Mattress Hurting Upper Back & Shoulders

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Mattresses can be an excellent investment for your health. They help you sleep better and often provide the perfect amount of support. But mattresses can also cause many problems if they are not suitable for you. Some people find their mattress hurting their upper back or shoulders, leading them to wonder, “can my mattress hurt my upper back?” That’s where chiropractors come in handy! A good chiropractor offers tips on finding the best mattress for your body type and ways to make an existing mattress more comfortable. Follow these steps to eliminate those pesky aches and pains from sleeping wrong!

As a general rule, your mattress’s firmness in the shoulder zone is not always the single cause of shoulder pain. The shoulder zone must offer good give and pressure relief, but if at the same time, the whole mattress is too soft, this can also contribute to shoulder pain.

The shoulder is a complex joint described as the “most movable joint” in the body. With its many individual components and advanced range of motion, the shoulder is prone to various pain-inducing problems.


How a Bad Mattress Causes Shoulder Pain

According to scientific research, there is good reason to believe that your bed could be causing upper back and shoulder pain. 

One study found that a high-quality mattress designed with back pain in mind reduced back pain by 57%, reduced shoulder pain by 61%, reduced back stiffness by 59.12%, and improved sleep quality by 61%. This means that simply upgrading your mattress can both help you reduce upper back and shoulder pain but also improve your quality of sleep. Getting better sleep quality has been shown countlessly through research to enhance injury recovery, which is essential for reducing pain and inflammation.

If you aren’t sleeping on a high-quality mattress, your upper back and shoulders are not getting the ideal balance of support and pressure relief, leading to pain. On average, we sleep for about 8 hours. If your upper back is placed under this pressure all night, you are bound to exasperate shoulder pain, if not cause it.


Why Your Mattress Hurts Your Upper Back & Shoulders


Getting the right balance of supportiveness and pressure relief is essential to avoid shoulder pain at night. Manufacturers construct most lower and medium-quality beds with cost-effective materials, which makes this balance difficult to achieve.


  • Springs (Bonnell) – provides support by ‘pushing back against the pressure applied by your body weight.  Standard spring mattresses do not have zoned support, which means they use the same support across your entire body, preventing optimal spinal alignment and creating pressure points. 
  • Memory foam – provides excellent pressure relief but very little support. The lack of supportiveness of memory foam is not only a problem for back pain but can cause you to feel ‘stuck’ at night. Feeling trapped in memory foam is incredibly frustrating for people with upper back and shoulder pain who need the ability to shift seamlessly through the night to avoid pressure buildup.
  • Polyfoam – provides some pressure relief and support. Polyfoams are often used as the support layers of memory foam mattresses, but they can also sometimes be used in the comfort layers. This type of foam is similar to memory foam in terms of ingredients; however, it is slightly more supportive but less comfortable as it is not as pressure relieving.


If you sleep on a mattress with any of these materials, there is a possibility you won’t be getting adequate pressure relief and support. That being said, there are high-quality versions of all these materials—for et springs over Bonnell coils made from suitable materials and by sleep experts. However, as a general rule, these mattress types are not eligible for an ideal mattress. As a chiropractor in the mattress industry for 20 years, I always recommend natural latex foam for its supportiveness, pressure-relieving qualities and comfort.


Mattress Comfort Layer

A good step is determining if your current mattress provides the pressure point relief you need.  Good pressure relief is almost always determined by the bed’s materials used as comfort layers. The most common materials are memory foam, latex (natural or synthetic), and combinations like latex with other materials.


Memory foam is a material that provides pressure point relief for many people suffering from shoulder pain and upper back pain. Still, not everybody is comfortable with the potential volatile organic compounds that off-gas from petroleum-based foam. This makes natural latex comfort layers an attractive option for people who want to avoid chemical exposure while they sleep. If you don’t know the mattress comfort layer your bed uses, it’s easy to do an online search and check to see if your model has one. 


If your bed does not have a comfort layer, it is worth trying out other mattresses with one to see if it improves your shoulder pain. Suppose you can find a mattress latex or a combination of latex and another material at the proper density (soft but supportive). In that case, this can relieve shoulder pain and be a simple option for those who want to sleep right.


How Do I Stop My Shoulder From Hurting When I Sleep?

While getting the right mattress is crucial for avoiding upper back and shoulder pain, there are simple changes you can make to the way you sleep that can make a significant difference.


When most people develop upper back pain, they often alter their sleeping position, sleeping on their back. This might be appropriate in the short term if you are experiencing acute shoulder pain, but when my patients report shoulder pain, I always recommend against back sleeping.

Sleeping on Your Back Can Cause More Harm Than Good

While sleeping on your back does increase your sleeping surface area, and side sleeping has been linked to shoulder pain, there are several proven disadvantages to back sleeping.  One study from 1983 found that “consistently, poor sleepers spent more time on their backs with their heads straight.”  Back sleeping is also thought to cause snoring, associated with many surprisingly adverse effects such as poor academic performance and daytime sleepiness among children. The presence of snoring is associated with headaches and daytime sleepiness, in addition to hypertension, heart attacks and stroke.


Best Sleeping Position for Upper Back & Shoulder Pain

When my patients as, “what is the best sleeping position for shoulder pain?” I tell them side sleeping but with some caveats.


As a general rule, the best sleeping position for shoulder pain is sleeping on your uninvolved side with supplemental support. This includes positioning additional pillows between your knees, chest and behind your back. The placement of the pillows increases the surface area, reducing pressure and allowing you to sleep on your side.


  1. Pillow Between Knee– is designed to align your hips, promote good spinal alignment and prevent you from sleeping on your stomach. Stomach sleeping strains your neck and shoulders and is known to cause back pain.


  1. Pillow Between Arms– is designed to align your upper body with the spine and prevent your shoulders from slumping forward as you sleep. A pillow between your chest also supports your body while side sleeping.


  1. Pillow Behind Back– increase surface area and reduces the pressure on the shoulder that you lie on while you sleep. A pillow supporting your back helps you side by sleep through the night. Ideally, this pillow is placed right next to your upper back and shoulder blades.


The Best Mattress for Shoulder Pain

As a chiropractor designing mattresses for 20 years, I have tested almost every mattress material, construction and type. My research has determined that there is one mattress I found to be better for upper back and shoulder pain.


According to research, a Latex Foam Mattress (Medium Firm) has been proven to improve back pain and stiffness. Additionally, for people who slept on latex mattresses, the number of days per week of experiencing poor sleep and physical discomfort decreased significantly. 


The same study concluded that the mattress you sleep on is “related to sleep discomfort and that it is indeed possible to reduce pain and discomfort and to increase sleep quality in those with chronic back pain by replacing mattresses based on sleeping position.”


A Mattress Topper Probably Won’t Help You Reduce Shoulder Pain.

Adding a soft or firm mattress topper is unlikely to help reduce shoulder pain. A good mattress is carefully constructed with support and comfort layers to balance pressure relief and body support. 


In general, people with shoulder pain and upper back pain believe a soft mattress topper could help. However, while a soft topper will increase pressure relief, it will also increase the distance between you and the support layers of your mattress, reducing body support and potentially increasing back pain.


There are many other reasons why toppers don’t help reduce back pain, and you find a complete explanation here: Mattress Toppers For Back Pain | A Chiropractor’s Full Guide


The Best Pillow for Shoulder Pain

Besides your mattress, getting the right pillow for shoulder pain is probably an essential aspect of your sleep you need to get right. Your pillow is responsible for supporting your head and shoulders, which are connected directly to your upper back and shoulders.


This means if your pillow is not supportive or you are sleeping with your head out of alignment, this can cause or make your upper back pain. 


Here Is What You Should Look For in a Good Pillow


  • In-built neck support – can only be achieved with moulded or ergonomically designed pillows. The support should contour to the shape of your head and neck, increasing surface area, reducing pressure and providing support that is impossible with traditional pillows.
  • Foam Construction – foam pillows (particularly latex foam) have been shown in studies to reduce neck pain. Foam is much better at pressure relief and providing support than typical pillow materials such as polyester or feathers. If you are currently sleeping on a down or feather pillow, you should switch to another type of pillow immediately, as they are the worst type of pillow for people with back problems.


Quick Tip: If you decide to switch pillows, allow your body’s sleeping posture time to reset and adapt. Many become accustomed to bad pillows, which can cause temporary discomfort when getting a new type of pillow. In general, you should give your pillow approximately one month before you decide if it is right for you.



Mattresses are often an excellent investment for your health and can help you sleep better. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it may not be just because of the firmness in the shoulder zone. The whole mattress must offer good give and pressure relief while being supportive enough for your body, which could contribute to discomfort. We hope this article has helped you discover more about how mattresses work with different sleeping positions so that they can provide comfort with no matter what position you fall asleep in!

Dr Lawrence Woods

My name Dr Lawrence Woods DC and I have been designing mattresses, pillows, chairs and seat cushions for over 20 years. As a chiropractor, my goal has always focused on improving the health of my patients by optimizing how they sleep and sit. My designs have been nominated for numerous awards and I continue to be at the forefront of this industry, helping people get the best night’s sleep possible. I have a Chiropractic Degree from Life Chiropractic College West, I am NBCE Physiotherapy certified and an OSHAcadenmy certified ergonomist.
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