Millions of people suffer from compression of the sciatic nerve or any of the five nerves that lead to it in the back. A herniated or degenerated disk, spinal misalignment, arthritis or injury can cause compression and lead to numbness, weakness and pain, usually on one side of the body. The symptoms can often be felt in the lower back, into the buttocks and down the leg.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body, making the condition common, stubborn and debilitating. One of the best ways to treat sciatic pain is to sleep on a mattress that offers the right mix of comfort and support.
Sleep on your side
When we sleep with sciatica, it is particularly important that we lie on our side. Sleeping on the stomach is never a good idea because it forces our spine into an unnatural position. Sleeping on our side while suffering compression of the sciatic nerve can ease that pressure.
When we sleep on our side, we put the most pressure on our hips and shoulders, less on our head and legs, simply because they weigh less. The best mattresses are built to accommodate this, with added – or zoned – support in these areas. Zoned mattresses are often made with pocketed coils or latex, and offer extra firmness at the shoulders and hips. This arrangement keeps our spine in alignment and can reduce the pressure on our sciatic nerve and the nerves that feed it.
Memory foam mattresses do a great job of “remembering” how our weight is distributed and providing extra support there. Hybrid mattresses with memory foam layers are also good performers. They are generally the best mattresses for people suffering with sciatica.
Not too hard, not too soft
It is important for anyone with sciatica to find a mattress in the Goldilocks Zone — neither too hard nor too soft. Too hard a mattress increases pressure on the hips and shoulders and aggravates the impingement on your nerves. Too soft a mattress sinks under your weight and shifts your spine out of alignment, creating the compression that incites pain and weakness. Select a mattress that offers comfortable support without the sensation that you’re lying on concrete.
It is tempting to buy the least expensive mattress that meets your needs, but if you suffer any back pain you should be especially careful to make sure the mattress is going to maintain its integrity over the thousands of nights you will spend sleeping on it. A mattress that loses its firmness during its working life will serve you poorly and possibly even intensify your sciatica. One way to ensure the durability of your mattress is to buy one with the longest warranty. Mattresses should last 10-20 years, depending on their construction and price.
Memory foam mattress toppers can help extend the working life of a bed for a fraction of the cost of a new one. They come in various thicknesses and work the same way hybrid mattresses with memory foam work, providing added support and comfort.
Sleep and sciatica
Sleep is essential to health and pain – from sciatica or something else – interferes with sleep. The reverse is true: sleeping in a position that distorts your spinal posture will aggravate your sciatica and the pain and debilitation that can accompany it. If allowed to become chronic, sciatica can lead to loss of muscle control, chronic pain and a less active lifestyle.
Save yourself all that, and find the right mattress. It’s a great first step in easing your sciatic nerve symptoms.