Dr. Allan Horowitz, published newspaper article, The Toronto Star, Copyright November 30, 1988

Ask any chiropractor what question is asked most frequently by patients and the answer will be: “What type of bed is best for me?” The possible responses come from the following list: firm mattress, waterbed, futon, foam mattress, air mattress or any type of bed that feels comfortable. There is no correct answer for all people. The age, weight and even sex life of the bed’s occupant must be considered before deciding to purchase one mattress over another.

A waterbed is great for some people, while others can’t wait to get rid of theirs. Waterbed advocates suggest that the water fills the contours of the spine better than a conventional mattress would. Opponents say it doesn’t give enough firm support to allow the spinal curve to flatten and relax during the night.

Pregnant women

            Certain back problems, usually those that are primarily muscular in origin, respond well to a firmly filled waterbed. The adjustable heat control is especially good for those cool fall or winter nights when the bedroom gets a bit chilly and spinal muscles might tighten up, leading to morning back stiffness.

Those who are bedridden, or who have circulatory problems, such as some women in their third trimester of pregnancy, find the water-filled mattress less hard on them. Some women, however, find rolling over and even getting off the bed can be difficult when they approach the end of their pregnancy, because there is nothing solid to grab and push. For this same reason, most obese people don’t like waterbeds.

A firm, supportive mattress is still recommended by most doctors, chiropractors and orthopedic specialists. This, they say, will allow the spinal muscles to relax and will therefore take pressure off the spine and even the discs between the spinal bones.

The same test that an auto mechanic uses to see if a car’s shock absorbers need changing can be done to see if a mattress is getting too old to support  you. Bounce on the edge a few times, then stop. If the mattress continues to act like a trampoline and bounce you up and down more than once, it is time to start mattress shopping. A good mattress really only lasts about eight to 10 years maximum, despite what the 25-year warranty may say.

The best mattresses are usually the name brands. However, many companies make just as good a product, but don’t spend as much on advertising. So shop around and compare. Ask about things such as number and thickness of the springs (coils), and what materials are used under, around and on top of the springs. Don’t be fooled by names containing prefixes and suffixes such as “ortho”, “chiro” and “practic.”

Futons fun

            Though some people can only sleep comfortably on a soft mattress, I cannot recommend their use for most people. If used for one night in a cheap motel, such a bed would probably cause back pain and stiffness. If used long-term they will probably lead to postural and mechanical derangements in the spine. If left untreated, these could result in a chronic low back or neck disorder that will take more than a new mattress to cure.

Futons are great for some people, usually younger, healthy, active people who don’t have to worry so much about their backs. The support is lacking, even if the fun and comfort might be plentiful.

Foam mattresses are usually firm and supportive. Complaints include their usually shorter lifespan and the fact that they are “hot” and don’t “breathe” as well as spring mattresses do.

Air mattresses are great in theory, but I don’t feel a design has yet been developed that would give the support given by a typical coil mattress or even a waterbed.