What is an orthopaedic mattress?

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Orthopaedic mattresses are typically firmer than other mattresses. They tend to be suited to heavier people or those that prefer a firmer feel. Mattresses labelled as orthopaedic have not necessarily been medically endorsed. Manufacturers often use the term for marketing purposes to help differentiate them from their competitors.

An orthopaedic mattress is designed to support the spine and alleviate back pain. Orthopaedic mattresses come in a variety of designs and materials.

As there is no industry standard for what qualifies as an orthopaedic mattress, many companies use the term for marketing purposes to give them an edge over competitors. Beds described as orthopaedic have not necessarily been medically approved or provide medical benefits.

happy woman lying on orthopaedic mattress 

Orthopaedic mattresses are typically firmer than other mattresses, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are good for a bad back. In the past, medical professionals would often recommend firm mattresses for patients with bad backs. However, this advice has since changed. Various studies suggest sleeping on a firm mattress can contribute to back pain and poor quality sleep.

incorrect body support when sleeping on a firm mattress
Too firm: Spine is misaligned, causing pressure around the shoulders and hips.

On the other hand, softer mattresses may also be problematic, as sinking too much into the mattress can put the spine in an awkward sleeping position.

incorrect body support when sleeping on a soft mattress
Too soft: The body slouches, causing pressure around the hips.

Correct support depends on the sleeper’s body weight, height, build, and preferred sleeping position. A bed should feel comfortable and support the body correctly. In general, the heavier you are, the firmer the mattress you will need.

correct support when sleeping on a mattress
Correct support: The shoulders and hips sink into the mattress, and the body is correctly supported.

What are the benefits of an orthopaedic mattress?

As orthopaedic mattresses are firmer, this can help prevent movement across the mattress. This means that sleeping partners are less likely to disturb one another when they turn over or get in and out of bed.

Orthopaedic mattresses also tend to offer good edge to edge support. Good perimeter support can reduce sagging and make it easier to get in and out of bed. This can be particularly beneficial for older adults and those with mobility issues.

With mattresses that sag or have weak edges, sleeping partners may naturally gravitate towards the middle of the mattress to avoid the feeling of falling out of bed. This can often make sleeping partners feel squashed or cramped against one another. Good edge support allows sleeping partners to make full use of the sleeping area.

Orthopaedic mattresses tend to be more resilient and provide a slightly bouncier feel. This can benefit older adults with mobility issues or those who find it difficult to turn over in bed. However, bouncier mattresses will transfer more movement, which may be more disruptive when two people share a bed. For side sleepers, firmer mattresses can also aggravate pressure points, especially around the shoulders, hips, and knees.

Who is an orthopaedic mattress suitable for?

An orthopaedic mattress is a good option for people that prefer a firmer bed. However, it is generally recommended to consider your body weight as one of the main factors when choosing a new bed.

As orthopaedic mattresses tend to be firmer than other mattresses, they are typically suited to heavier people that weigh more than 102kg (16 stone and above). Anything softer may give them the feeling that they are sinking to the bottom of the mattress and will not provide adequate support for their build and size.

Finally, an orthopaedic mattress may be suitable for older adults or those with mobility issues who have difficulty moving in and out of bed.

Types of orthopaedic mattresses

There are several different types of orthopaedic mattresses to choose from.

Open coil

An open coil mattress is made from a single length of wire wrapped around to form a coil. These coils are then linked together to create the spring unit.

Open coil mattresses are widely available and are typically cheaper than other mattresses. They also tend to be less supportive and provide a more bouncy feel.

Pocket springs

Pocket springs are smaller springs that work independently from each other. Pocket springs conform and adjust to the shape of the body and are more supportive than coil springs.

As each spring is independent, there is less movement or roll together, so sleeping partners are less likely to disturb one another in bed.

Foam mattresses

Other orthopaedic mattresses are made from different types of foam, such as memory foam or latex, which moulds to the shape of the body.

Memory foam is a temperature sensitive material that can help relieve pressure points and alleviate aches and pains. The memory foam slowly returns to its original shape as pressure is removed.

Latex is a resilient and durable material that recovers its shape quickly as pressure is removed. It is typically cooler to sleep on than other types of foam and, like memory foam, latex provides good support and pressure relief.

Final thoughts

Choosing a mattress is about finding the right balance between comfort and support. Be wary of mattresses that claim to be good for a bad back. If you’re experiencing back pain, you should consult your doctor or specialist before buying a new mattress.

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About the author

About the author

Tony Brown is the founder and creator of The Bed Consultant. His career in the bed industry began in 2002. After graduating from university with a degree in Business Administration, Tony joined one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the UK as a bed consultant. Tony has helped thousands of customers find the perfect mattress.

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