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3 Ways Your Old Mattress is Causing Back Pain (5 Solutions)

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If you’ve recently developed back pain then you might be wondering if your old mattress is what’s causing your back to ache.

But can an old mattress really cause you back pain?

A mattress that’s more than 5-7 years old can cause back pain – especially if the mattress exhibits visible sagging, body impressions, or indentations greater than 1.5-2 inches in depth. If your back pain is worse in the morning and tapers off gradually (only to return the next morning) then your old mattress could be the cause.

The rest of this article explains in detail how an old mattress can cause you to experience back pain, how to tell if your mattress is the root cause of your discomfort, and how to stop your old mattress from causing you back pain.

Alternatively: if you’re ready to replace your old mattress and you have back pain, then I highly suggest checking out my list of the best mattresses for back pain because the article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Dimitar Marinov (M.D, Ph.D, RDN) and includes my #1 complete mattress and adjustable bed solution for customizable comfort.

3 Ways Your Old Mattress is Causing You Back Pain

Sleeping on an old mattress could put you at risk of experiencing back pain according to scientific investigations and my own primary research (derived from talking to others), personal experience, and secondary research (reading online reports).

For example, a double-blind scientific study of 265 subjects revealed that there’s a significant positive correlation between the quality of sleep and the quality of the mattress – resulting in the conclusion that sleeping on an old mattress (8 years old) could worsen existing back pain conditions [1].

Furthermore, having slept on many old mattresses myself over the years, my experience correlates with the many reports that I’ve read online and heard in person from other sleepers that sleeping on an old mattress can trigger back pain even when there was no pre-existing chronic back pain condition.

At the qualitative level, I’ve concluded that the 3 primary ways that your old mattress could be causing you back pain are as follows:

1: Sagging

A sagging mattress is one that exhibits a dip in the surface of at least 1.5 – 2 inches in depth and extends across a significant area of the mattress.

In a single-sleeper bed, the sag is typically the most pronounced along the centerline of the mattress where most of your body weight is concentrated – with double-sleeper sized mattresses potentially exhibiting sagging on each half of the mattress.

A sagging mattress can cause back pain because once the surface of the mattress begins to bow significantly, your spine and supporting muscles are pulled out of their natural alignment and placed under strain for extended periods which could result in discomfort and musculoskeletal stiffness.

Mattress sagging typically worsens as the mattress gets older because the materials begin to degrade and sagging becomes especially evident when the lower support core of the mattress begins to deteriorate because this region of the mattress is primarily responsible for supporting your body weight and maintaining good posture.

If you weigh more than 230 lbs and sleep on your front in a low-quality foam or spring mattress then you’re most at risk of experiencing lower back pain because the inferior quality materials are likely to degrade faster in response to your relatively greater body weight, and lying on your front puts the most amount of strain on your lower back and neck.

The video below shows you how to check to see if your mattress is sagging significantly (more than 1.5-2 inches):

Weird trick to find out if your mattress is sagging (body impressions, indentations) – Natural Mattress Finder

2: Body Impressions

Body impressions are dips in the mattress that develop in response to concentrated areas of pressure being repeatedly placed upon the mattress surface by your body.

For example, it’s common to see body impressions in your mattress where your shoulders and hips come into contact with the mattress because this is where much of your body weight is concentrated.

Slight body impressions (below 0.5-1 inch) are normal and can actually help to make your new mattress feel more comfortable because the surface of the mattress will conform to your body more congruently and reduce pressure points that could otherwise lead to discomfort and even back pain.

Body impressions can become a problem when they become too deep and cause you to break good posture and can increase the pressure on your body which can lead to back, hip, shoulder, and neck pain.

Mattresses topped with low-density memory foam (<3 PCF) and/or polyfoam (<1.5 PCF) are particularly susceptible to body impressions as the mattress ages because these materials tend to break down more easily when they aren’t made from high-quality materials.

Body impressions on such mattresses are even more likely if you weigh more than 230 lbs, and could lead to back pain in particular if you also sleep on your front because this position can result in ‘hammocking’ of your lower back as your hips sink too far into the materials and cause discomfort.

Firmer mattresses may help to slow the material degradation process and limit body impressions and sagging under heavier body weights because the increased surface tension can help to stop you from sinking too deeply into the materials.

However, a mattress that’s too firm can cause back pain too if it doesn’t suit your physical characteristics and dominant sleeping position.

For example, lighter weighted side sleepers under 150 lbs typically experience pressure-derived back, shoulder, and hip pain when sleeping on a mattress that’s too firm because they tend to rest more on top of the materials which creates pressure points and prevents good posture.

3: Indentations

Indentations are pronounced dips in the surface of the mattress that may be caused by defects such as broken springs, foam deformations, or through wear and tear over time.

Due to the more concentrated nature of indentations, these changes in the mattress surface are more likely to create pressure points that can potentially aggravate your nerves which may worsen back pain related to conditions like sciatica or even create new pain.

Indentations are particularly likely to form in old mattresses topped by low-density foam or contain a combination of low-quality springs and a thin upholstered top layer.

How to Tell if Your Old Mattress is Causing Back Pain

If you have recently developed back pain then you should most definitely go and see your doctor to confirm the root cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

And whilst I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose your back pain, my research indicates that there’s a fair chance that your mattress/bed is the cause of your back pain if one or more of the following conditions are true:

1: Pain Upon Rising

If your back pain is most noticeable when you wake up in the morning and begins to wear off as the day progresses – only to return with renewed intensity the next morning – then this could be a strong signal that your mattress is the cause of your back pain.

If you’re a dominant stomach sleeper then switching to the back or side sleeping position may help to temporarily alleviate the issue because sleeping on your front is typically considered to be the most likely to result in back pain [2].

2: The Mattress is More Than 5-7 Years Old

Although the study I referenced earlier defined an ‘old’ mattress as being 8 years old, the average expected lifespan of a mattress is typically around 5-7 years.

Although it’s worth noting that some of the best anti-sag hybrid and natural/organic latex mattresses may last for up to 10 years or more.

But such anomalies aside, if your regular spring/foam mattress is more than 5-7 years old and you’re also waking up with back pain in the morning then the correlation between your mattress and your back pain becomes stronger.

3: Changes in the Mattress Structure

If there are visible sagging, body impressions, and/or indentations in your mattress deeper than 1.5-2 inches then these changes in the structure of your mattress could be a signal that your mattress is the root cause of your back pain.

In particular, if the integrity of the lower support core has been compromised then this is a strong indicator that your mattress is causing your back pain because the support core’s primary function is to uphold your body weight and maintain good posture.

How to Stop Your Old Mattress From Causing Back Pain

If you’re confident that your old mattress is the source of your back pain then here are 5 solutions that you can try:

1: Buy a New Mattress

If your mattress is more than 5-7 years old and/or exhibits significant structural changes like sagging, body impressions, or indents then the most effective solution is to buy a new mattress.

In which case I recommend having a look at my list of the best mattresses for back pain because in addition to being medically reviewed by Dr. Dimitar Marinov (M.D, Ph.D, RDN), that article provides you with the top mattresses that you can buy online that can potentially help to guard against new back pain as well as combating existing back pain.

Even if you don’t have back pain, my #1 pick on that list is featured in many of my other top mattress lists because the mattress is very well-rounded and can cater to nearly all sleeping positions.

2: Replace the Frame

If your mattress is sagging then you should also take a look at the state of the frame that you’re using to support your mattress because a broken frame is often the cause of both a noisy bed and a sagging mattress.

If upon checking the frame you can’t see any noticeable damage then you should put the mattress on the floor to see if the sagging goes away.

  • If the sagging does NOT go away, then the problem is quite likely related to the integrity of the mattress – in which case you should probably buy a new mattress.
  • If the sagging goes away, then either the damage to the mattress may be minimal or the frame might not be able to take the weight of the mattress – in which case buying a new mattress and frame could be the most comprehensive solution.

If you need a new mattress and frame and you have back pain then I recommend buying a compatible adjustable frame and mattress because there’s some scientific evidence that sleeping on a surface that’s been adjusted to your personal preferences may help to reduce back pain [3].

3: Use Plywood

If your mattress is sagging only slightly and you found that placing the mattress on the floor resolved this then you may find that placing a sheet of plywood between your bed frame and your mattress may solve the issue by increasing the support.

Just be aware that this can also increase the firmness of the mattress, and may cause moisture to build up on the underside of the mattress (potentially leading to mold growth and the worsening of allergies) due to reduced airflow (this can be a problem for memory foam mattresses especially since they’re typically not as breathable as spring, latex foam, and hybrid mattresses).

Also, I would only consider this to be a temporary solution, I recommend buying a new mattress and/or frame as the proper long-term fix.

4: Put the Mattress On the Floor

If putting your mattress on the floor resolved the sagging and helps to alleviate your back pain then you might simply choose to leave it there.

However, some of the dangers of sleeping on just a mattress on the floor without a proper base can actually include the manifestation or worsening of back pain due to improper support and the increase of pressure points.

Other drawbacks to placing your mattress on the floor include feeling too cold, getting bugs in your bed, and even voiding the warranty.

5: Buy a Firm Mattress Topper

If your old mattress is too soft and/or has body impressions/indentations in the upper comfort layer then you may be able to fix this by buying a firm mattress topper to place over the surface and stop you from sinking too far into the mattress.

You could use this strategy in isolation or in conjunction with the plywood/floor techniques but again, I wouldn’t really consider this as a viable long-term solution if the fundamental integrity of the mattress has been compromised.

Related Questions

I’m going to round this article off by answering a few questions related to old mattresses and various body pains in a concise and clear way.

Can Sleeping on an Old Mattress Cause Back and Hip Pain?

Sleeping on an old mattress that’s sagging, has an uneven surface, or broken support core could cause back and hip pain due to poor posture and pressure points – check with your doctor for individual guidance.

Can a Bad Mattress Cause Back and Chest Pain?

Whilst a ‘bad’ mattress that’s sagging or otherwise had its structural integrity compromised could cause back and chest pain, the chest pain element is particularly worrying if it has come on quickly and you should seek medical advice immediately since sudden, acute chest pain can be an indicator of a life-threatening condition like a heart attack [4].

Conclusion: Buy a New Mattress

If you’ve consulted with your doctor and he agrees that it’s likely that your old mattress is the source of your back pain then the most obvious solution is to buy a new mattress.

In which case I recommend clicking the button below to see the best mattresses that you can buy online now.

This list includes a comprehensive buying guide to help you find the perfect mattress for you and some limited-time discounts to help save you $100’s when you buy through the links/buttons on that page.


Sources and References

[1] Europe PMC – Associations Between Back Pain, Quality Of Sleep And Quality Of Mattresses. Double-Blind Pilot Study With Hotel Guests. Accessed 5/10/20.

[2] HealthLine – Is It Bad to Sleep on Your Stomach? Accessed 5/10/20.

[3] Europe PMC – Short-Term Outcomes Of Chronic Back Pain Patients On An Airbed Vs Innerspring Mattresses. Accessed 5/10/20.

[4] WebMD – What’s Causing My Chest Pain? Accessed 5/10/20.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Old Mattress’ by Jewelsy (Getty Images) – used with permission under Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website is intended to provide medical advice or a diagnosis, all content is for informational purposes only – please consult with a qualified medical professional if you require such guidance.

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