Is Memory Foam Good or Bad for Your Back? (Expert’s Analysis)

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  • This review has been written by Dan Cartwright – the website owner – who has been testing mattresses and creating online reviews since 2015 to help consumers find the right products for their needs.

The very first memory foam mattress that I slept on gave me excruciating back pain and at the time, I didn’t understand why.

But now that I’ve spent several years testing countless mattresses and publishing my reviews online, I now understand why some memory foam mattresses and toppers can cause back pain, whilst others can actually reduce the pain.

So is a memory foam mattress or topper good or bad for your back and under what conditions?

Memory foam can be good for your back if you have pressure-aggravated back pain, exercise frequently, have arthritis or disc problems. Memory foam can be bad for your back if you choose the wrong firmness, sleep on your front, weigh more than 230 lbs, or buy a poor-quality mattress.

In the rest of this article, I have used my expert knowledge to expand on these points to give you a clear idea of when a memory foam mattress or topper makes sense and when it doesn’t.

I’ve also provided solutions for the potential back problems that memory foam can cause.

Click here to see the best memory foam and non-memory foam mattresses to choose from.

I’ve reviewed them all personally myself – so you know that you’re getting true insights that you won’t find from other websites that don’t test the mattresses they review.

Related: 7 ways a memory foam mattress can hurt your back.

Memory Foam Can Be Good For Your Back If:

Here are 6 situations where a memory foam mattress or a mattress topper may be beneficial for your back.

1: You Have Pressure-Aggravated Back Pain

Puffy Lux Hybrid Review

A memory foam topped mattress or a memory foam topper can help to alleviate back pain that stems from conditions like sciatica where excessive pressure can make the pain worse because memory foam is highly adaptive and can contour more precisely to reduce pressure on pain points such as the sciatic nerve.

This contrasts with traditional mattresses with a thinner comfort layer that’s typically made out of batting or polyfoam – where the springs and less adaptive feel can contribute to pressure points that can make your back pain worse.

I recently pulled my lower back at the gym quite badly to the point where I couldn’t walk and had to spend a few days in bed – I was thankful that I had a memory foam mattress because it softened the discomfort so that I could get to sleep.

The exact memory foam mattress that I sleep on is the Puffy Lux Hybrid mattress – you can see me talk about it in the video above.

Or click here to find out why it’s my top-rated mattress of all time.

2: You Are Frequently Sore or Injured from Sports

Memory foam can be beneficial for your back if you play a lot of sports, run, go to the gym, or are generally physically active because the memory foam can adapt to your body so that your sore muscles and joints are under less pressure.

I exercise nearly every day and this means that I’m usually in pain from Thai boxing, boxing, MMA, wrestling, weights, or running and I find that having a memory foam mattress is essential in order for me to get to sleep when I’m sore and injured.

I have arthritis in my shoulders and knees (I’m currently waiting for 3 operations at the time of writing) and I’ll no doubt have problems in my other joints as I get older.

This means that certain positions such as sleeping on my side can be very painful on mattresses that aren’t adaptive enough.

But sleeping on a high-quality memory foam mattress helps to reduce my arthritic shoulder pain because the pressure is dissipated away from my joints into the mattress materials for greater comfort.

Here are 10 tips that I follow to help me sleep after exercising too late at night.

3: Firm Sleeping Surfaces Cause Back Pain

If firmer mattresses give you back pain, then memory foam may be a better choice because – whilst you can certainly buy firm memory foam mattresses and toppers – the memory foam itself tends to be more forgiving when compared to regular polyfoam and the other materials used in other types of mattresses.

But if you don’t want to sleep on memory foam, then you can opt for latex foam or even polyfoam but in medium, medium-soft, or a soft level of firmness in order to alleviate the pressure points further.

Here are 21 ways to sleep better with lower back pain and sciatica.

4: You Have Arthritis

A memory foam mattress can be beneficial for your back and enhance your sleep quality if you have arthritis because the adaptive qualities of the foam means that pressure can be dissipated away from your joints to reduce the discomfort.

I personally find that sleeping on a memory foam mattress is much more comfortable than other types of mattresses – especially in the side sleeping position – because there’s less push back on my shoulders and knees where I feel the most pain.

Here are 16 causes of morning back pain and their solutions.

5: You Have Disc Problems

If you have a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, disc strain, or other disc problems then memory foam can help to ease the pain at night by reducing the amount of pressure on your spine and lower back region.

Here are 10 doctor-approved ways to sleep better with upper back pain.

6: You Have an Adjustable Bed

Memory foam mattresses work well with adjustable beds because the foam easily bends into shape whilst still providing a comfortable sleeping surface that can take the pressure away from your muscles, bones, and joints.

Adjustable beds are an excellent option if you have back pain because you can adjust the angle of the upper and lower sections of the bed to the exact point where your weight is distributed in a way that reduces any discomfort that you may have.

Many high-quality adjustable beds have a ‘zero gravity’ setting that allows you to be in a ‘V’ sit position so that the pressure is removed from your lower back.

Raising the upper section of the bed can also help you to get in and out of bed if you have mobility issues, as well as being able to aid with better breathing to reduce snoring and also alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux.

An adjustable bed is an excellent investment if you have conditions like GERD, sleep apnea, COPD, blocked sinuses, back pain, or mobility issues.

Click here to see the best adjustable beds and compatible mattresses to buy now.

Memory Foam Can Be Bad For Your Back If:

Here are 5 instances where a memory foam mattress or topper can hurt your back (and their solutions):

1: You Have Posture Aggravated Back Pain

If you have back pain that stems from poor posture then a memory foam mattress may hurt your back – but it could also help it depending on the exact condition, your body weight, your dominant sleeping position, and the firmness of the mattress.

If you have poor posture then having a memory foam mattress that’s too soft (especially if you sleep on your front) or too firm is the biggest risk factor when it comes to potential back pain.

Solution

The trick is to choose the right level of firmness as follows:

  • Choose a soft memory foam mattress or topper if you sleep on your side and/or weigh less than 150 lbs in oder to maximise pressure relief and weight distribution.
  • Choose a medium firmness memory foam mattress or topper if you weigh between 150 and 230 lbs and are a front, back, or side sleeper in order to balance pressure relief and support.
  • Choose a firm memory foam mattress or topper if you sleep on your front or back and weigh more than 230 lbs to maximise support for you back.

Medium-firm and medium-soft settings also exist and can offer a middle ground if you don’t quite qualify for a soft, firm, or medium level of firmness.

Click here for more specific help in choosing between a firm or soft mattress for back pain.

2: You Sleep On Your Front

DreamCloud Mattress Review (Get $200 OFF Here) – UK v US Versions

Sleeping on your front is the most dangerous position when it comes to avoiding back pain for all mattress types because this position makes it easier for your lower back to be put under a lot of strain – with the risk being heightened with memory foam due to its propensity to facilitate deeper compression and therefore more ‘sag’.

In fact, the very first time I slept on a memory foam mattress I ended up with back pain because the mattress was too soft for me and I slept on my front.

Solution

The solution is to switch to a sleeping position that puts your back under less strain – sleeping on your back is the safest for your back.

But if you’re a strict front sleeper and can’t change this, then choose a firmer memory foam mattress that can provide more push-back so that your hips remain in the correct alignment – whilst the memory foam can still provide pressure relief on your ribs.

I recommend the DreamCloud for front sleepers – click here to find out why.

3: You Weigh More Than 230 lbs

Nolah Evolution Mattress Review – Personally Tested ($700 OFF)

If you weigh more than 230 lbs, then the risk of back pain when sleeping on any type of mattress – especially if you sleep on your front – increases because your extra body weight causes deeper compression of the mattress materials that can result in poor posture.

This risk increases when sleeping on a memory foam mattress or topper because memory foam tends to sink in for greater pressure relief – which will be exacerbated by your body weight.

Solution

The solution to avoiding back pain when sleeping on a memory foam mattress if you are a heavier weighted sleeper is to select a firmer feel for more push back, choose a hybrid-memory foam mattress for more support (rather than an all-foam mattress that will sink in more), and go for a mattress that’s more than 10 inches thick to guard against excessive material sinkage.

Whilst the Nolah Evolution isn’t technically a true memory foam mattress (it uses polyfoam blends which are similar but more breathable), it does have a 15″ profile, superb support, and is available in firm and luxury firm to suit heavier weighted sleepers of all sleeping positions.

I’ve personally tested this mattress and not only is it amazing for heavy-weighted sleepers, it’s perfect for just about every sleeping position and style.

Click here to find out more in my hands-on review.

4: Your Current Mattress is Old and Sagging

The 5 Signs and Symptoms of a BAD Mattress…

Any mattress that’s over 5-7 years old is at risk of sagging and a saggy mattress can be bad for your back because it causes you to rest in poor posture for several hours.

Poor quality memory foam mattresses are more likely to sag – especially if it’s an all-foam mattress with no spring support – because the material can degrade faster and fail to return to its original position (leaving indents, troughs, and valleys).

Solution

The solution is to look at the condition of your mattress if it’s more than 5-7 years old and replace it if it’s showing significant signs of sagging or surface damage.

To test this, place a broom handle across the surface of your mattress, get down to eye level and see if there are any gaps – measure the distance, and gaps that are over 1.5-2 inches may be contributing to your back pain.

In such a case, you should buy a new mattress.

Click here to see the best memory foam and non-memory foam mattresses that I’ve reviewed.

5: You Buy a Poor Quality Mattress

If you’ve decided that you need a new mattress, then you should ensure that the mattress is high quality, comes with a minimum 10-year warranty, and has a sleep trial that lasts at least 30 nights.

This is particularly important when buying a memory foam mattress because poor-quality memory foam can degrade very quickly.

A high-quality mattress will last longer, whilst the warranty protects you from defects, and the sleep trial enables you to return the mattress if there are comfort issues.

I personally recommend that you go for a high-quality pocket coil hybrid memory foam mattress because the coil core will guard against sagging whilst also providing custom support and pressure relief.

This will protect your back and ensure that you are comfortable for many years to come.

The Puffy Lux Hybrid is my personal hybrid memory foam mattress of choice – click the button below to discover more and save $300.