Woman sits on the edge of a bed and holds her back in pain.
Sleep Health

Is Memory Foam Bad For Your Back?

    Last Updated
    November 17, 2023
    min read

    Memory foam isn't inherently bad for your back. Generally, it’s improper support that causes back pain. Choosing the right memory foam mattress can help mitigate that risk.

    A variety of factors impact the quality of your nighttime rest. One of which is choosing the right mattress for your sleep style. People often experience back pain and discomfort if the mattress they’ve selected doesn't cater to their individual needs.

    When it comes to memory foam, there's a common misconception: is memory foam bad for your back? While the foam itself doesn't cause back pain, the supportiveness of the mattress you choose may contribute to the issue.

    Memory foam is designed to provide support for the natural curve of the spine, making it a common choice for people with back pain. That said, choosing the best mattress for back pain depends on a few factors. 

    While memory foam responds slowly and only with the application of warmth from your body, Purple mattresses are designed to instantly adapt to your body shape and cradle your pressure points, providing optimal support for spinal alignment. Purple mattresses leverage our proprietary GelFlex® Grid technology and responsive coils to provide unparalleled comfort for truly rejuvenating sleep.

    Read along to learn more about what to look for while mattress shopping and how to avoid the common causes of nighttime back pain.

    Reasons Memory Foam May Cause Back Pain 

    Memory foam itself has no direct correlation with back pain. High-quality memory foam mattresses conform to the shape of the body and can actually alleviate pressure on the spine. 

    Memory foam mattresses are a good choice for some people, but even the most well-suited mattress can contribute to uncomfortable sleep depending on your sleeping position, the bed foundation, and the firmness of the mattress you choose.

    Graphic illustrating how memory foam may cause back pain.

    Wrong Firmness Level

    It's important to note that memory foam mattresses come in different firmness options. It’s important to select a firmness level that is firm or soft enough for your body weight, sleeping position, and personal preferences.

    If a memory foam mattress is too soft and lacks support, you'll sink too deeply into it. This may lead your back to arch uncomfortably, causing poor spinal alignment. Poor support also affects pressure points in the lumbar region, which may contribute to back pain.

    If a memory foam mattress is too firm, it won't allow your body to sink into it properly. Your back muscles may strain while adapting to the mattress's rigidity, which can be uncomfortable, especially for side sleepers.

    Longer Adjustment Period

    New mattresses tend to require an adjustment period for your body and the mattress itself. Memory foam has the unique ability to conform to the body's shape and distribute its weight evenly, but there's an adjustment period before it starts delivering results.

    When you first start using a memory foam mattress, it may feel different from what you're accustomed to. The adjustment period may lead to some temporary discomfort and back pain. But as your body gets used to the new sleeping surface, its firmness, and how it reacts to your shape, the discomfort should fade away.

    This adjustment period varies from person to person, but it can take up to a month for your mattress to adapt to your body. What's important during this period is to make sure your sleep habits aren't making the discomfort worse.

    Poor Foundation

    Sometimes the mattress gets the blame for discomfort. However, an incompatible bed frame can contribute to back pain if it doesn't adequately support the mattress, and can even harm it by causing sagging and uneven wear. 

    This misalignment can happen with high-quality mattresses, making it seem as though the mattress is the problem when in reality, it's the bed's foundation.

    That said, memory foam mattresses go well with adjustable bed bases, platform bases, or flat foundations, but are a poor match for foundations like box springs.

    Sleeping Position 

    Each person has their own preferred sleeping position and, more often than not, has very little control over it. However, your sleeping position plays an important role in alleviating or inducing back discomfort.

    Stomach sleeping is widely regarded as the position most likely to cause back and neck pain. Usually, this position causes the head and neck to lie in awkward positions. This might just be the cause of your back pain, regardless of the mattress you're using.

    A memory foam mattress is an excellent choice for most sleeping positions, but it's an especially good fit for side sleepers. The way it cradles pressure points highly reduces the risk of back pain.

    In general, sleeping on your back is the best option for spinal alignment. The risk of back pain is minimal and your mattress can better support your weight. Keep in mind, however, that if your mattress is too soft or too firm, it won't provide the support you need in this position. Back sleepers should consider medium firmness for the best results.

    Pros and Cons of Memory Foam  

    Everything from firmness level and sleeping positions to the adjustment period and the bed frame affect the likelihood of back pain. But memory foam has advantages that can actually improve the way you sleep.

    The material itself presents a set of benefits and drawbacks to keep in mind. These mattresses are most known for the impressionable foam sensation that your body sinks into. In addition, they, provide consistent support and softness while also being durable in the long term.

    At the same time, their firmness, weight, and heat retention can cause issues for some people. It's important to weigh the pros and cons to understand whether a memory foam mattress would work for you.



    Pressure relief

    Heat retention


    Sinking feeling


    Weight and maneuverability


    Maintenance and care

    Motion isolation

    Initial firmness

    Which Mattress Is Better for Back Pain?

    Hybrid mattresses incorporate memory foam in conjunction with other materials such as innersprings and coil systems to provide an extra level of comfort. They're designed to provide the best of both worlds, combining the coil or innerspring's durability and support with the foam's comfort and pressure relief. Because of their design, hybrid mattresses are excellent at relieving sciatica discomfort while sleeping.

    Hybrid mattresses add a measure of bounce, a feeling that some people enjoy. They're also known for better airflow, making them a great option for people who sleep hot. The added level of support means you can move around, sit on the edge, and get in or out of bed without feeling unstable.

    Some people prefer mattresses that limit movement while they sleep — and that's something memory foam does very well. The material is excellent at isolating motion, so you’re less likely to feel the movement of someone sleeping in the same bed. They're also very unresponsive to your movement in bed, keeping you well-contoured and supported.

    There's a lot to unpack when pitting memory foam vs hybrid mattresses. But as far as back pain is concerned, a hybrid mattress is the better option, as it offers the best of both worlds. Memory foam's contouring can do wonders for your spine when combined with a good amount of support.

    For example, Purple's Premium Collection utilized comfort foams in addition to our proprietary GelFlex® Grid technology that instantly adapts to the body's shape and cradles pressure points regardless of your sleeping position.

    Graphic explaining the differences between a hybrid mattress and a memory foam mattress.

    How To Find the Best Mattresses for Back Pain 

    Now that you know what causes back pain and the options available, it's time to make a checklist of all the details to consider before buying. Support should be at the top of that list, given it's the major concern. 

    Some mattresses, including hybrid and memory foam, come in different options that allow you to choose firmness, density, size, and weight. Think of it as customizing the mattress to fit you specifically. Make sure you're keeping details such as body weight, movement, and sleeping positions in mind while browsing.

    Prioritize Support 

    Make sure your mattress provides the level of support that you need. Compare your options to what you're used to and work your way toward the right balance from there. 

    If you feel as though you're always sinking far too deep into your mattress, an option that provides more support may be better. On the other hand, if your mattress has always felt rigid and unyielding, try a less firm option and see how comfortable it feels.

    Ask About Pressure Points 

    If you're waking up with back pain, you need to make sure your new mattress is the type that relieves pressure points, eases tension, and helps distribute your weight evenly. Not all mattresses are designed for this, so make sure the one you choose is.

    Consider Density 

    Higher density generally means higher quality and better durability. Memory foam mattresses that are more dense offer better support, last longer, and resist compression much more efficiently. 

    A denser mattress can conform to your shape better and alleviate pressure point build-ups in the back, hips, and shoulders. It's also important to choose the appropriate density for both your body weight and sleeping position. 

    Remember Comfort 

    The definition of "comfort" varies from person to person. Some are most comfortable on a firm, unyielding surface that gives them the most amount of support and the least amount of contouring. Others prefer a mattress that feels as though they're sinking into it.

    Your mattress of choice needs to be easy to fall asleep in. It should fit your usual position and support your body so that the risk of back pain and discomfort is no longer a concern.

    Frequently Asked Questions 

    We've compiled some frequently asked questions about whether memory foam is bad for your back. The answers should help point you toward the right mattress choice.

    Can Memory Foam Damage Your Back?

    Memory foam is not inherently bad for your back. The material itself does not cause back pain. The reality is that the supportiveness of the mattress, your sleeping position, the quality of the bed frame, and the adjustment period are all factors that may contribute to back pain. Memory foam, however, does not damage your back.

    What Are the Negative Effects of Memory Foam?

    Memory foam is a heat-retaining material, which means you might feel hot at night. It's also initially firm when first purchased, but that changes over time. It feels as though you're sinking into it, so it may not be ideal for people who like a consistently firm surface while they sleep.

    Is It Bad To Sleep on Memory Foam?

    It's not bad to sleep on memory foam so long as the mattress’ support suits your sleep style. Not all memory foam mattresses have the same level of firmness, so make sure you pick the right one for your body.

    Why Does My Memory Foam Mattress Give Me Backaches?

    It's likely too firm or too soft for you. If you bought it recently, it's also possible that both you and the mattress are still adjusting. Make sure to also check your bed frame and verify if it's supporting the mattress well or if it's causing unevenness.

    How Purple Mattresses Make a Difference

    Understanding what your sleep needs are can narrow down mattress options and make the choice simpler.

    Purple designs mattresses that address each of those needs, prioritizing healthy spine alignment and different levels of support. Our mattresses provide options specifically made to accommodate different sleeping positions and reduce the chance of pain or discomfort. 

    About the authors

    April Seifert

    April has nearly a decade of writing experience, with 3+ years specializing in sleep content. Her work has been covered by sites like BuzzFeed, Entrepreneur, and Money Under 30. She has an M.A. in Magazine, Newspaper, and Online Journalism from Syracuse University and a B.A. in Communication Studies. As a self-proclaimed expert in all things cozy, she sleeps better at night, knowing her writing helps others sleep in comfort, too.

    Kristen Olson-Turner
    Senior Director of Merchandising, Mattress and Bases

    Kristen Olson-Turner is the Senior Director of mattresses, where she has spent 10+ years understanding customer needs and integrating solutions into Purple products for better sleep and comfort.