How to choose the right mattress for your back

If you’ve ever gone mattress shopping you know how confusing, expensive and time-consuming it can be.

There’s nothing worse than trying to get through a day when you’ve had a rotten night’s sleep the night before.

Tossing and turning on a bad mattress night after night is never an ideal way to get through life. A new mattress can be life-changing, particularly if you suffer from back pain, however, it can be a minefield when trying to decide between the options out there.

We asked Richard Christianson, chair of the Victorian musculoskeletal committee for the Australian Physiotherapy Association and a highly experienced physiotherapist, for his top tips on how to choose the right mattress for your back.

Top tips for choosing mattresses

Sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress can cause havoc in your life. Picture: Getty

There are several choices out there when mattress shopping – and none of them seem particularly easy on the wallet.

Inner-spring, foam, memory foam and latex… the list goes on. So, what’s the best mattress for you and is it really worth the extra $1,000 to get one that is at the top of the line?

According to Richard, there’s no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to mattresses. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable; as a result, the mattress you choose could help rather than hinder any back pain you suffer.

“Sleep hygiene is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy back,” says Richard. “Good sleep hygiene is viewed as being able to fall asleep within 20-30 minutes of going to bed and staying asleep for at least the first five hours.

“When choosing a mattress, make sure you test it in your preferred sleeping position (i.e., stomach, side or back). Spend time lying on the mattress to get the feel of it; you want it firm enough to support you, but flexible enough to map the contours of your body. There’s a difference between firm support and a firm feel.”

How much should I pay for a great mattress?

Is it worth spending big bucks when you’re mattress shopping? According to Richard, it’s a matter of personal comfort.

“From a health professional’s point of view, there is no strong evidence to date that suggests one type of mattress offers superior support for your back than another,” he says. “Nor does it specify that one [type of mattress] can prevent you from developing back pain. All we can extrapolate from research is that sleep is an important element of rehabilitation and patients with disturbed sleep tend to present with slow recoveries.

“One aspect that may cause disturbed sleep can be the mattress, however, when it comes to choosing a mattress this will come down to self evaluation of comfort. Comfort is a personal choice – and no medical practitioner can relate to your own preference.”

So, in summary: Let your comfort do the talking and go with the best mattress that has you almost nodding off when you test it out.

“If you don’t personally find it supportive and comfortable, then that may potentially lead to disturbed sleep patterns,” explains Richard.

Comparing mattresses: Inner spring vs. latex vs. memory foam

Inner spring

The benefit of choosing an inner-spring mattress is that you can mix and match it with different mattress toppers, such as latex and memory foam, to really tailor your sleep experience to your needs.

Your mattress should reflect your personal experience, just like the rest of your bedroom. Picture: Tamara Graham


Latex mattresses are made from the sap of a rubber tree and are biodegradable, so generally, they’re considered to be the more natural and environmentally friendly pick of the bunch.

Firmness is adjusted by adding layers of foam. If each sleeping partner has a different preference of comfort, it’s also possible to apply different levels of firmness in the one mattress.

Unfortunately, pure latex mattresses can be harder to find in stores, so you’ll need to trial your purchase and return it if necessary.

Memory foam

For those that love a soft sleep in cushioned-comfort, memory foam is incredibly comfortable and even moulds to the shape of your body.

Though they can be known to hold heat more than other kinds of mattresses, this is easily combatted by purchasing one with an air-flow system that directs heat and keeps you at the right temperature.

King Koil iCustom 7000 King Size Microgel & Latex Pillow Top Pocketed Spring Mattress. Picture: Harvey Norman

Which mattress should I buy?

So, how should you go about choosing the best mattress when they all claim to be the best?

Richard’s top tips? Don’t be afraid to spend a decent amount of time testing the mattress and make sure you test it in your preferred sleeping position.

Don’t be swayed by the fancy names, the mile-high claims and the hefty price tags. Try as many as possible and if you’re not completely happy, be sure to ask for your money back, especially if you shop online.

Originally published as How to choose the right mattress for your back by Erinna Giblin. Author at