Sciatica is a common issue that typically affects one side of your body. Nerve compression in the lower lumbar region of the spine typically causes it. The compression can make your leg feel numb or tingly and cause pain that travels through your butt and leg.
For some people, sciatic pain resolves quickly, but for others, it may be long lasting.
“When the sciatic nerve is irritated or compressed, it can cause discomfort that may disrupt a person’s ability to get a good night’s sleep,” says Dr. Lonnie Herman, a board certified chiropractor. Choosing a comfortable mattress can help get you closer to pain-free sleep.
We’ve scoured the market to choose the best mattresses for sciatica to give you the ultimate support. Read on for our top picks.
Sciatica is a term for pain that occurs along the path of the sciatic nerve, which is the longest nerve in your body. Pain typically occurs in the buttock, leg, and foot. The sciatic nerve directly affects your ability to feel and control your legs. Irritation of this nerve leads to sciatica.
Here’s what we considered when picking the best mattresses for sciatica:
Customer reviews: We looked for mattresses rated well by people who have actually bought (and slept on!) them. We also checked reviews specifically for mentions of sciatica or pressure relief.
Claims: Though each of these mattresses is rated well by people with pain and offers good comfort and support, we avoid brands that claim their mattresses can prevent, cure, or mitigate any illness or condition.
Company policies: We make sure the companies offer warranties, in-home trials, and shipping and return policies that give you a chance to try out the mattress before officially deciding to keep it.
Transparency: We value companies that are transparent and let consumers know where their products are made and what they’re made from.
Sciatica can be the result of spine-related conditions that affect nerves in your back. The sciatic nerve may become compressed or irritated as the result of a bulging or ruptured disc in the spine.
Thickened ligaments around the spine may also impinge on the nerve. “The sciatic nerve can also be compressed by the piriformis muscle in the hip if it’s either in spasm or extremely tight,” he adds.
Injury or tumors in the spine or sciatic nerve can be causes of sciatica as well.
You may be at a greater risk of developing sciatic pain if you have poor posture or sit for prolonged periods of time in a rounded position. “Individuals with specific anatomical variations or those who are prone to muscle spasms might also be more susceptible,” says Herman.
To minimize your risk of sciatica, Herman advises maintaining proper posture, especially while sitting over long durations. “Engage in regular physical activity to keep the spine and hip muscles strong and flexible,” he says. “Avoid excessive lifting, and when you do lift, use the correct technique.” That means lifting with your legs, not your back.
If you do have sciatic pain, Herman says physical therapy can be a good option because it facilitates guided exercises that help strengthen the back and improve flexibility.
It’s hard to sleep when you’re in pain, so it’s no surprise that sciatica impairs sleep quality. According to a 2015 study, up to 55% of people with chronic low back pain report sleep disturbances.
“Sleeping position can significantly impact sciatic pain,” says Herman. Some sleeping positions may put pressure on the irritated nerve, which triggers symptoms to flare. That can lead to disrupted sleep if you happen to change positions through the night, or difficulty getting comfortable enough to fall asleep in the first place.
Sciatica can put a damper on your sleep patterns if it’s not treated or handled properly. While it’s important to get care from your doctor, sleeping on a comfortable and supportive mattress may also be helpful.
Dr. Sara Mikulsky, PT, DPT, FNS, CEAS, owner of Wellness Physical Therapy PLLC, told Healthline that choosing a mattress that promotes good spinal alignment is key.
“By placing the spine in normal alignment and additionally opening up the spinal segments, pressure can be taken off the nerves, reducing sciatic pain,” she said, adding that you should avoid choosing a soft mattress because the spine won’t be as supported.
For example, Mikulsky recommends many of the new foam mattresses that have the technology to prevent sagging in the middle when lying down on it. These mattresses help the body stay supported from the hips, back, and shoulders.
A mattress company’s policies are also important to look into before making a purchase.
“I recommend going with a mattress company that allows a trial period to make sure it’s the right mattress for you,” Mikulsky said.
Besides shopping for the right mattress, there are other things you can do to ease the discomfort of sciatica. Typically, using hot or cold packs and taking pain relievers can offer temporary relief.
Mikulsky said your sleeping position can make a difference as well. Avoid sleeping on your stomach when you’re experiencing sciatica flare-ups to prevent further compressed stress and pressure on the area.
“Try to maintain a neutral spine position no matter what position you sleep in, either on your back or side,” she said.
If you need more support at night, Mikulsky suggests placing a pillow between your legs to help maintain a more neutral pelvis and spinal alignment. This neutral position can take pressure off the nerves, helping decrease pain.
Other ways to relieve sciatica include stretching before going to bed — and before getting out of bed in the morning.
“Try lying on your back and pulling your knees up to the chest,” Mikulsky said. “This position will open the spine, stretch the muscles, and can help reduce pain.”
Additionally, it’s important to note that a higher foam density can support a person with a higher weight better than a lower density mattress. If you have a higher weight, look for a thicker mattress with higher density foam.
Firmness aside, it also helps to know a little more about the types of mattresses and the support they can offer:
Memory foam mattresses can contour the body for support and pressure relief. On the downside, they can retain heat more than other mattress types, so keep that in mind if you tend to sleep hot. They may also not offer enough support for those with more body weight.
Hybrid mattresses combine materials like memory foam and innersprings for additional support in key spots.
Latex mattresses offer pressure relief and are durable and responsive. They tend to be more temperature neutral than memory foam.
Innerspring mattresses can offer extra support and tend to be less expensive options.
All in all, comfort is personal. But when sciatica is an issue, look for mattresses that offer zoned support. This means it’s reinforced in the areas where your body naturally applies more pressure as you’re lying on a mattress, with the goal of helping your spine stay aligned.
And whatever your material preference, avoid mattresses that are too soft or too firm for your body weight.
Is a firm or soft mattress better for sciatic pain?
Firmer mattresses are often recommended for individuals experiencing sciatic pain. “This type of mattress offers support to the spine while also allowing the body’s natural curves to sink in, thereby reducing pressure on the nerve and bringing relief,” says Herman.
Side sleepers, however, may find that a slightly softer mattress can provide necessary cushioning to the hips and shoulders without sacrificing spinal support.
In general, a mattress on the firmer side is a better choice than one that’s too soft.
Side sleeping can take pressure off the irritated nerve. Lie on the opposite side of the irritation. Consider placing a pillow between your bent knees to keep your pelvis and spine in a neutral position.
Back sleeping distributes your weight more evenly. Placing a bolster, thick pillow, or even a rolled up towel beneath your knees can help put the spine in a neutral position, which can relax your hip flexors and help your spine maintain its natural curve. You can also try adding a thin pillow or towel beneath your lower back. This can help your pelvis maintain a neutral position.
Stomach sleeping is not recommended if you have sciatica or any kind of lower back pain. This position doesn’t support the spine, which tends to curve down in this sleeping position and can stress the surrounding muscles or joints. That’s especially true if you’re sleeping on a soft mattress.
Positions in which you twist the spine or hips should also be avoided. They can put a lot of pressure on the sciatic nerve.
If pain persists beyond a few days or it’s interfering with your ability to get a good night’s sleep, Herman recommends seeing a doctor. Also be sure to speak with your doctor or another healthcare professional if your pain is severe or you’re experiencing symptoms such as numbness.
“Stick to over-the-counter pain relievers if the pain is mild or moderate,” says Herman. If that isn’t helping, a doctor may be able to prescribe a muscle relaxant, depending on the diagnosis and severity of pain.
Sciatica can have a significant impact on sleep quality. One study found up to 55% of people with chronic low back pain also experience sleep disturbances.
Can a bad mattress cause sciatica?
There are many causes of low back pain and sciatica. An unsupportive mattress can be one of them, but so can sleeping position and body weight. “A poor sleeping posture can put additional pressure on the sciatic nerve,” says Herman.
He recommends lying on the back with a pillow beneath the knees to help maintain a neutral curve of the spine and reduce tension on the sciatic nerve. “If you prefer to sleep on your side, a pillow between your knees can help maintain hip alignment and reduce compression,” notes Herman.
If possible, avoid sleeping on your stomach. “This can strain the spine and exacerbate symptoms,” says Herman. If you suspect you’re dealing with sciatica, contact your doctor for more ways to reduce symptoms.
What type of firmness is best for sciatica?
Medium-firm mattresses may be the best choice for people with sciatica because they offer enough support to keep the spine and pelvis properly aligned. Mattresses that are too soft will not be supportive enough. Overly firm mattresses may be too uncomfortable for restful sleep.
“Memory foam or latex mattresses can be particularly beneficial, as they conform to the shape of your body, evenly distributing weight and alleviating pressure points,” says Herman.
How does body type affect mattress selection?
Body weight plays a role in the level of support a mattress delivers. People with a higher body weight may want to consider getting a mattress with a greater depth and materials with higher density foams or latex layers. That will help ensure proper spinal support to minimize aches and pains.
Is a Tempur-Pedic mattress good for sciatica?
Many people find Tempur-Pedic mattresses effective for managing sciatica. That’s because the proprietary mattress material adapts to your body, helping relieve pressure and ensure alignment however you move.
How can I treat my sciatica at night before sleeping?
Pain medications can help ease discomfort caused by sciatica. “Before bed, wind down with some gentle stretching and consider a hot or cold pack to the area of concern,” says Herman. He advises positioning your pillow beneath your knees to prevent undo pressure and aggravation.
Choosing the right mattress is one step you can take to reduce pain caused by sciatica. Make sure the mattress you choose offers the proper support to help you maintain a neutral spine.
If you plan on trying several brands, look into their trial period and warranty policies to avoid paying extra fees.
Giselle Castro is a freelance writer who lives in New York. She’s been published in Shape, Fitness, Women’s Health, and Hip Latina, among other sites. She is an avid runner and ran the New York City Marathon in 2019. She is passionate about wellness and fitness, and hopes to influence others through her writing.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.
Last medically reviewed on September 27, 2023
How we reviewed this article:
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