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Best Mattress for Back Pain - Part 1 Anatomy


Back Pain and Poor Sleep

We are not powerless against back pain. It can be alleviated or even prevented with one simple thing: how we sleep. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Some aches can be aggravated or even caused by how we position our bodies during slumber. How and on what we sleep can go a long way toward preventing or eliminating back pain completely.

Back pain is one of the most common complaints that people bring to their doctors. About 80 percent of adults report experiencing low back pain at some point in their lives. According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a 1990 study ranked low back pain as sixth among the causes contributing to poor health and mortality. Two decades later, it moved to third place.

Studies point to a relationship between back pain and sleep. The Sleep in America poll ­— a national, random-sample survey of 1029 non-institutionalized adults weighted to be nationally representative that was conducted by the National Sleep Foundation — found that 21 percent of Americans experience chronic pain and that 36 percent report having had acute pain in the week preceding the poll. Of those experiencing chronic back pain, 23 percent report having been diagnosed with a sleep disorder by a doctor, while 6 percent of all others have been.

Health specialists sometimes have a hard time figuring out why our backs hurt. A lot depends on where and when it hurts. There is no one single uniform category of back pain. Instead, there are many different types of back aches.

Abnormal spine curvature

There are three main types of spine curvature disorders:
Lordosis, where the spine curves more inward at the lower back than normal
Scoliosis, where the spine curves sideways in a C or S shape
Kyphosis, where the upper spine is abnormally curved

There are five regions to your spine, and all five need to be supported to ensure a restful and restorative night’s sleep, especially if you suffer from one of the above spinal curvature abnormalities. The regions of the spine consist of five areas: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and the tail bone.

Cervical spine (neck): The 7 vertebrae of the cervical column support the skull, brain stem, and the spinal cord. The cervical spine serves the flexibility of the head, moving the neck. Bad pillows or whiplash often lead to pain in this area.

Thoracic spine (upper or mid back): The 12 vertebrae of the thoracic column are relatively stable because of their attachment to the rib cage and the alignment system. They help protect vital organs. Pain of the upper back, though rarer, includes muscular problems and joint dysfunction.

Lumbar spine (low back): The 5 (in some people 6) vertebrae of the lumbar column are located between the rib cage and the pelvis. They support the body’s weight and allow for movement. Muscle problems related to heavy lifting, degenerated discs, and herniated discs with the accompanying sciatica are most often the cause of pain in this region.

Sacral spine (lower back): The sacral column is a triangle-shaped bone that consists of 5 segments that are fused together. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction, which means pain in the one side of the low back that often radiates down to the knee, is a condition to which young and middle-aged women are most prone.

The coccyx (tail bone): The tail bone is the area made up of 3 to 5 small fused vertebrae. It is most likely to hurt from prolonged sitting.

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety become a part of a vicious cycle. Back pain, often worsening quality of sleep, can in turn aggravate stress and anxiety. And, in turn worry can lead to physical pain. According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, back pain is more prevalent in people with anxiety and mood disorders than those without them. The management of stress and anxiety involves proper diet, sleep, and exercise as well as cultivating social ties. Medication and talk therapy have also proven beneficial in some cases.

Strained Muscles

Pulled or even torn muscles, which commonly cause pain in the lumbar region of the spine, can be the consequence of improper use of the muscles during heavy lifting or exercise.

Sleep disorders

Poor quality of sleep and not getting enough of it are common complaints. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep disorders chronically afflict 50 to 70 million Americans. A 2012 survey found that 6 in 10 Americans crave sleep more than sex. According to Thomas Roth, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, data suggest that “disturbed sleep can worsen your pain.” The reverse is also true. One of the studies conducted by the team Roth oversaw found that sleeping longer decreases sensitivity to pain. Sleep loss and pain increase inflammation, he said, “but getting more sleep may help decrease it.”

What is the best mattress for back pain?

A healthy spine serves three main functions:
• It protects the spinal cord, considered the body’s communication system, the nerve roots, and the internal organs of the body.
• It provides structural support for an upright posture.
• It facilitates flexible movement.

An unhealthy spine means an unhealthy body and mind. The spinal column needs proper support at night. A well-chosen mattress can help in the maintenance of proper posture.

The Mayo Clinic advises that “there doesn’t appear to be one type of mattress that’s best for people with back pain.” Instead, a helpful mattress is “a matter of what feels most comfortable to you.” According to a report by the National Institutes of Health, “having a comfortable mattress and pillow can help promote a good night’s sleep.”

In the 2015 Sleep in America poll by the National Sleep Foundation, people with acute and chronic pain reported that environmental factors often disturbed their sleep. The environmental factors that affect quality of sleep included noise, light, temperature, and indeed an uncomfortable mattress.

While no one type of mattress is a fix for all, in general, a firmer mattress­—one that supports the spine at all points throughout its natural curve—is preferred by back sufferers. According to Spine-health.com, an independent, peer-reviewed website whose contributors are medical doctors and doctoral degree holders, a firm mattress can work, but some mattresses can be too hard. In those cases, “it can cause aches and pains in pressure points such as the hips.”

The caution about a mattress that’s too firm was confirmed by a peer-reviewed study published by the medical journal The Lancet. Researchers tested 313 adults with chronic, nonspecific low-back pain and who complained about back ache when sleeping and upon rising found that after 90 days. Some of them were randomly assigned firm mattresses and others medium-firm mattresses. Mattresses of medium firmness improved pain and disability among patients with chronic nonspecific lower back pain. Doctors and manufacturers agree that if a mattress helps you sleep well and wake up rested, regardless of its firmness and composition, it’s a good mattress for your specific back pain.

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