Look after your back – choose the right bed

Every year up to 40% of the population – over 16 million of us – will suffer a bout of back pain and if you’re one of the unlucky ones, you will find that the state of your bed will quickly become a priority. A good bed, providing correct support and comfort, has an important role to play in relieving and preventing back pain. Here are some tips:
  • Don’t just buy a bed because it says it’s good for your back. A bed that’s supportive and comfortable is key. But it is important to remember that people’s requirement for support will differ depending on their weight and build.
  • The term ‘orthopaedic’ generally just means an extra firm bed; it is not based on any medical or other common standard. Firmness is not determined by price, although comfort, luxury and durability and added features such as adjustability come with higher price tags.
  • There’s no single right bed to ease a back problem and each different back problem also may require a different solution. The best approach is to research the options carefully, take time to try them out and choose what you personally find supportive and comfortable, regardless of labels or even price tags.
  • Narrow your choice down to two or three and then spend plenty of time lying on these in your normal sleeping positions. Five or 10 minutes should be the minimum for each bed – but feel free to spend half an hour or even an hour, if that’s what you want to do.
  • Look for a supportive rather than a hard bed. Do not assume that orthopaedic or firmer beds are the best option. Often a medium firm bed with proper cushioning is better.
  • A bigger bed will be of benefit both for the back pain sufferer and for their partners – with less partner disturbance. Zip and link beds are a good option if firmness preferences differ widely or where a future requirement for two separate beds is identified.
  • Think also about the height of the bed: can you get in and out of it with relative ease? An adjustable bed might be an option if this is an area of particular concern – it also offers variable sleeping positions.
  • Many mattresses need to be turned regularly to ensure even wear and tear. If this is likely to prove difficult (and good quality mattresses are heavy!) then look for a mattress which does not need regular turning – there are a number of options of all types of construction now on the market
  • Pay attention also to choosing the correct pillow which must support the neck neck in alignment with the rest of the spine. Too many pillows thrust the head forward or sideways (depending on your sleeping position); too few allow the head to tip backwards: both create a crick in the neck.
  • Try and adopt a sleeping position which creates less physical stress on the back (e.g. lying on your side is better than lying on your front with your neck twisted to one side!).
The Sleep Council has a free booklet covering the different types of bed available plus tips on bed buying. Call freephone 0800 018 7923 or request a leaflet here.
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