Is a Firm Mattress Good for Arthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 80% of people with arthritis have difficulty sleeping. Since sleep is crucial for managing arthritis, what can help? Is a firm mattress good for arthritis?

By Sheryl Grassie

Arthritis is an umbrella term or informal descriptor for joint pain and stiffness, it encompasses a large number of different conditions that are all hallmarked by pain, stiffness, and motion difficulty. It is a condition caused by inflammation and most commonly manifests in the joints of the lower extremities like hips, knees, ankles, and feet. It can, however, establish itself in upper regions as well, causing pain in the jaw, neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and fingers. Arthritis can occur in singular or multiple areas of the body and in many cases is considered an autoimmune condition. The immune system mistakenly attacks the joints causing inflammation and pain, which can spread to other parts of the body surrounding a joint.

There are over 100 different forms of arthritis, the most prosaic ones being osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). There are lesser known forms like fibromyalgia that is not commonly understood as a form of arthritis, but, in fact, it is. All of the various types cause pain of some sort, but the pain may be felt and described differently. It can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain. Most people with arthritis experience pain, swelling, stiffness, and a limited range of motion in the joint. When severe, this can cause cramping of the joint and make it difficult to perform normal activities. Some people experience arthritis as a chronic pain that hurts constantly. People with arthritis also find it generally gets worse with age, and at present it is considered incurable by the medical community.

The Connection Between Arthritis and Sleep

Arthritis and sleep have a cyclical, symbiotic, relationship. In other words, they are interconnected and feed off each other in a dependent fashion. Having arthritis and managing nighttime pain, with its predictable tossing and turning to get comfortable, can cause a lack of sleep. Conversely, a lack of sleep, caused by any number of factors like noise, sleep apnea, insomnia, or an uncomfortable mattress can be a factor in developing arthritis.

They rarely exist independent of each other. If you have arthritis, you likely have poor sleep, and if you have poor sleep, you are at a much greater risk for arthritis. “There is increasing evidence that sleep deprivation may in fact be a driver for the development or progression of inflammatory joint diseases, including RA.”

Addressing sleep if you have arthritis is crucial, and sleeping well to prevent arthritis is good preventative care. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 91 million Americans have some form of arthritis—over one third of the population of the United States. It is considered a serious, albeit common, disorder that has reached health crisis proportions in the United States.

Is a Firm Mattress Good for Arthritis?

Given the importance of a good night’s sleep in preventing or minimizing the pain and discomfort of arthritis, the place to start is with tangibles like your mattress. What do you need in a mattress to lessen the symptoms of arthritis? And, is a firm mattress the solution?

When suffering with arthritis, you want a mattress that is comfortable and supportive. These terms however can be fairly subjective. What is comfortable or supportive varies from person to person, but a good mattress can make a difference. Experts recommend looking for bed with firm support and only top layers of comfort foam. These top layers should be no more than three inches and come standard as part of most hybrid models, which then have firmer types of support underneath.

Should you look for a firm mattress specifically? There are a range of types of beds, different levels of support, and different firmness that can all work well for arthritis. Let’s get more specific about mattresses and the characteristics that offer the best support.

Pressure Point Support

Since the pain of arthritis is generally in the joints, a mattress needs to be designed to support pressure points. Especially if you are a side-sleeper, you need a bed that will accommodate your boney parts. Your shoulders and hips are most prominent, but other joints as well need a mattress that contours to body shape so joints can rest. Memory foam mattresses are popular for this exact feature. Good pressure point support provides pain relief and foam mattresses, or foam lot layers, contour to the body supporting everything individually from head to toes.

Temperature Control

Arthritis sufferers can be sensitive to hot and cold and do better with a temperature-regulating mattress. Memory foam can be too hot, but variations on memory foam, like gel-infused or highly breathable, work well. When buying a mattress, investigate the heat retaining qualities or search for a temperature regulating mattress.

Motion Transfer

For people with arthritis, movement can mean pain. If you sleep with another person and their movement disturbs you and you move, the pain ensues. A bed that isolates motion can help you to sleep undisturbed. Memory foam is excellent for lack of motion transfer, when coupled with dense foam or pocketed coils as a base, the mattress can work well.

Firmness

Firmness is not to be confused with support. Firmer does not mean more supportive, it just refers to the amount of sinking into the bed you do. Sinking into the bed varies for each person depending on sleep position, weight, and body structure, so a firm mattress is not experienced the same by all.

And guess what? Arthritis affects all kinds of people. Dissimilar to illnesses like type II diabetes, which are strongly correlated with certain characteristics like weight, arthritis is an equal opportunity disorder. The wide range of individuals that get arthritis make for a wide range of experiences with mattresses.

That said, you do need to look for a firm supportive base to your bed. A strictly firm mattress may not provide enough cushion and a completely soft cushiony bed may not provide enough support. Look for firm as a descriptor in the foundational part of the mattress.

Sleep Trial

One of the best options you have for getting the right mattress to support your arthritis is to purchase a mattress with a sleep trial. Many companies offer up to 100-night trials so you can fully asses if indeed the mattress will lessen your arthritis symptoms. Add this to the above considerations to help ensure you get the right fit. The last thing you want is a mattress you can’t return that doesn’t seem to help your pain.

What Else Can Help?

Given that arthritis is currently incurable, it is worth doing all you can to lessen symptoms. Experts recommend paying attention to a number of areas that can impact the level of pain, and with some effort you can reduce symptoms. So, in addition to a good mattress consider the following.

Manage Your Diet

Given that arthritis is an inflammatory condition, an anti-inflammatory diet can help. This means reducing or eliminating certain foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar, dairy, gluten, processed meats, and alcohol. A healthy whole foods diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, pasture raised meats, and gluten free grains can dramatically impact pain levels with arthritis.

Supplements 

When it comes to supplements, you can read up on what helps arthritis, but best practices would encourage you to talk to a professional nutritionist. The world of supplementation is vast and complicated, get some support in narrowing down on what might help.

That said, turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, have amazing anti-inflammatory properties. You can take it in capsule form or make a tea. Many arthritis sufferers swear by Golden Tea, a turmeric-based tea you can buy or make (lots of recipes online) and drink once a day as part of an arthritis supportive regime.

Lose Weight

Although extra weight is not a criterion for arthritis, extra weight can put pressure on joints and exacerbate the condition. Putting stress on an already stressed part of the body is not advisable, so if you need to shed a few pounds, let less arthritis pain be your motivator. If you try a more anti-inflammatory diet, you may naturally lose some weight and help your body on multiple counts.

Exercise

Keeping joints fluid, from an appropriate level of exercise, can also help reduce pain and stiffness. Walking, swimming, cycling, stretching, and yoga are good choices. Swimming or water exercises take the weight off joints while encouraging range of motion.

Hydration

Enough good clean water is critical to managing arthritis. It flushes toxins from form your system and helps reduce inflammation as well as lubricating joints. Dehydration is associated with joint pain and a well hydrated body works better overall.

Chiropractic

Seeing a chiropractor is often recommended for arthritis and endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation. Keeping the spine aligned and the nerves working helps your body function. As well, chiropractic can support better range of motion and reduce pain.

Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

In addition to getting that super supportive mattress, enhance your quality of sleep by doing some of the following: 

  • Get exposure to sunlight early in the day
  • Avoid napping
  • Don’t eat after dinner
  • Limit screen time in the hours before bed
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
  • Relax before bed by taking a bath or reading
  • Reduce artificial light in the evening
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool room
  • Use lavender: the smell helps with sleep

Summary

Is a firm mattress good for arthritis? Definitely yes, as long as it is comfortable for you. Many people think a soft mattress will better cushion their sore joints, but in fact a medium or firm mattress gives better support.

Buy a hybrid with a top comfort layer to cushion joints but a firm supportive structure underneath to keep your spine aligned. If you have arthritis, it is worth doing the work of finding the right bed. A good mattress can make a difference by supporting pressure points, reducing pain, and creating a better night’s sleep.


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