How to Choose a Mattress Topper for Back Support or Relief of a Bad Back
The comfort of furniture has a significant influence on our health, mood, and energy level. Many of these problems are caused by improper mattresses. Extra support systems can be used not only on sofas, chairs, and car seats but also on top of regular mattresses. The layer added on top of a mattress to support your body as you sleep is called a mattress topper. This extra layer of cushioning on top of a regular mattress provides extra support or comfort. Mattress toppers are becoming more and more popular around the world. They not only make a mattress more comfortable, they can also provide exceptional back support.
To choose a mattress topper for back support or to relieve a bad back, first consider the specific qualities of the mattress you will be using it on. Next, think about the position you sleep in. Then, select the material of a mattress topper, the best thickness for it, and its ideal firmness. Finally, try to sleep on your selected mattress topper to determine whether it supports your back and helps to relieve your back pain.
Mattress toppers work by relieving pressure points and supporting our spinal alignment while we sleep or just rest on a bed. They help improve the quality of our sleep by providing comfort and support at the same time. In fact, mattress toppers can be among the best solutions for severe back pain. However, choosing the right mattress topper is essential. If you don't purchase the right mattress topper for you and your mattress, it might not provide any support at all. More than that, mattress toppers that aren't suitable for the specific mattress you have can cause even more damage to your back and worsen your sleep quality.
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What is a Mattress Topper?
A mattress topper is a layer of cushioning that can be added on top of any type of mattress to provide extra support and increase the life and durability of the mattress.
Generally speaking, mattress toppers are used for providing extra support for your back, relieving lower and upper back pain, and simply making the bed more comfortable. Mattress toppers not only help you sleep better but also refresh old mattresses and make new ones relatively softer. Here's a detailed analysis of the benefits of mattress toppers.
Mattress Pads vs. Mattress Toppers
Most of the time, people think that a mattress topper is the same as a mattress pad. In fact, these two items have slightly different functions.
The primary difference between mattress pads vs. mattress toppers is that mattress pads are only designed to protect the mattress while mattress toppers can both protect the mattress as well as support your body during sleep.
Roughly speaking, mattress toppers could be considered 2-in-1 options. However, it is always a good idea to use a mattress protector along with a mattress topper. This way, you not only increase the life expectancy of the mattress but protect the mattress topper as well. Although mattress pads and toppers can seem quite similar, they were originally designed for completely different purposes.
Toppers are designed to provide exceptional support for your back and to comfort you while you sleep. In contrast, mattress pads do not offer any specific features beyond the ability to protect the mattress and extend its lifespan. As a result, a key difference between mattress pads and mattress toppers is price. Mattress toppers tend to be more expensive when compared to mattress pads.
The use of a mattress topper in tandem with a mattress protector will make the mattress last longer, keeping it like new longer. Many mattress manufacturers and mattress retailers claim that the combination of a mattress topper with a protector can even double the expected lifespan of a mattress.
The Difference Between a Mattress Topper and an Orthopedic Mattress Topper for Back Pain
The difference between a regular mattress topper and an orthopedic mattress topper for back pain is that an orthopedic mattress topper provides better support for your back. by improving spinal alignment and distributing pressures away from key areas such as the lower back.
Orthopedic mattress toppers are specifically designed based on many clinical trials and observational studies such as this 2006 study reported in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation that linked sleep disturbances with chronic lower back pain in patients. In another example, a study in the May 2006 issue of Applied Ergonomics measured the spinal distortion of people lying on their sides on different mattresses and the pressure distribution patterns of lying down. As a result of discoveries and innovations arising from such studies, many manufacturers design products to improve spinal alignment. Products that have been optimized based on such medical studies are denoted by the term “orthopedic.” Orthopedic products have been popular since they first appeared on the market.
If you just want to refresh your mattress and feel comfier in bed, you can go with a regular mattress topper since it will cost less. On the other hand, if you suffer from severe back pain, this is when you should choose an orthopedic mattress topper instead of a regular one. Orthopedic mattress toppers are designed to relieve back pain and improve spinal alignment as one lays on the bed.
The problem with orthopedic mattress toppers is that sometimes you cannot tell if they are actually "orthopedic." Mattress topper manufacturers do not have to submit any documentation to prove that their product is truly orthopedic. They are not required by law to provide proof of the quality of their products. Some companies manufacture mattress toppers advertised as orthopedic but which are not any different from regular mattress toppers. This makes it challenging to know if a product is worth paying the relatively higher price. In any case, you should always check the trustworthiness of the mattress topper manufacturer before purchasing their product. If you are shopping online, always check the rating and reviews for a specific product before ordering.
How to Choose a Mattress Topper for Back Support
Purchasing a mattress topper is not an easy job if you do not know what to consider for choosing the right one for back support. Simply follow a few tips for buying a mattress topper that can be used as back support.
Step 1. Determine How Firm Your Mattress is What Material it is Made From
The very first thing you should do when shopping for a mattress topper is to consider the characteristics of your mattress. If you do not have a mattress yet, you should purchase it first, and then choose the right mattress topper to go with it. The reason you should always consider the material and other features of your mattress when buying a mattress topper is that these two items work better in tandem. To ensure that the mattress topper provides enough support for your back while retaining its other beneficial characteristics, it should complement the mattress.
Also consider the material of your mattress. For instance, if you have spent substantial money on purchasing a natural fiber mattress, it is better to go with a mattress topper made of natural materials too. Using a synthetic mattress topper would just cancel out the remarkable properties of your natural mattress. Try to find a mattress topper that matches the material of your mattress.
Step 2. Note Down What Position You Typically Sleep In
You should also consider the positions you typically sleep in to find the right mattress specifically for you. Think about some of your favorite positions that you feel most comfortable in while in bed. This will help you determine what type of back support you need.
For instance, if you prefer sleeping on your back, you should go with an option that is not too soft and not too firm. If you typically sleep face down on your stomach, select a mattress topper that is relatively firm. Finally, if you are a side sleeper, you should choose a soft mattress topper that would offer exceptional pressure relief. For instructions to use a mattress topper to soften a mattress, read our article.
Step 3. Choose a complementary material for the mattress topper based on the material your mattress is made from
Next, you will need to select the material of a mattress topper by considering the firmness and condition of your mattress, preferred durability, and personal preferences.
Let’s start by selecting the material of a mattress topper based on the firmness and condition of your mattress. If you have a new mattress, it may be too firm for a couple of months (generally about 6-12 months). How long does memory foam take to expand normally? We discuss that in our article!
To make the mattress comfier, you could go with a soft mattress topper, such as one made of down, feather, wool, or microfiber. If you have an old and firm mattress, you might want to try a mattress topper made of latex. This will not only provide support for your back and make the bed more comfortable but will also upgrade your old mattress and increase its lifespan. Lastly, if your mattress seems just fine but you still need some extra support for your back, you could choose a relatively thin but soft quilted mattress topper.
Next, consider how durable you want the mattress to be. Often, long-lasting products are more expensive compared to those with a relatively short lifespan. If you are willing to pay more for a durable mattress topper that can last for years, choose one made of latex or high-density memory foam. Although some retailers claim that memory foam mattress toppers are cheap options, lasting about a year, they still provide exceptional support and may even last for a couple of years if used properly. You should look at this article on how to clean mattress toppers and take care of them.
Finally, think about what material feels better to you. If you want a mattress topper that slowly returns to its original position when sleeping on it, go with a memory foam mattress topper. If you prefer sleeping on a relatively firm surface, choose a latex mattress topper instead.
Latex Mattress Toppers
Latex mattress toppers are the firmest toppers on the list. Still, they are very comfy even during the hot days of summer because the mattress toppers are self-ventilating. Due to its firmness, a latex mattress topper is an ideal option for individuals sleeping on their stomach. Although latex mattress toppers are more expensive compared to other materials, they are extremely durable and worth the investment. If you want to purchase a latex mattress topper but do not want it to be too firm, buy a softer version. It will probably be cheaper but still very comfy.
Memory Foam Mattress Toppers
A memory foam mattress topper can be used as a soft layer of cushioning perfect for side sleepers. The mattress topper absorbs motion and provides exceptional support to your spine and entire back. Although it is very comfy, it might be a little bit hot during the summer. The cheaper memory foam mattress toppers may have a specific odor for the first couple of weeks.
Wool Mattress Toppers
Wool mattress toppers make firm mattresses softer. Unfortunately, wool mattress toppers are not that easy to find on the market. Besides, wool is not always produced in a “cruelty-free” way, so you may want to consider that when looking to purchase a topper made of it. Still, durable wool mattress toppers provide support to your back and help with pressure relief.
Down or Feather Mattress Toppers
Although mattress toppers made of down or feathers are considered one of the cheapest options, they are pretty soft and comfy. It is an ideal option for side sleepers. Keep in mind that down/feather mattress toppers do not provide much support. Therefore, if you are suffering from back pain, consider other options on the list. Also, like wool mattress toppers, down/feather mattress toppers are not always produced “cruelty-free.” If you do not want to use animal-based products at all, you can purchase a mattress topper with down alternative filling.
Cotton Mattress Toppers
Cotton mattress toppers, commonly referred to as quilted mattress toppers, can be used as a thin but soft layer that can make your mattress comfier. However, cotton mattress toppers cannot provide any support for your back. Therefore, mattress toppers with cotton filling are not suitable for individuals looking to improve spinal alignment and support their back.
Polyester Mattress Toppers
Polyester mattress toppers are considered down alternatives. If you like how down and feather mattress toppers feel but want to purchase a cruelty-free mattress topper, this one is for you. The softness and fluffiness of the mattress toppers with the polyester filling will make your mattress softer and much more comfortable to sleep on. On top of that, polyester mattress toppers are the most affordable options on the list.
Already have a mattress topper but it doesn’t fit? Don’t worry! You can cut memory foam to size.
Summary of Mattress Topper Materials and Their Benefits
|Mattress Topper Material||Benefits of This Material||Example of a Mattress Topper Made of This Material||Price|
Ideal for sleeping face down
|Pure Green Natural Latex Mattress Topper||~$240|
|Memory Foam||Soft |
Adapts to body position
Perfect for side sleepers
|Sealy TrueForm Memory Foam Mattress Topper||~$95|
|Sleep & Beyond Wool Mattress Topper||~$285|
|Down or Feather||Soft |
|Millsave White Goose Down & Feather Mattress Topper||~$60|
|Cotton Mattress Topper||~$70|
|Polyester||Not too firm |
Not too soft
|Breathable Down Alternative Fiber Mattress Topper||~$50|
Step 4. Select the Ideal Thickness for Your Mattress Topper
After choosing the material of a mattress topper, now it is time to select its thickness. First, consider whether you want to change the features and firmness of your mattress. If yes, then find a relatively thick mattress topper. If not, go with a thinner option that will not change the texture and characteristics of your mattress.
Check out our ultimate guide to selecting the right thickness and size of a mattress topper.
Here are some general guidelines for mattress topper thickness:
- 1-2 inches thick is considered a thin mattress topper
- 3 inches thick is considered a mattress topper of medium thickness
- 4 inches thick is considered a thick mattress topper
- 5+ inches thick is considered an extra thick mattress topper
Summary of Levels of Mattress Topper Thickness
|Mattress Topper Thickness||Benefits of This Thickness||Example of Mattress Topper with This Thickness||Price|
|1-2 inches||Thin |
Does not change the features of a mattress
Does not increase the height of a bed
|Linenspa 2-Inch Gel-Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper||~$50|
|3 inches||Medium thickness |
Not too heavy
Slightly changes the features of a mattress
Does not increase the height of a bed
|Linenspa 3-Inch Gel-Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper||~$80|
|4 inches||Thick |
Significantly changes the features of a mattress
Increases the height of a bed
Provides extra back support
Helps relieve pressure
Improves spinal alignment
|Sleep Innovations 4-Inch Dual Layer Gel Memory Foam Mattress Topper||~$135|
|5+ inches||Extra thick |
Might be too heavy
Significantly changes the features of a mattress
Significantly increases the height of a bed
Provides the best back support
Helps relieve pressure
Improves spinal alignment
|Starcast Extra Thick Mattress Topper||~$75|
Step 5. Select the Right Firmness and Density for Your Mattress Topper
Selecting the firmness of a mattress topper is another essential step. To choose a mattress topper with the right firmness, simply consider whether your mattress is too firm or too soft. Then, think about how soft or firm you would like your mattress topper to be. If you have a mattress that is too firm, find a mattress topper that will make the surface a lot softer for you to sleep on. This is especially helpful for side sleepers.
On the other hand, you might want to choose a relatively firm mattress topper if your mattress is too soft to support your back. Adding firmness can benefit people who sleep on their stomachs and back.
Finally, if you do not really want to change the firmness of your mattress, just consider purchasing a mattress topper that is neither too firm nor too soft compared to the mattress. A mattress topper with medium firmness can be the best option to support your back if you prefer sleeping on your back or stomach.
Soft Mattress Toppers
While soft mattress toppers are super comfy, they do not provide much support for your back. Besides, they can't be used for improving spinal alignment or for relieving pressure points. You might want to consider using a soft mattress topper if your mattress is too firm and just want to make it a little bit softer. You might also find soft mattress toppers useful if you are a side sleeper. However, if you face any health problems related to your back or spine, consider the other options below.
Medium Mattress Toppers
Medium mattress toppers are comfortable and can provide enough back support for you to feel relaxed in the bed. Stomach sleepers tend to prefer sleeping on mattress toppers that are neither too soft nor too firm. Such mattress toppers can also be useful for those who typically sleep on their back since they will have a more stable surface underneath.
Firm Mattress Toppers
Firm mattress toppers are ideal for those experiencing troublesome back pain. The firmness of a mattress topper provides extra support for an individual’s back and also helps with improving spinal alignment. While firm mattress toppers may also be beneficial for some stomach sleepers, usually they prefer sleeping on medium mattress toppers instead.
Extra Firm Mattress Toppers
Extra firm mattress toppers might feel comfy for those suffering from severe back pain or other spinal issues. If you feel that your back is starting to curve or you do not really like your posture, try using an extra firm mattress topper. Sleeping on an extra firm mattress topper might feel a little bit bizarre for the first couple of days, but you will soon get used to it. However, if you are a side sleeper, avoid using a firm mattress topper since you might even injure yourself.
Summary of Types of Mattress Topper Firmness
|Mattress Topper Firmness||Benefits of This Firmness / Density||Example of Mattress Topper with This Firmness||Price|
Comfortable Ideal for side sleepers
|Medium||Not too soft |
Not too firm
Ideal for stomach and back sleepers
Provides a little back support
|Linenspa Gel Infused Memory Foam Mattress Topper||~$80|
|Firm||Provides extra back support |
Helps with pain and pressure relief
Improves spinal alignment
|Pure Green Natural Latex Firm Mattress Topper||~$240|
|Extra Firm||Provides extra back support |
Helps with pain and pressure relief
Quickly improves posture and spinal alignment
|ViscoSoft Latex Mattress Topper||~$240|
Step 6. Buy your Mattress Topper and Evaluate Whether It Supports Your Back and Helps to Relieve Back Pain
Finally, you should test out your purchased mattress topper. To make sure it can provide support to your back, just sleep on it a few times. If you feel like it does not help you with back pain, it is better to purchase a different one. If you continue sleeping on a mattress topper that has not improved your spinal alignment at all, you might injure yourself and cause even more damage to your back.
Once you’re ready, you can dispose or donate your old mattress or mattress topper with our tips.
Using a Firm Mattress Topper for Back Pain and Back Support
Are you wondering whether a firm or extra firm mattress topper will help your back pain and provide back support?
Using a firm or extra firm mattress topper will help your back pain and provide back support because it is designed to improve spinal alignment while providing a solid and stable surface for you to sleep on.
As mentioned earlier, firm and extra firm mattress toppers are ideal for those who prefer sleeping on their back. A 2003 study in The Lancet Journal demonstrated that a medium-firm mattress is beneficial for sufferers of lower back pain. The firmness of a mattress topper helps with pressure point relief and makes the bed more comfortable, especially for those with troublesome back pain.
Choosing a Mattress Topper for Upper Back Aches Vs. Lower Back Pain
Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain. Upper back pain is typically caused by muscle strain, injury, and poor posture. Using an improper mattress and poor spinal alignment can also cause upper backaches. Stomach sleepers commonly experience upper back pain when they sleep on a mattress that is too soft. In such cases, their pelvic area dips too far from the normal spinal alignment and stresses back muscles. For that reason, stomach sleepers should always try to use a firm mattress topper instead of a fluffy one.
If you also suffer from neck pain, make sure to check out how to choose a mattress topper for neck pain as well.