Could Your Mattress Be Causing Your Back Pain?

By Emily Alford

“How to Shop for a ” Series


If you’re waking up most mornings feeling stiff and still sleepy, you might not simply be experiencing the aches and pains of getting older. The real culprit could be your mattress. Here are a few ways to make sure your mattress is supporting you through the night.

Check Your Mattress’s Expiration Date

If your bed is more than 10 years old or too soft, you may not be getting the support you need to through the night, leading to back, neck, and hip problems upon waking. As mattresses age, springs lose their tension. Rolling into saggy spots where springs have lost their give can make for some pretty painful sleeping positions.

That waterbed you used to swear by for back support? It may be too soft to keep the body in alignment through the night, according to Dr. Daniel Barone, neurologist at Weill Cornell Medical College Center for Sleep Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“An old mattress and a waterbed are similar in the fact that neither offers much support,” Dr. Barone says. “They may feel fine at first, but when you’re rolling around in the night and you’re not getting support, that can cause real problems.”

Make Sure Your Mattress Lets You Sleep Like a Baby

Dr. Barone recommends a mattress firm enough to support the body comfortably in the fetal position, which he says is optimal for a pain-free night’s sleep.

“When you’re sleeping, the most important places for support are your neck and lower back,” Dr. Barone says. “A mattress that forces you to roll onto your stomach puts lots of pressure on the neck and lower back, which causes the irritation that leads to stiffness when you wake up in the morning.”

Pillows Can Cause Pain Too

Old pillows could also be to blame for some of those aches and pains. Pillows that have lost their support with age make the head sink lower than the shoulders during sleep, causing alignment problems that lead to that “kink in the neck” feeling upon waking.

“Your pillow should be firmly supporting your head while the bed supports your back,” Dr. Barone says, adding that down pillows are not out of the question as long as they’re filled enough to offer appropriate support. “A down pillow or two is fine as long as it’s firm enough to ensure that your head is in line with your body and not kinked to one side.”

Simple Adjustments Can Make a World of Difference

If you recognize that your mattress may be too old to offer much support but can’t afford to immediately invest in a new one, try a few simple adjustments to align your body as you sleep, like doubling down on pillows to get your head aligned or putting a rolled towel beneath your neck. Placing a pillow between your knees as you sleep in the fetal position could also make you more comfortable.  

However, if you can feel the springs in your mattress when you lie down or can detect age divots in the center or the sides, flipping is not going to help. It’s definitely time to start saving up for a replacement.

Tags:  homeless Mattress Sleep

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