This post was written by the site owner – Dan Cartwright – who has been testing mattresses and reviewing products online since 2015.
If you have leg pain at night, then the first thing that you must do is go and see your doctor because this could be the sign of inflammation, arthritis, fractures, a blood clot, varicose veins, artery disease, nerve pain, gout, sciatica, or other serious conditions that need medical attention (source).
But when you factor out medical conditions, can a mattress by itself be the primary cause of leg pain at night?
A mattress can cause leg pain if it’s too firm, too soft, and/or doesn’t provide enough support – by causing pressure points on your legs and putting you in bad posture – resulting in joint, muscle, and nerve pain that can lead to or aggravate existing conditions like sciatica.
Over the years, I have tested a wide range of mattresses, and I’ve experienced leg pain at night mainly due to sporting injuries that were made worse when lying down on a mattress that’s not ideally suited to my body type.
So in this post, I’ve used my personal knowledge and experience to explain in more detail how a bad mattress can contribute to leg pain, and how to stop this from happening.
3 Ways a Mattress Can Cause Leg Pain
The main ways that a mattress can cause leg pain are as follows:
1: Too Firm
A firm mattress doesn’t sink in as much as a softer mattress, which means that there is more surface tension – making the mattress feel harder.
If a mattress is too firm relative to your body weight and dominant sleeping position, then it can cause leg pain by increasing pressure points on the muscles, tendons, connective tissue, and nerves in the leg.
The lighter you are, the more likely a mattress will feel too firm because you tend to rest more on top of the materials – which results in the pressure accumulating on your body, rather than being dissipated through the mattress materials.
More specifically, your knees, hips, and ankles are more likely to feel uncomfortable on a mattress that’s too firm because their prominence means that they are hot-spots for pressure.
If you sleep on your side, then the pressure will be felt on these areas even more.
A mattress that’s too firm can make leg pain worse if you have pre-existing conditions like sciatica, arthritis, bursitis, deep vein thrombosis, and others.
2: Too Soft
A soft mattress allows you to sink further into the mattress materials than a firm mattress – which is often beneficial because it can soften pressure points on the body to help reduce pain and discomfort.
However, a mattress that’s too soft relative to your body weight and dominant sleeping position can result in leg pain due to your body being forced into poor posture which puts pressure on your joints, muscles, and nerves.
Mattresses that are too soft typically cause lower back pain – especially if you tend to sleep on your front – because this is the ‘break point’ of the body; where even a slight misalignment of the hips or spine can cause discomfort.
Often, the pressure placed on the lower back can result in referred pain that’s felt in the legs – with aggravation of the sciatic nerve being the most common example.
You are more at risk of experiencing discomfort on a soft mattress if you weigh more than 200 lbs because the relatively lower amount of surface tension provided by the upper section of the mattress will not be enough to stop you from ending up in bad posture.
3: Not Enough Support
Mattress firmness refers to the amount of pushback that the upper sections of the mattress materials are able to provide, and influences how hard or soft the bed feels when you lie on it.
Mattress support describes the bed’s ability to handle your body weight and keep you in good posture – which is primarily dictated by the lower section of the mattress known as the support core; although the upper sections of the mattress also play a role.
A mattress that doesn’t provide enough support can cause leg pain by placing excessive pressure on your muscles, joints, and nerves due to you resting in an uncomfortable position.
This dysfunction operates much like a mattress that’s too soft at the surface level – except that it’s much more pronounced.
This is because the support core typically accounts for more than 60-75% of the mattress profile, and contains either springs or high density polyfoam that’s supposed to be more capable than the materials in the upper comfort layers at holding up your body weight.
A mattress may exhibit insufficient support if you are too heavy relative to the mattress profile (sleepers over 230 lbs typically don’t have enough support on all-foam mattresses that are less than 8 inches in thickness).
Another reason for a sagging mattress is when the springs or the foam in the support core have worn out – this is quite common in mattresses that are more than 5-7 years old and have been used regularly.
7 Ways to Stop Leg Pain Caused By a Bad Mattress
Below, I have listed seven things that you can do to stop your mattress from causing leg pain.
Some are preventative measures that should be taken before purchase.
Whilst other techniques can be applied to your existing mattress to stop the discomfort.
1: Select the Correct Firmness
The most significant step that you can take to stop your mattress from causing leg pain at night is to choose the correct firmness setting before you buy it.
As I’ve explained in the video above, the ‘luxury firm’ level of firmness is the most inclusive firmness option that’s typically suitable for front, back, and side sleepers in the 130 lbs – 230 lbs range.
If you fall outside of this range, then you can use the table below to find the ideal mattress firmness relative to your body weight and favorite sleeping position.
|Firmness||Ideal Sleeping Style Suitability|
|Extra-soft||Side sleepers <130 lbs|
|Soft||Side sleepers 130 – 150 lbs|
|Medium-soft||Side sleepers 150 – 180 lbs|
|Medium||Front, back, side sleepers 150 – 200 lbs|
|Luxury-firm||Front, back, side sleepers 130 – 230 lbs|
|Medium-firm||Front, back, side sleepers 150 – 230 lbs|
|Firm||Front + back sleepers 200 – 230 lbs|
|Extra-firm||Front + back sleepers >250 lbs|
2: Use a Mattress Topper to Correct Existing Firmness Issues
In the vast majority of cases, you’ll already own and be sleeping on the mattress that’s causing your leg pain.
With new mattresses, I’ve personally found that it can take up to 7-30 nights of continuous use for the mattress materials to adjust to your body shape and sleeping style.
But if you’re sure that the mattress isn’t right for you, then I recommend returning it under the terms of the sleep trial for either a replacement that’s of the correct firmness, or a full refund.
But what if the mattress trial period has expired?
Then you can buy a mattress topper to adjust the firmness without having to go to the expense of purchasing a new mattress.
You can use a firm or soft mattress topper to stop leg pain at night in the following two ways:
A Soft Memory Foam Mattress Topper Can Reduce Pressure-Aggravated Leg Pain
If your leg pain is caused by a mattress that’s too firm, then you can fix this by purchasing a mattress topper that’s a bit softer in order to provide more pressure relief.
A memory foam mattress topper can provide the maximum amount of pressure relief because the material contours very closely to your body shape to soften friction points.
Just be warned that memory foam does tend to sleep warmer than other materials.
In which case, a soft latex foam mattress topper is a better choice because this material tends to be more breathable.
A Firm Latex Foam Mattress Topper Can Reduce Posture-Aggravated Leg Pain
If your leg pain is being caused by a mattress surface that’s slightly too soft, then placing a firmer latex foam mattress topper over the surface can provide more pushback so that you can lie down in better posture.
However, this technique won’t work if your mattress is too soft due to a broken support core because the sagging will be too pronounced.
If the support core is broken, then you should buy a new mattress.
3: Choose a Zoned Pocket-Coil Support Core
If you have yet to purchase your mattress, then I recommend selecting one with pocket coils that are arranged in a zoned formation in order to limit the chance of experiencing leg pain or any other discomfort at night.
Pocket coils are individual springs that are linked by an external encasement, rather than being directly connected – as they typically are in a traditional spring mattress.
This is beneficial because it allows the coils to adjust one by one to the shape of your body to provide better postural support, as well as making for a quieter mattress that doesn’t transfer motion as readily (which is beneficial for couples that want to avoid waking each other up as they move around).
A zoned support core has a firmer feel around the hips and more ‘give’ around the shoulder and knee areas.
This helps to contribute to lying in better posture and can remove the pressure on your legs to help reduce discomfort.
4: Enhance Pressure Relief With Memory or Latex Foam
Memory foam and latex foam can help combat leg pain at night by reducing pressure on your nerves, muscles, and joints by conforming to the shape of your body more precisely and less harshly than the batting used in regular mattresses.
I recommend looking for a mattress with a layer of memory foam or latex foam on top of the mattress that’s at least 3 inches thick to provide a good amount of pressure relief and depth to handle your body weight.
The best mattress that I’ve slept on for reducing pressure points is the Puffy Lux Hybrid – the thick layers of memory foam have helped alleviate the discomfort in my arthritic knees, and after I had knee surgery.
Latex foam is a better alternative if you sleep warm and need a more breathable sleeping surface.
The Nolah Natural is the most breathable mattress that I’ve slept on and also provides very good pressure relief on my legs and the rest of my body.
5: Look for Reinforced Edge Support
If you sleep near the edge of the mattress, then you need a mattress with good edge support because it will stop you from rolling off the bed.
However, if you have leg pain, then one very important detail to consider is if the mattress has a hard line of stitching – like many traditional Euro top mattresses do.
Because, based on my experience of testing many mattresses, a hard line of stitching along the edge of the mattress can create a concentrated area of pressure and feel very uncomfortable – especially if you sleep with a leg or arm hanging off the edge of the bed.
The traditional solution here is to go for a pillow top mattress – which is just an extra layer of padding on top of the mattress attached with a seam of stitching that’s less noticeable.
However, most pillow tops can move around a lot and thus make it harder to switch positions easily.
That’s why I recommend going for a mattress like the Nolah Evolution that has a beveled top that’s stitched in such a way that you can’t feel the stitching, and the padding doesn’t slip around.
6: Improve Your Posture With an Adjustable Frame
An adjustable base allows you to elevate the head and foot positions of the mattress, which can help to improve your posture and take the pressure off your legs to reduce pain.
Many hospitals will elevate the lower portion of the bed to reduce edema (swelling) in the legs of their patients.
7: Replace a Sagging Mattress
Regardless of whether or not it’s hurting your legs, a sagging mattress should be replaced because lying in bad posture each night can result in a poor night’s sleep and potentially contribute to conditions like back pain.
A sagging mattress cannot be safely fixed with just a mattress topper because a damaged support core is too significant to cover up.
Conclusion: A Bad Mattress Can Cause Leg Pain
A mattress that’s not well suited to your body type and dominant sleeping position can be the direct cause of leg pain – as well as making pre-existing conditions worse.
However, if you’re experiencing leg pain when you lie down, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor to find out if there is an underlying cause.
Image Attribution and Licensing
Main image: ‘Cropped shot of woman sitting on bed and having pain in leg’ by LightFieldStudios (used with permission and commercially licensed through Envato Elements).
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.