If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked the best bed for back pain I’d be rich.
Beds, and sleep, are important. Assuming we live to the age of 80, we are likely to spend 26.4 of those years sleeping - and usually that means in bed. Beds are even more important if you have a bad back. There is certainly a best bed for a bad back.
A bad bed can be the undoing of a not-so-bad back. This happens when a bed that's too soft brings a lurking stiff spinal link to the fore through its weak support. A soft bed allows a stiff link hiding in the spinal machinery to sag as the body gets heavier in sleep. This often happens on holiday when ‘that bed’ caused untold mischief.
The best bed is firm and buoying up. It lets your body drop out of its buckling crimps and kinks acquired through the day
Of course, a soft bed is often seductively cuddly and welcoming on first getting in. It yields to your pointy shoulder or hip bone and cossets your tired body after a long day. But a bed that is too soft will let you down through the night. A bed that is too soft will not give your spine the support it needs ~ and by this I mean spinal decompression ~ to prepare you for the next day. In short, a soft bed will contribute to causing a painful back.
The perfect bed manages to be vigorously supportive but not too hard, so it is therapeutic as you sleep. If your bed is firm enough it will decompress your spine. However, you will probably need to do your own spinal decompression as a self treatment if you are already in pain. The video above will show you how. See here to download
All spines are in stooped working postures during the day, many sitting crumpled for hours in the mental concentration of work. As the body weighs down deeper and deeper into its three spinal bends the lower end of the spine becomes increasingly more compressed.
Awkward and prolonged sedentary postures by day need realignment while you sleep
The spine's intervertebral discs recuperate at night by taking in water. The stately flow of fluid in while you are asleep keeps the discs well-nourished and healthy, with the same quantity of fluid lost by day - through the weighing down effects of gravity - coming back in overnight.
Although this fluid exchange is competent, its slowness is one of the main reasons why discs break down earlier than any other part of the body. It’s both cause and effect in the discs having a slow metabolic rate - and you need to do everything you can each night to help them rehydrate and repair. This means a good bed. The best bed for a back helps you have plump discs by morning.
Our spines actually grow by nearly 2cm overnight, as the discs take in fluid. If we add to this the straightening of the spinal curves and the prizing open of our other large joints (the knees, hips and shoulders) we are all considerably taller by morning. At least, we should be.
Being best armed to take on the next day is all about a supportive bed. The best bed helps straighten out a kinked and bowed-over skeleton and is not about being too accommodating. You will not straighten out if you stay sunken deep in a soft mattress. You won’t get back each night the same quantity of fluid you lost through the day and the discs and spine will suffer.
A firm surface gives your better spinal decompression while you sleep
The best bed gives gentle decompression through your entire body overnight. It lets the body flop backwards, decompressing everything, as it encourages the spine to elongate incrementally along the mattress. Think of your spine growing out like an earthworm overnight and you will wake up in the morning feeling light and refreshed, with a spring in your step.
In earlier days the best mattress was a thin layer of kapok on a slatted wooden base, similar to today’s futons. This was ideal for aeration underneath and is still a very good surface to sleep on.
In modern times, a densely sprung pocket-spring mattress on a dense base has become the ideal. These have a dense inner architecture of independent springs that almost bear you aloft on top of the bed, as if offering you up to the gods.
The inner spring of a good mattress has its own quivering sort of up-thrust that helps you turn unconsciously in your sleep. Instead of hauling yourself out of a deep hollow of soft bedding, the perfect mattress spring-loads your turns and flips you over lightly and easily. .
As a rule of thumb, the best bed should be firm and resilient if you plonk down on the side of it to sit. And here’s the clue: it should almost feel too jarring. In other words, it doesn’t collapse under you in a deep scoop under your bottom.
The final point is that you really have to try the bed in the shop – ideally with your partner beside you - because the ideal bed does depend a bit on your weight. And look for the special feature of it springiness helping to turn you over.
So you’ve chosen the best bed for back pain with a wonderful firm mattress and now all you need is a back pain pillow? Perhaps.
The transition can be tricky changing to a firmer bed and for the first couple of weeks you may feel you've made a dreadful (read expensive) mistake. But stick with it. You are incorporating the bed in the healing process and this often means in the first instance your back will complain. You may be uncomfortable through the night and stiff in the mornings. This may last anything from a few days up to a month.
You can go beyond simply relying on a better bed to make your back pain go away. You can do your own spinal decompression using a simple yoga block or BackBlock to more pro-actively pull your jammed spinal segments apart. Whatever is giving you a painful back, decompression is a critical pre-requisite of active therapy.
You can learn more about the scientific evidence base of spinal decompression. Not only is it an interesting read, it will actually help you get better faster. We know this because if an exercise (or procedure) 'makes sense' as to why you're doing it, it will be miles more effective.
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