Health knowledge made personal
Join this community!
› Share page:
Search posts:

Question from a Reader: What's a Good Bed for a Bad Back?

Posted May 21 2009 10:11pm 1 Comment
Dear Doug,
Thanks for your blog and the detailing of your recovery from a herniated disc. I cannot thank you enough for sharing your wisdom, your blogs are very helpful, interesting and informative.
I have a question. Can you point me in the right direction of a bed or mattress that provides adequate support and spinal alignment for someone who has had a lumbar disc injury?


Cade -

Thank you for your note and I hope if the someone who had surgery was you, that you're recovering steadily and feeling better.

As for beds, there is very little science that supports one bed over another. One study conducted in Spain in 2003 showed that people who slept on a medium-firm mattress had less pain in the morning and during the day than people who slept on a firm mattress*.

There are at least three things to consider when it comes to sleep and back pain. One is the flexibility of your spine. If your spine is relatively inflexible, then during the night the positions your body assumes may place excessive force on the soft tissues and create high strain rates. Anytime you apply load to joints near the end of their available range you run the risk of excessive tissue strain. For example, try placing your hand on a firm surface, palm up, press down until your wrist is fully flexed and then just stay there. You'll get the idea of how stress at the end of range can create pain.

The second thing to consider is how easily your spine fatigues during the day. The culprit for most spine fatigue is sitting, standing, or being too still for too long. Healthy joints can withstand substantial loads and still maintain tissue homeostasis. But, weakened joints, from injury, disuse, surgery, disease, are more easily overloaded although you may not experience symptoms from the overload at the time of the overload since it can take up to 24 hours for post-traumatic cytokine to be produced (cytokines are proteins that help regulate inflammatory processes). So, for example, if you sit for a few more hours than usual one day, you may find your self in bed with lower back pain that night or the next morning even though you had little to no pain during the sitting event.

The third thing to consider is how well you support your legs and arms in the sleeping position (assuming you sleep on your side). When you sleep on your side, most people find the upper leg and arm will fall forward of the body. This creates torque on the spine and over the course of a few hours can strain tissue. I usually suggest a firm, large pillow either between the legs or under the upper leg (if you prefer the leg to be in front of your body) and a pillow under the upper arm. This will reduce the twisting effect, at least for some time, and make sleeping more comfortable.

One last thought before I make specific suggestions on beds, there is a new device that supports the spine called the Klass Vaki KBS200 that is supposed to hug your spine and support it during sleep. It has been studied and shown to reduce muscle activity and pain. I've not tried it but am planning on testing it. I'll let you know what happens and my opinions on it once I have used it.

So, my suggestions: Tempur-Pedic or Select Comfort Sleep Number. Here's why. The Tempur-Pedic is a high density foam that will both support your spine and conform to it. Some people just love it. Others feel it is too firm. Most companies that sell the Tempur-Pedic will allow you to return it within a certain time frame if you don't like it.

The Sleep Number is an air-based system that allows you to determine the degree of firmness that seems best for you. I think having some control over the firmness is helpful physically and there is a subtle mental boost as well.

Sleep well.


*Kovacs, F. M., V. Abraira, et al. (2003). "Effect of firmness of mattress on chronic non-specific low-back pain: randomised, double-blind, controlled, multicentre trial." Lancet 362(9396): 1599-604.

Comments (1)
Sort by: Newest first | Oldest first

Hi, Happy New Year!

The information abou IBT (Inclined Bed Therapy) might help a lot of people...

I am sure the specialists here know about. The Egyptians used to sleep in beds rised  5 degrees at the head  Heads up, feet down. It has been well explained by fluidodynamics and gravity forcing influence.


It has a lot of sense, although can sound non-logical.I  have been sleeping for some weeks on IB and have noticed some benefits, like less neck pain, I breathe a lot better, and my circulation improved (my hands and feet are no more as cold as they used to be).


Have you heard about the Atlantic Conveyor Beltt, I mean , the Oceanic Thermohaiyne circulation..:denser sea water due to more salt  concentration , forms currents like rivers, that travel and form "rivers".


As a chemist who involved in transport of fluids inside porous catalysts, and in studying some climatology, I can assure this is  one of the most important, non invasive methods to consider seriously.


In 1999, years before the recent discoveries about the real causes of MS, (at least for more than 90% people ) done by Dr. Zamboni , people with MSe, ven considered themselves cured after some weeks or months using the IBT.


Post a comment
Write a comment:

Related Searches