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3 November 2015

What’s the Best Mattress for Scoliosis?

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis (from the Ancient Greek word for “bending”) is a medical condition that involves the curvature of the spine. Normal spines have an ‘S’ curve to them; the spines of those with scoliosis also have a curve from side to side.
Scoliosis can be genetic (as a result of vertebral abnormalities developed in utero), “idiopathic” (arising for no apparent reason), or related to another disorder such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy. (Typically, anything that has people staying in one position for extended periods of time or has a condition that hinders mobility increases the risk of scoliosis.) It can develop at any age, although many idiopathic cases of scoliosis develop in childhood and adolescence.

The repercussions from scoliosis are as varied as its manifestations — for milder curves, the condition can be largely asymptomatic. For the most brutally twisted spines, breathing and organ function can be so limited that early death results.

Sleep and scoliosis

Various scientific studies illustrate how important sleeping is to scoliosis. Rates of idiopathic scoliosis, for instance, rises when infants are made to sleep on their backs. In an attempt to prevent SIDS, children are instead put at significantly greater risk of spinal deformity! Moreover, studies of children who have been identified as being predisposed to worsening scoliosis have found that the curvature can be significantly reduced when children sleep in positions that provide gentle resistance to the scoliosis.
For this reason, scoliosis is typically first treated with exercise and postural changes for sleep and daytime activities. If the curve of the spine grows, doctors tend to employ more invasive strategies — typically back braces and, if the curvature continues to worsen, surgery. Spinal fusion, the typical surgical invention, involves straightening the spine and then inserting steel rods on either side in order to keep it straight.
What we care about however: good sleep positioning is an important part of scoliosis treatment and management.
If you suffer from scoliosis, you probably already know this to be true! A bad mattress makes for bad sleep makes for a bad back the next day. Many cases of scoliosis can benefit from having superior sleep positioning. Your doctors and chiropractors can make (or maybe already has made) specific suggestions about how to position your body while sleeping to ensure that you’re not sleeping in pain, can breath well, and are helping your scoliosis.

So… what’s the best mattress for scoliosis?

Because scoliosis is so incredibly unique, it’s correspondingly difficult to make specific suggestions about which mattress will be best for you. Mattress preference is idiosyncratic at the best of times! But scoliosis is particularly resistant to blanket advice because the sufferers frequently find that their mattress preferences change considerably over time, particularly if they have surgery to correct their spines.

How to find the best mattress for scoliosis

That said, here are some broad suggestions:
1.    Scoliosis forums frequently recommend memory foam mattresses over other types of mattresses. This is because of how effectively the mattress cradles the body, relieving pressure on the spine. We’re not saying it’ll necessarily be the case for you, but it’s something to think about.
2.    As with everyone, however, it’s important to get the right combination of comfort and support in a mattress. For scoliosis sufferers, it’s particularly important, because of common complaint that if the upper layers of the mattress are too soft, it’s difficult for scoliosis sufferers to move out of the “cradle” the body creates in the memory foam. This is particularly an issue for those who have mobility issues. 
3.    Skip the mattress topper. You’ll get better benefits from a new mattress, assuming your current mattress is several years old. Older mattresses give you (and anyone) aches and pains because their “support” layers have worn out — adding a mattress topper adds “comfort” but doesn’t address the fact the mattress is not adequately supporting your spine in a neutral position.
4.    Like back pain, seems that medium-firm is a commonly recommending mattress for scoliosis. But, just as for back pain, this is a one-size fits all solution.
5.    Body size: if you’re heavier, you’ll benefit from a firmer mattress; if you’re lighter, a softer mattress. Obviously, particularly for scoliosis sufferers, it’s like the three bears: not too soft and not too firm.
6.    Body type: Typically, those with a greater disparity between their hips and their waist, or their hips and shoulders, benefit from softer upper layers of the mattress. The logic extends to scoliosis: if your spine is not straight, then your body will benefit from having it supported more in the upper comfort layers of the mattress. Beneath this comfort layer, the support layer should be on the firmer side.
7.    It may be obvious, but don’t forget that using extra pillows to support your body may help you sleep easy.
8.    Experiment. When it comes to the best mattress for you, the first mattress you purchase may not be the last mattress you purchase. And it’s not always easy to pick the right mattress during the in-store test. Reputable mattress sellers always allow you to try out a mattress to see if it works for you during an at-home trial period.

About Dr Kevin Lau

Dr Kevin Lau is a Singapore chiropractor and the founder of Health In Your Hands, a series of tools for Scoliosis prevention and treatment. The set includes his book Your Plan for Natural Scoliosis Prevention and Treatment, a companion Scoliosis Exercises for Prevention and Correction DVD and the innovative new iPhone application ScolioTrack. Dr Kevin Lau is a graduate in Doctor of Chiropractic from RMIT University in Melbourne Australia and Masters in Holistic Nutrition. He is a member of International Society On Scoliosis Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Treatment (SOSORT), the leading international society on conservative treatment of spinal deformities. In 2006 I was awarded the "Best Health-care Provider Awards" by the largest Newspaper publication in Singapore on October 18 2006 as well as being interviewed on Primetime Channel News Asia as well as other TV and Radio. For more information on Dr Kevin Lau, watch his interviews or get a free sneak peek of his book, go to:

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