guide only, to their suitability. It can sometimes take several
days or even weeks to adjust to a new mattress. Be patient and don’t panic.
You should spend as much as you can afford on a mattress. You spend a third of your life on it and
good mattresses today can last 10 to 15 years. Up to a point you do get “what you pay for” in a
mattress, but the law of diminishing value still applies, and buying the most expensive mattress does
not guarantee the best night’s sleep.
The international developments particularly in foams during the last few years are producing cool,
comfortable, durable and healthy sleep surfaces. With good advice, computerised pressure testing,
and a plethora of new technology in many combinations, it is becoming easier to choose quality
mattresses at affordable prices, with the right advice.
Pillows should not be overlooked either. Whilst testing mattresses, it is a good idea, particularly if
you are a side sleeper, to use the same pillow you feel is right; not too high, low, soft or firm, and
don’t forget contoured pillows which have also evolved enormously in recent times. Changing
pillows whilst testing different mattresses, can lead to choosing the wrong mattress because of the
Hopefully this brief summarised selection guide is of some help. Experienced, professional retailers
can provide much technical data, useful in comparing the “value for money”, durability and quality
between mattresses, but not necessarily useful in you choosing the right mattress for you.
Finding a professional and experienced retailer you can communicate your needs and your particular
sleeping habits with, is vital in choosing “the right mattress” and you being guided properly, not
Sleep Doctor Dee Why