This is the worst type of mattress to buy if you have back pain

A man sits up in bed holding his painful back because he's sleeping on the wrong type of mattress for his back pain
(Image credit: Getty)

Back pain is one of the leading causes of sleep deprivation, but investing in the best mattress for your body, sleep needs and the type of back pain you're dealing with will help you get a keen blend of pressure relief and lumbar support. In short, you'll be on your way to restorative (and pain free) slumber once again.

In contrast, the worst type of mattress for back pain is a bed that provides the wrong level of support — it's either so firm that it provides little-to-no pressure relief, or doesn't contain enough supportive layers, resulting in the spine dipping painfully out of alignment. 

Here we'll walk you through exactly which type of mattress you should avoid when buying a mattress to help ease back pain during, and steer you towards the best mattress for back pain depending on your specific needs. Whether your back pain is new or has got progressively worse, rest assured that the right mattress is out there, and that peaceful sleep is possible again.

The worst type of mattress to buy if you have back pain

A mattress without enough supportive layers  

While every back ailment is different and what every person requires to provide relief from their back pain will differ slightly, there is one universal truth when it comes to the best mattresses for back pain — the mattress needs to be supportive enough that your spine is cradled in the correct position.

A woman with long dark hair wakes up after an uncomfortable night's sleep on a hybrid mattress as she's really better off sleeping on a memory foam bed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A mattress that might initially feel comfortable but doesn't contain enough supportive layers (if any at all) is one of the worst mattresses you can buy for back pain. These are often too-soft all-foam beds. Without adequate lumbar support, your spine will dip out of alignment, which can worsen existing back ailments and even cause back pain when you previously had none. 

What to buy instead: Instead of a mattress with inadequate lumbar support, opt for a mattress that offers a keen balance of spinal support and pressure relief. All-foam mattresses that are too soft won't provide enough support, but certain memory foam mattresses - like the Saatva Loom & Leaf - provide outstanding support for back pain sufferers. You can read why we rate it so highly in our Saatva Loom & Leaf mattress review

However, at 15" deep and with seven supportive layers, the Saatva RX tops our best mattress for back pain guide. During our Saatva RX mattress review, our lead mattress tester was impressed with the improvement in made to her own back discomfort. However, starting at $1,995 at full MSRP it is expensive - but worth the investment if you're currently blighted by back pain. 

Saatva RX at Saatva: $1,995$1,696 at Saatva

Saatva RX at Saatva: from $1,995 $1,696 at Saatva
The Saatva RX is a luxury mattress specially designed for sleepers with chronic or serious back and joint pain, such as scoliosis or arthritis. Even taking into account the current saving of up to $569, the price of this mattress might make your eyes water (right now you can buy a queen size Saatva RX for $2,801 instead of $3,295). However, you get a 365-night trial, a lifetime warranty, and free White Glove Delivery straight to your bedroom, including old mattress removal.

A mattress that's too firm to offer pressure relief

A common misconception is that the firmer the mattress, the better it is for your back pain. But in the same way that an unsupportive mattress allows your spine to dip out of alignment, a mattress that is much too firm - regardless of how many supportive layers it boasts - will cause your spine to sit on top of the mattress, where pressure will build painfully around the touch points of the mattress.

"People assume that purchasing a firmer mattress can solve their pain issues, but in reality, they need to replace their old mattress with a new one that aligns with their body type and sleep preferences," Dr. Chris Tomshack, CEO of HealthSource Chiropractic, told us when we discussed why firm mattresses aren’t always best for back pain at the end of last year. 

What to buy instead: Instead of  waiting until your mattress is very old and your back pain is severe, replace your mattress as soon as you spot the signs that your mattress needs replacing, one of which is developing new aches and pains. A medium-firm mattress that contains materials that flex with the body, such as Purple’s GelFlex Grid tech, are good for people who like different levels of firmness across their body.

Purple Plus mattress: $1,495$1,195 at Purple

Purple Plus mattress: from $1,495 $1,195 at Purple
You can now save $400 on all sizes of the Purple Plus, which means a queen size will cost you $1,495 rather than the usual $1,895. It's one of the best Purple mattress deals (last month, they knocked $300 off), so now is the best time to buy if you don't want to wait to see what President's Day deals have to offer.

A mattress lacking breathable materials

Even if your mattress provides the right level of support and pressure relief, you are merely swapping one sleep issue for another if your new mattress doesn't provide adequate temperature regulation. A mattress without breathable materials will lead to overheating, causing you to wake frequently at night. What's more, shifting around to find relief from the heat can cause painful jarring and jolts to your already-sore back. 

A woman in a brown t-shirt massages her painful lower back in bed

(Image credit: Getty)

What to buy instead: A medium-firm, breathable mattress with a gentle amount of contouring and robust support layers should be at the top of your shopping list. As a general rule, hybrid mattresses sleep cooler than all-foam mattresses, due to the additional air circulation that the coils provide. 

For the ultimate in temperature regulation, look for a mattress with a breathable cover or heat-dissipating gels. The Brooklyn Bedding Aurora Luxe tops our best cooling mattress for back pain, thanks to its combination of soothing lumbar support  and heat-wicking GlacioTex cover. For more in-depth test analysis, check out our Brooklyn Aurora Luxe mattress review

Brooklyn Aurora Luxe: $999 $749.30 at Brooklyn Bedding

Brooklyn Aurora Luxe: from $999 $749.30 at Brooklyn Bedding
Like the Saatva Classic (which we deem to be the best mattress in the world), the Aurora Luxe is a luxurious feeling hybrid that's available in three different firmness options. It delivers excellent comfort and support, as well as top-notch cooling via a specialist GlacioTex cooling cover. Regular deals knock 25-30% off MSRP, and there's a 120 night trial included.

Mattresses for back pain: The bottom line

The worst mattress for back pain will provide inadequate lumbar support - causing your spine to dip painfully out of alignment - or will be too firm to provide any meaningful pressure relief. This could be a too-soft all-foam or a too-firm hybrid mattress. What's more, poor temperature regulation will compound your sleep issues and could leave you at risk of exacerbating your existing back ailments by shifting around while searching for relief. 

Instead, medium-firm mattresses with good supportive layers and a breathable cover or heat-dissipating gels are an excellent choice for back pain. Mattresses with a degree of contouring or materials that flex with the body, like the Purple GelFlex Grid Tech, or mattresses that provide higher level of support for the lower back, like the Saatva Classic or Saatva RX, while the rest of the mattress is softer, are sound investments for those with back pain.

Nicola Appleton
Sleep Features Editor

Nicola Appleton is Sleep Features Editor at Tom’s Guide, specialising in quality news content surrounding sleep and wellbeing. Nicola cut her teeth as a journalist in a busy newsroom in Bristol, UK, 15 years ago as part of a team at Britain's largest independent press agency. Since then, her job as a journalist has taken her to the States, to Sydney, and then back to Blighty, where she has written and edited features for a whole host of prominent British and international brands, including  The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, HuffPost, Refinery29, Stylist and more. As well as tackling the vast topic of sleep, Nicola will be joining the raft of expert mattress reviewers at Tom's Guide, helping steer readers towards the very best mattresses on the market.