It’s pretty sad when the best bed you have is a recliner.
Many of us in the sports arena are likely to remember an injury that kept us awake at night. If we are talking about back injuries, the likely scenario is he only way you could sleep for more than a couple of hours was probably in your chair, with a combination of heating pads and ice packs.
Not only did your back continue to hurt, but your limbs tend to fall asleep as well. I have an uncle who slept – I kid you not – on a 6-inch memory foam mattress on a sheet of plywood. How do people do that?
Thus began my journey into research for the perfect mattress for dealing with a back injury.
The Effect of Your Mattress and Your Back Health
Your Mattress and Side Sleeping
For the side-sleeper with chronic back problems, it is usually recommended that they sleep with a small pillow between their knees. Your mattress should be soft enough to allow your shoulders, elbows, and hips to nest comfortably, while the underlying support keeps your body from folding like a paperclip.
Especially if you regularly sleep on your side, a memory foam pillow can do wonders for keeping your spine in proper alignment.
The physiology of cushioning the knees is similar to that of the back sleeper.
You want to keep the weight of your legs from pulling on your spine, which already has enough going on. In addition, a side-sleeper’s hips will torque, putting even more strain on the spine and contributing to muscle spasms during the daytime.
By keeping a small pillow between your knees, you prevent the torque from happening and allow your spine to relax.
This works whether you sleep in the fetal position or straight. In the fetal position, your arms, wrists, and ankles are off-set. If you sleep straightened-out, your feet and ankles are often lined up on top of each other, and you may need a cushion between your ankles as well.
Best Mattress for Side-Sleepers
When dealing with a back injury, the first thing you’ll need to do is find that sweet spot of mattress firmness that offers relief. According to mattermattress.com, these are some of your best options!
Advice like “get a firm mattress” rarely work in real life because not all back injuries all the same and simply going with a firm mattress can make things worse, especially if there’s nerve compression involved.
You’ll want the perfect combo between support and loftiness that will allow your hip bone and shoulder to sink in so that you spine is aligned and the vertebrae don’t compress the nerves.
Using an Adjustable Airbed for Side-Sleepers
It’s all about the balance between the overall firmness and the loft of the finishing layer. My solution was an adjustable airbed. It wasn’t cheap but for a person with chronic pain the price will not be an issue.
An airbed might sound weird and you might be imagining yourself on one of those cheap air mattresses you used for camping. That’s not what we’re talking about – an adjustable airbed is called that just because it uses a core of air chambers to give you the option to adjust the firmness.
The best air beds in this class will also allow you to choose a sleep position and the temperature of the surface.
For a back pain sufferer, they are God-sent. Not only do you get to experiment with the firmness settings until you find the sweet spot, but you can do it without interfering with the sleep habits of your sleep partner, too. Your side of the mattress can be firm, while theirs can be medium or soft.
No other mattress offers that kind of convenience.
These airbeds might be your best bet in the battle with back injury, but they do come with a hefty price tag.
The mart way to make the decision on whether to invest in these high-end models is getting a regular air mattress to see if the adjustable firmness does the trick. You can do it by getting a good affordable air mattress that includes the option to adjust the firmness.
To be precise, we’re talking about classic inflatable bed.
The ones that you might have used for guests or camping. The best air mattresses for the transition will include the adjustable firmness option and will not deflate.
You might go with some of the models that feature what’s called a “smart” pump – a couple of airbed companies make these (like Serta, Insta, Frontgate, SoundAsleep) and what’s special about them is the fact that the mentioned “smart” (some brands will call in a NeverFlat) pump tops the airbed if it loses air.
This will eliminate the risk of making things worse if the bed deflates and you end up sleeping with an arched spine. Before getting one, do your research, read the reviews of the air mattresses, both from users and websites that actually test the products. For more reference info, you can consult this guide on choosing the best air bed.
Your Mattress and Back Sleeping
There are pillows that are, supposedly, designed for various sleep positions such as back sleepers, side sleepers, or stomach sleepers. The mattress you choose will also play a big role in the healing process. For example, many people who sleep on their side need more cushioning between their pressure points and the support system of the mattress.
For a back sleeper, it’s usually recommended that you keep a small pillow behind your knees. This relieves pressure along your spine and allows for the natural curvature. While some people like my crazy uncle can sleep perfectly flat, the reality is that you need to accommodate for the actual shape of your back.
Think of a soldier standing at attention. If he locks his knees, he passes out because of decreased blood flow to his brain. If your legs fall asleep while you are in bed, it could be because your knees are locked. The weight of your legs also puts a strain on your spine, pulling it into more of a straight line.
The spine is actually in a gentle “S” shape. If damage to your spine is along either of the curves, such as the outward curve between the shoulder blades or the inner curve in the small of the back, then a more responsive mattress topper can offer the “give” or extra support back-sleeper needs.
Your Mattress and Stomach Sleeping
Doctors seem to have a prejudice against stomach sleeping, but it can be done, even if you have back problems. In general, you need a supportive mattress rather than a soft one.
You can take some of the strain from your spine by putting a pillow underneath your stomach. This will help elevate your hips and take the strain off of your lower back.
Sleeping With Disc Problems
Quite often, people with disc problems or degenerative discs find that stomach sleeping is the answer. They find more relief with a firm mattress and a flat pillow tucked under their stomach. This reduces pressure on the lower back and allows it to recuperate from the day’s stresses.
This is also often the best position for someone with a herniated disc, too.
Sleeping with Bursitis
Bursitis is an inflammation in the joints. The most common pain occurs in the hips, but it also happens with shoulders, knees, or any other major joint, and is extremely painful.
If you deal with bursitis in your back, shoulders, or hips, a softer mattress is desirable. Either lessen the air pressure in your adjustable air mattress, or try a thick mattress topper.
For me, the good news was that I didn’t have to place a sheet of plywood under my mattress. Yes, I needed support for my chronic back pain, but an adjustable air bed, a cooling memory foam topper, and support for my knees turned me into a happier person.
Sleeping With Osteoarthritis and Spinal Stenosis
Many people who have osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis can find relief by sleeping on their sides. When you curl into a fetal position, it opens up the joints in your spine and relieves pressure.
An adjustable bed or recliner can also allow you to elevate your head and knees to relieve pressure.
Concluding Thoughts – Don’t Just “Wait It Out”!
The bottom line is that whether your back pain is caused by a sports injury or not, just waiting for it to go away won’t do much. Second only to your doctor’s instructions, the organization of your sleep environment and habits will be one of the few most important changes on the healing journey.
Your body wants to heal, do your part to help it along.