Tossing and turning to find a sleeping position that doesn’t aggravate back pain makes for a miserable night. But what’s a body to do when all you want is to wake up in the morning feeling rested — and not in pain? Unless your mattress is really old and unsupportive, a mattress topper might be the key to easing the pain and frustration. Mattress toppers for back pain have become super popular because they can increase comfort as well as alleviate aches and pains. Adding the topper to any bed can also lengthen its life because it helps protect the mattress from sweat, soil and dust mites.
Losing sleep is more than an annoyance: It is a chronic medical problem that affects 75 percent of Americans at least a few nights per week. It’s vital not to underestimate the importance of the surface you sleep on because studies have shown that it is “indeed possible to reduce pain and discomfort and to increase sleep quality in those with chronic back pain by replacing mattresses based on sleeping position.”
Of course, a new mattress is not always in the budget and according to WebMD, it’s not necessary to spend thousands of dollars on a mattress. The American Chiropractic Association notes that sleeping on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in the spine can help alleviate pain. In fact, a medium-firm mattress is universally the best choice for most. Studies have also found that the old prescription of a super-firm mattress is not a good choice for people with back pain. That said, finding the surface that is right for you and the way that you sleep is key. And, speaking of sleeping position, medical professionals recommend not sleeping on the stomach if at all possible because of the way this arches the back.
Choosing a mattress topper can be challenging because there is a mind-boggling array of options available, from different thicknesses and types of materials to memory foam mattress toppers and a host of others. Homedit has sorted through the different types available and has come up with this list of the best mattress toppers for people with back pain.
Blame it on Your Mattress?
The National Institutes of Health says that low back pain (LBP) is the second most common cause of disability in United States and prevents many people from getting a good night’s sleep. A mattress topper can help people who have arthritis or other similar painful conditions sleep more comfortably because it molds to the body and supports each part, reducing pain that comes from pressure points.
That said, could it be that your mattress itself is causing your back pain? Possibly. If all other things in your life have been constant and you develop back pain, it’s a good idea to assess your mattress. According to The Joint Chiropractic, if you wake up with back pain and if it clears up with movement and some stretching, you can blame your mattress. Other indications are increased tossing and turning. In either case, you need to improve the support you’re getting while you sleep. If replacing the mattress is not possible, a good topper can make a huge difference in relieving back pain, as long as you pick the right one.
The right mattress topper is the one that keeps your spine aligned while you sleep. WebMD says that the proper surface will support your spine at the neck as well as your lower back. This will be different for each individual depending on sleep style, body composition and physical needs. And, if you’re not sure, go for the type that is “medium firm” because research has shown that it works for most people.
Mattress Topper Materials
As you can imagine, types of mattress toppers for back pain vary widely and the choices can be confusing. The most common toppers that are good for back pain are made of memory foam, gel memory foam or latex.
- Memory Foam – This material was originally invented in the 1970s for NASA, as a better cushioning for seats and as crash protection for airline pilots and passengers. Since then, it has made its way into all kinds of products, from bathroom rugs to shoe liners. Memory foam is a kind of polyurethane where the foam bubbles or “cells” are open. Air moves through these cells, and when pressure on the foam is released, it slowly returns to its original shape. In addition, body heat softens the high-density foam, allowing it to mold to the body, which is a key feature for a mattress topper.
- Gel Memory Foam – As great as memory foam is for nighttime support, one drawback can be that it retains heat. To combat this, manufacturers have infused the foam with a cooling gel in addition that helps draw heat away from the body and redistribute it, helping you stay cooler while sleeping. While these toppers do not actually generate cold, however if you tend to get hot when you sleep, the gel types can keep you more comfortable.
- Latex – Latex mattress toppers can be expensive but they are durable and do offer excellent support, similar to that of memory foam. It works very well in keeping the body properly aligned and cushioned. These toppers tend to feel a bit firmer, but typically do not feel as warm as memory foam. One of the major considerations with latex as a material is that many people have allergies to latex and these can be life-threatening.
What to Look For in a Mattress Topper for Back Pain
A number of factors will affect how well a mattress topper works in helping alleviate back pain.
- Mattress topper density — The density of the mattress topper determines how soft or supportive it will feel. It is generally measured in pounds per cubic foot and the most common is somewhere between two and six pounds per cubic foot. The more dense the topper, the heavier and firmer it will feel.
- Choosing a Thickness — Memory foam mattress toppers are available in thicknesses from 1 inch to four inches. The right combination of thickness and density will create the right feel and support – you just have to try some to see what you prefer. Thinner toppers are good for a mattress that’s generally in good shape and they will feel softer. Thicker toppers are good for heavier individuals or those who want more support.
- Material that Feels Comfortable — No matter how effective the topper is, if it doesn’t feel comfortable to you, it won’t be good for your particular situation. Personal preference is very important. You spend a third of your life sleeping, so it needs to be on a relaxing yet supportive, comfortable and restful surface.
8 Best Mattress Toppers for Back Pain
LUCID’a plush 3-Inch Gel Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper is thick enough to offer supreme comfort and ease pain without being too thick. The gel-infused memory foam is extra comfortable because it offers the cooling properties that come with a gel-infused memory foam versus a plain memory foam topper.
All the properties that make memory foam models so desirable are found in this model. It is made from 100% memory foam that comes in a single piece, and conforms to the shape of your body to relieve pressure and ensure a better night’s sleep. The foam is infused with a gel material that captures and redistributes heat, ideal for those who “sleep hot.” The foam is high density but that does not mean that it is super firm.
Most all memory foam mattress toppers have an initial new foam scent and this one is not an exception; however, it will dissipate over the first 24 hours after you open it. The website notes that the topper comes with a three-year warranty.
This LUCID topper also has a ventilated design for better airflow and breathability.View Deal
- Reviewers who rated this topper highly on Amazon said it was comfortable and that they were able to finally sleep and wake up pain-free.
- Some reviewers felt that it was too soft to be supportive and highlighted that it is not for stomach sleepers.
For those who want a topper that’s a little less enveloping, the two-inch Red Nomad Ultra Premium topper is a good choice. Although it’s thinner, it is made to reduce pressure points while sleeping and minimize tossing and turning for a better night’s rest. As always, the gel-infused foam is cooler to sleep on the just plain memory foam but the Red Nomad topper also has an improved Cool Cycle Polymer design that keep it from holding in heat.
Although sleeping on the side or back is best, plenty of people can only sleep on their stomachs. For them, this thinner two-inch type is supportive but not so thick that it will aggravate the lower back. Red Nomad guarantees that your sheets will fit over the topper because it is one inch shorter on all sides. the company says that problems with orders will be made right, “from refund to replacement.”
Say goodbye to night sweats , and enjoy the full size cooling comfort of a lucid night's sleep.View Deal
- Reviewers on Amazon who rated this topper with four and five stars loved the pain-free sleep they were able to get with this topper and praised its comfort.
- Some buyers had issues with a lingering chemical smell and some others with the topper’s durability and the company’s customer service.
Not everyone wants the cooling feature of gel-infusion in a memory foam mattress topper. For people who want the basics, the LUCID 3-inch Ventilated Memory Foam Mattress Topper is a great choice for its extra ventilation properties. Made of 100% premium memory foam, the topper’s construction is ventilated for better airflow and breathability, making it more comfortable to sleep.
This memory foam topper resists nasties like allergens and dust mites and offers plenty of support to relieve pressure points and make sleeping a pleasure. No uncomfortable pushing against your knees, elbows and arms! The three-inch thickness is enough support for most people without feeling as if they are sinking into it. As with most all memory foam mattress toppers, the odor of the foam when you open the box will dissipate over the next 24 to 48 hours.
Its open cell construction means that you won't be bothered by body impressions that don't release, interfering with comfort.View Deal
- Buyers love the comfort and pain relieve this topper offers. Even better, it comes with a three-year warranty.
- A few reviews — which were all several years old — noted an assortment of issues, however, no major overall defects were reported.
With nearly 5,000 four- and five-star reviews, it’s no wonder that the Linenspa 2-inch Gel Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper is Amazon’s Choice for “memory foam mattress topper.” The two-inch depth is enough to make your mattress more comfortable and still relieve pressure points by conforming to your body while you sleep without feeling too all-encompassing. The supportive memory foam is gel-infused, which helps keep you more comfortable as you sleep by regulating the temperature.
Linenspa’s memory foam is CertiPUR US certified for quality and it helps extend the life of the mattress by protecting it from sweat and soiling. The two-inch thickness is still comfortably firm.
Memory foam is popular because it offers support while still feeling soft and plush.View Deal
- Reviewers love how this topper revitalizes a mattress and improves the quality of sleep by relieving pressure points and back pain.
- Some buyers found the memory foam made them too warm while others reported it caused their back pain.
Tempur-pedic’s name is nearly synonymous with the term “mattress” so it’s not a surprise that the company’s mattress topper is highly rated. The TEMPUR-ProForm Supreme 3-Inch Full Mattress Topper is made with the same proprietary materials that are used in the brand’s mattresses and provide the same type of support and ease for pressure points.
This topper comes with its own cover that can be removed and washed in the machine, which helps further cut down on allergens, dirt and dust mites. It is a very durable pad that comes with a 10-year limited warranty.
The three-inch thickness is optimum for those looking for a topper that conforms to the body for customized comfort.View Deal
- Buyers absolutely love the TEMPUR-ProForm Supreme mattress topper for how well they sleep and how it relieves their morning aches and pains.
- Other than a few buyers who found the topper too firm, the issues reported with this product were mainly related to receiving damaged items.
Memory foam may be the darling of the day, but many buyers prefer other types of mattress toppers. This Ultimate Dreams Full Talalay Latex Mattress Topper is three inches thick and provides great support on mattresses that are too soft or too hard. Latex foam is a very high-quality material for mattress toppers and in this case, it is fully encased in a natural fabric made of bamboo. Just as other toppers, this one adds a layer of protection for pressure points that keep you from sleeping deeply.
A latex topper provides relief and support without making you feel like your sinking into the topper, even though it is three inches thick. it has the ability to conform to the body and provide the right amount of support. The company says that this type of mattress topper gives up to 33% more pressure relief than other foam mattress toppers. In addition, Talalay latex is reportedly up to four times more breathable than most foam toppers, including memory foam.
- Fans of this latex topper report that it provides excellent back support and is very durable.
- Reviewers who did not like this topper cited its lack of pain relief, poor durability or the fact that they found it to sleep too hot.
Two types of toppers in one is what you get with the Sleep Innovations Gel Memory Foam 4-inch Dual Layer Mattress Topper. The company touts this product as feeling like you’re sleeping on a puffy cloud, thanks to the construction that combines two inches of gel memory foam and a two-inch section of quilted fiber-fill as one topper. It’s a combo that many people find relieves pressure and provides support at the same time.
This dual mattress topper comes with its own cover that is removable and machine washable. The fit of the cover is also perfect for holding everything in place. Unlike some other toppers, this one by Sleep Innovations is made in the USA and has a 10-year limited warranty.
Even with the quilted topper, the memory gel draws heat away from the body keeping you cooler while you sleep.View Deal
- Happy buyers love the two-part topper for its comfort, pain relief and durability.
- Some reviewers reported that the smell never dissipated or they found issues with the pain relief they got from this mattress topper.
Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper Full Size is made in The USA – 3 Year Warranty This mattress topper by Advanced Sleep Solutions is two-inches thick and medium-soft. The gel-infused memory foam provides comfortable support, relieves pressure points and helps align the spine while sleeping.
The sizing of this topper is slightly smaller than your mattress, meaning that your fitted sheets will work, snugly holding all the elements in place.
The foam is made in the USA and is CertiPUR-US CERTIFIED safe, nontoxic and environmentally friendly. Advanced Sleep Solutions says that its foam is odorless and has no lingering smell after it fully expands for 24 hours.
Backed by a 60-Day Money-Back Comfortably Perfect Guarantee and a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty, the company highlights its customer service for those who have questions or issues with the product
- Reviewers praise the comfort and coolness of this mattress topper, along with the customer service offered by the company.
- Some buyers found that they were too warm sleeping on this topper and that it did not provide enough relief to pressure points.
There are so many options among the best mattress toppers for back pain that there is no reason to suffer night after night. After you assess how you sleep and what you want to get out of a topper, you’ll be able to choose the one that will provide great relief and let you wake up feeling good every day.
Pros and Cons of Topper Materials
As explained above, memory foam is a kind of polyurethane where the foam bubbles or “cells” are open. Air moves through these cells, and when pressure on the foam is released, it slowly returns to its original shape. In addition, body heat softens the high-density foam, allowing it to mold to the body. There are some definite pros to memory foam mattress toppers, as well as a few downsides:
- Full body support. Because memory foam molds to the shape of your body, it is excellent at relieving pressure points for comfort while creating enough support to properly align the spine.
- Absorbs movement. A memory foam topper lets you sleep more soundly because movement by your sleeping partner is absorbed and will not disturb you.
- Universally comfortable. In the right thickness, memory foam will be comfortable to nearly every individual;
- Initial smell. – Most memory foam mattress toppers will give off a noticeable chemical smell when first released from the packaging. This is normal and the reason sellers recommend leaving it out for the smell ton dissipate before adding it to the bed.
- Heat retention – The cellular structure of memory foam is definitely more supportive, but it is also known to retain heat. People who “sleep hot” will want to choose one that incorporates a cooling gel to help draw heat away from the body.
- Weight – The dense foam makes these toppers heavy, but also sturdy and less likely to shift around on the bed.
Gel Memory Foam
These toppers are made from memory foam that is infused with gel beads, swirled gels or layers of poured gels. Gel has a higher density than foam so it doesn’t heat up as quickly. Most of today’s gels are made with beads that incorporate compounds that store and release heat as they melt and solidify at certain temperatures, helping redistribute the heat that naturally is retained in the foam.
- Easier to fall asleep: Gel-infused mattress toppers are very effective when you get into bed and need to fall asleep as this is when your body temperature is highest. The cooling gel helps keep you cool enough to drift off.
- Cheaper: If it’s your mattress keeping you hot at night – in addition to hurting your back — adding a cooling topper is far more affordable than buying a new mattress.
- Better overall sleep – By keeping you in a restful state, a new gel memory foam topper can transform the way you sleep, making your daytime hours more pain-free and pleasant.
- It’s weighty: All that foam and gel add up to a topper that’s quite heavy and unwieldy to move around, so it’s not really very portable. The thicker ones also create issues for some people because of the feeling of “sinking in.”
- Not cool enough: How well the cooling function of these materials works is debatable for many people. Some buyers are disappointed by the amount of heat they actually draw away from the body.
- Chemical cocktail – Nearly every gel memory foam mattress topper has an initial odor that dissipates. People who are sensitive to chemicals or prefer not to introduce many chemicals into their home environment will want to consider only natural material options that won’t contain memory foam or gels.
Latex – Lately eclipsed by the popularity of memory foam, latex mattress toppers are still a top choice for durability and support. It’s made from rubber so it naturally has a bouncier feel than memory foam. Some latex is natural or organic and is derived from rubber trees, but there also synthetic latex that is a petroleum-based material. Some toppers are made from both, but tend to contain majority of synthetic material.
- No Sinking – Latex stretches to support your body while at the same time pushing back against you, hence the bouncy nature of the material. It doesn’t conform to the body like memory foam, so there’s not a feeling of “sinking in.”
- Sleeps Cooler – Latex tends not to retain heat like memory foam, which relies on body heat to totally mold to body shape.
- More support from less – Latex doesn’t need to be super thick to provide support. Two inches can often provide a significant amount of support.
- Synthetics are common – Unless it’s labeled organic or natural, the latex is likely to be synthetic, which some buyers won’t want. And, like all organic products, this type of latex will cost more that the synthetic kind.
- Hefty weight – All that rubber will weigh more than some other toppers, making it a less portable option.
- Too Firm Feeling – Latex tends to feel firmer than other options, which for some people, might not feel comfortable, especially those who prefer softer bedding.
What mattress topper density do I need?
The density of a mattress topper is measured in pounds per cubic foot. Different densities off different feelings of firmness and support.
- 3 pounds or less per cubic foot – These mattress toppers are lighter weight, feel softer, and provide less support than denser toppers.
- 4 to 5 pounds per cubic foot – This is a good middle-of-the-road choice when it comes to softness and adequate support.
- 6+ pounds per cubic feet – For superior support choose a higher density. People who have specific physical or medical conditions will also want a topper with a higher density because conform to your body shape and weight more slowly than the others Memory foam toppers come in a range of thicknesses from 1 inch to four inches. A thick topper won’t overcome the drawbacks of low density so you’ll need to find a balance of the two in order to achieve what you want.
What Topper Thickness Do I Need?
In combination with the density, the thickness will determine how much support and comfort you get from a topper. Also, sleep style and personal preference plays into the equation because some people just don’t like the enveloping feeling of the thickest foam toppers.
- 1 to 2 inches thick — This is a good choice if you have a supportive mattress but want just a little more, along with a dose of extra comfort.
- A 3-inch topper has good softness with an average amount of support. If you’re not entirely sure which thickness to choose, the three-inch option is a good pick.
- 4-inches thick is great for people who weigh more or for those who need extra support for certain parts of the body.
Maintaining Your Topper
When it comes to maintaining a foam or latex mattress topper, it’s all about prevention. Foam toppers cannot be washed or cleaned because they are not waterproof. While they can be spot-cleaned as long as you dry them with a clean cloth, it’s best to protect them from any moisture, spills or dampness. The easiest way to do this is to purchase a cover that protects the top or encases the entire topper and mattress. If it is a gel foam topper, the cover also helps contain any of the gel beads that sometimes can escape the foam of the topper.
What Warranty Should I Look For?
Mattress toppers generally come warrantees that range from three years to 10-years and vary by manufacturer and price range. If you’re not sure that a certain topper will work for you, be sure to read the return policy of the retailer as well as warranty for the specific one before you buy it.
If you’ve determined that your mattress is responsible for back pain, it may be time to consider a topper. Surprisingly, even a brand new mattress can sometimes cause back pain too and can benefit from a topper. That said, your mattress needs to be in relatively good shape for any topper to make a difference. Between the various materials, densities and thicknesses, it can seem a little daunting to choose one. Ultimately, the best mattress topper for back pain will be supportive and personally comfortable, making your nights as well as your days pain free and pleasant!