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4 Ways Latex Mattresses Help Relieve Back Pain

If you’re one of 31 million Americans currently suffering from back pain, then you’re likely well-acquainted with the frustration and frequent wake-ups that come with nagging aches and pains. While most back pain fades away with time and treatment, if it’s become a recurring issue, your mattress might not be helping.

Naturally, a worn-out, saggy mattress isn’t great for back health, as it disrupts your spinal alignment, or the S-shaped curve your back has when your body is fully erect, says Wisconsin-based chiropractor Tom Tozer. For this reason, what type of mattress you’re sleeping on (and whether it provides the support and comfort you need) is an important conversation for all patients with back pain, he says.

Experts agree there’s no one-size-fits-all mattress for soothing back pain, but a sleeping surface on the firmer side can help, says Bill Fish, certified sleep science coach and founder of the sleep website Tuck. With the springiness and body-contouring comfort you’d expect from innerspring and memory foam mattresses alike, latex mattresses make for a best-of-both-worlds solution.

In the market for a new mattress? This guide will help you find the best latex mattress for back pain.

Latex mattresses and back pain: what you need to know

Here’s how back pain affects sleep, and how latex mattresses work to prevent back pain while you sleep.

How back pain affects sleep

Three in four people with persistent back pain say it disrupts their sleep, and the more pain they have, the less sleep they get, finds a 2016 study in the Clinical Journal of Pain. Worse yet, research suggests there’s a bidirectional relationship between pain and sleep: too little sleep can dial up your sensitivity to pain, and pain in itself, of course, can make it difficult to find (and keep) a comfortable sleeping position.

Considering most back pain is rooted in misalignment, a supportive mattress can be a game-changer as it keeps your spine in a healthy neutral posture, says Tozer. With the proper cushioning, your muscles can stop firing and contracting in order to rest and recover overnight.

How a latex mattress works to prevent back pain

Like gloves and bandages, natural latex mattresses are made with milky sap harvested from rubber trees (while synthetic latex mattresses are typically less expensive, they’re also less durable and eco-friendly than their natural counterparts). Latex mattresses are comprised of a latex support core topped with an additional latex comfort layer, plus padding and a cover made of materials like organic cotton and flame-retardant natural wool.

There are two main types of latex to choose from: Dunlop and Talalay. Dunlop latex mattresses are minimally processed, which results in a dense and heavy single block of foam. Talalay latex mattresses, on the other hand, undergo more processing in order to evenly distribute and stabilize latex particles. The last step, a flash-freezing process, results in a softer, lighter foam.

Another difference to consider: Talalay beds are comprised of multiple layers, which means one mattress can offer two firmness options (for example, the flippable Zenhaven mattress features distinct comfort layers on each side).

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How to find the best latex mattress for back pain

Here, four ways a latex mattress can offer relief from back pain and how to find the right one for you.

1. Latex mattresses provide essential lumbar support

To support a healthy spine and, in turn, reduce back pain, lumbar support (a.k.a. low-back support) is a must, says Tozer. Here, latex mattresses with added reinforcement in the shoulder-to-hip area can help. Often, this is referred to as “zoned” support, with firmer latex in the center third of the mattress to keep your back from sinking out of alignment.

2. Latex mattresses are contouring yet responsive

No matter your sleep style, a latex mattress provides the combination of comfort and support your back needs to rest and maintain proper alignment. The comfort layer hugs your body’s most burdened pressure points like your shoulders and hips to disperse stress away from them, says Fish. This is why latex mattresses make a smart pick for side sleepers, he notes. At the same time, latex isn’t so soft that it sinks beneath your weight, as is the case with some memory foam mattresses.

3. Latex mattresses can be paired with an adjustable base

Essentially all latex mattresses are compatible with an adjustable base. That’s good news if you’re healing from a recent injury or surgery, as lifting your legs and head can help take pressure off of your back, says Tozer. Another benefit: An adjustable bed can be useful if you’re gradually shifting from an unhealthy sleeping position to a more neutral posture with the help of a chiropractor, he says.

4. Latex mattresses are durable

Natural latex is extremely durable—in fact, latex mattresses have a longer average life span than other types of beds. Latex mattresses can last for 15 years or more. If you have back pain, that means you can rest assured your spine is being properly supported over the course of time.

Ultimately, one of the greatest benefits of a latex mattress is its versatility in terms of density, firmness, and comfort, says Tozer. Of course, since your needs are highly individualized depending on the source of your back pain and your preferred sleeping position, make sure to opt for a mattress from a company that allows you to take a test run for a few weeks or months, he suggests. That way, you can make sure you find the right fit to get truly restorative sleep and ease your back pain.

Have back pain? Here’s how to find the best latex mattress for your sleep position:

Lauren Krouse is a freelance writer and researcher based in North Carolina. A graduate of the MFA in Creative Nonfiction program at UNC-Wilmington, she loves writing about all things health, fitness, politics, and activism. When she’s not typing away, you can find her meditating, weightlifting, playing soccer, or walking in the woods with her partner and two rescue dogs.