Category Archives: Posture

Choosing the right mattress for lower back pain

Proper mattress selection for lower back pain

Which mattress is best for your back?

Sleeping on the wrong mattress can cause or worsen lower back pain. Lack of support from a mattress reinforces poor sleeping posture, strains muscles and does not help keep the spine in alignment, all of which contribute to low back pain.
Sleep comfort is also sacrificed if a mattress does not match one’s individual preferences. A mattress that provides both comfort and back support helps reduce low back pain, allowing the structures in the spine to really rest and rejuvenate during the night.
Choosing the right mattress can be difficult. The following practical guidelines are designed to help patients with low back pain choose the best mattress for both back support and sleep comfort:

  1.  Personal preference should ultimately determine what mattress is best. There is no single mattress style or type that works for all people with low back pain. Any mattress that helps someone sleep without pain and stiffness is the best mattress for that individual. Patients with low back pain should choose the mattress that meets their standards for comfort and support and allows them to get a good nightís sleep.
  2. Understand and inquire about the physical components of the mattress. The coils or inner springs of a mattress provide the support. Different mattresses vary in their number and arrangement of coils. Padding on top of the mattress comes in many different thicknesses. Mattress depths typically range anywhere from 7 to 18 inches deep. Choosing the number of coils, type of padding and mattress depth should be determined by individual preferences.
  3. Find a mattress with back support. A good mattress should provide support for the natural curves and alignment of the spine. The right amount of back support also helps the patient avoid muscle soreness in the morning. While there is not much clinical data about mattresses, one study found that medium-firm mattresses usually provide more back pain relief than firm mattresses.
  4. Achieve a balance between back support and comfort. Overall comfort while sleeping on the mattress is equally important as sufficient back support. Sleeping on a mattress that is too firm can cause aches and pains on pressure points. A medium-firm mattress may be more comfortable because it allows the shoulder and hips to sink in slightly. Patients who want a firmer mattress for back support can get one with thicker padding for greater comfort.
  5.  Know when it’s time to get a new mattress. If an old mattress sags visibly in the middle or is no longer comfortable, it is probably time to purchase a new one. Putting boards under a sagging mattress to keep it from sagging in the middle is only a short-term fix for the sagging; a new mattress is still needed.

Some Considerations

  • Shop for the best value and quality of the mattress, not price. Mattresses with more coils and thicker padding tend to be higher quality and also more expensive; however, a higher price does not guarantee that the mattress is more comfortable or more supportive. Mattress stores often have sales and promotions, so it is a good idea to comparison-shop for the best price after finding the right mattress.
  • Be aware of mattress advertising gimmicks. Claims that a mattress is orthopedic or medically-approved should be viewed skeptically. There has not been extensive medical research or controlled clinical trials on the topic of mattresses and low back pain. The individual must determine whether or not extra features on a mattress make it more comfortable or supportive.
  • Give the mattress a test-run before buying. To sample mattresses, people can try sleeping on different makes and models in hotels or at other peopleís homes before going to a mattress store. When shopping at the store, shoppers should lie on the mattress for several minutes to decide if it is a good fit. If two people will be sleeping on the mattress, both should test it at the same time to make sure they have enough space and are both comfortable on the same style of mattress.
  • Purchase mattresses from stores and companies that are trustworthy. Consider the customer service offered by the mattress store, such as delivery options, warranty, and removal of old mattresses and the store’s return policy. Look for mattress stores where customers can return a mattress if they are not satisfied with the quality or comfort after sleeping on it for a significant amount of time (i.e. a couple of weeks to a month).
  • To help preserve the quality of a new mattress, it should be repositioned every six months to ensure that the mattress is evenly worn. This includes rotating 180 degrees and flipping the mattress lengthwise on a regular basis. The Better Sleep Council advises against putting a mattress on a box spring/foundation that is not made to go with the mattress, as this may decrease the life of the new mattress.

How to Support Your Back Every Day

Bad posture

When you’re living with chronic back or neck pain, your daily routine can get complex – appointments, insurance paperwork, time off work, treatment regimens to follow, etc. While these are important aspects of managing your pain and recovery process, there are simple things you can do (or stop doing) on a daily basis to help your condition.

Good posture and body mechanics (the way you perform your activities all day, everyday) can substantially improve the way you feel at the end of your day.

Support your spine while sitting at your desk or in your car

Sitting for prolonged periods of time can be a major cause of back pain. Sitting is a static posture, which can add a tremendous amount of pressure to the back muscles and spinal discs. Additionally, sitting in a slouched-over or slouched-down position can overstretch the spinal ligaments and increase the pressure on your spinal discs.

Sitting with your back relatively straight and with good support is essential to minimize the load (strain) on your back. Especially when you sit for prolonged periods of time, you need to provide your lower back with support for the inward curve of the lumbar spine (lordosis). Here are a few tips for good posture and support for your lower spine while sitting at a desk or while driving:

  • Make sure your chair is set up so your knees are bent at about a 90 degree angle. Two fingers should slip easily between the bottom of your thigh and the chair.
  • The backrest of your chair should push your lower back forward slightly. Place a small pillow, rolled up towel, or orthopedic support on your chair to accomplish this or get a new office chair that provides support if you can.
  • Your buttocks should be pressed against the back of the chair, and your back should be straight.
  • It’s a good idea to have arm rests on your office chair that place your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
  • Place some support under your feet to elevate them slightly and take some of the load off of your lower spine. Sit with your knees slightly higher than your hips to eliminate much of the pressure on your lumbar spine.
  • Don’t sit on anything that would throw your spine out of alignment (i.e., a wallet in your back pocket).
  • Don’t slouch or slump in your office or car seat; this puts extra pressure on your spine and stress on the lumbar discs. Use the back of the chair to provide support for your back.
  • Sit up straight and keep your chin pulled in (avoid keeping your chin and head thrust forward).
  • Sit as close to your desk as possible.
  • Your computer screen or reading materials should be at eye level.

Some people prefer furniture that promotes more muscle activity, such as a Swedish kneeling chair, standing desk, or a Swiss exercise ball, rather than a chair that provides complete support. Purchasing a good ergonomic office chair that provides optimal back support may also be helpful.

On the phone a lot?  Consider investing in a headset to take the strain off your neck, or try using the speakerphone. Avoid cradling the phone on your shoulder.

If you are in a great deal of pain, try to avoid driving. If possible, have someone else drive, and lie down in the back seat with your knees slightly bent. You can place a blanket or pillow under your knees to support them, as well as a small pillow under your head.

Move about during the day

A healthy body can only tolerate staying in one position for relatively short periods of time. You may have noticed this on an airplane, at your desk, or at a movie theater when sitting is uncomfortable after just a short time. Even with correct posture, holding the same position slowly takes the elasticity out of the tissues, and stress builds up and causes discomfort.

Keep your joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons loose by moving about and stretching on a regular basis throughout the day:

  • Stand up while talking on the phone. Be sure to stand with one foot slightly in front of the other, or place one foot on something a few inches off the ground; avoid standing straight with your knees locked.
  • Stretch your hamstrings twice each day. To help you remember to do this on a regular basis, link the stretching to a part of your daily routine, such as when you brush your teeth in the morning and evening, or when you first get to work and before you head home. Flexible hamstrings will significantly reduce the stress on your lower back.
  • When you return to your seat after moving around, use an alternate posture for just a few moments and some of the tissue elasticity needed to protect your joints will return.

Paying attention to your posture and movement throughout the day and while sleeping at night will help you manage your pain and maintain good spine health.

Learn more about supporting your back, both day and night. Visit

For a personal chiropractic consultation to review your ergonomics and learn about solutions for your back pain, contact us at (503) 526-8782



Quick posture fixes

As a chiropractor in Beaverton, Oregon, I see patients all day long with sedentary desk jobs. Without exception, all of them would agree that their posture has something to do with their back pain. I am very sensitive to negative self talk and try to encourage my patients that it isn’t all their fault and there is something they can do about it.

Contrary to popular belief, having good posture isn’t just about sitting up straight all day long. In fact according to Pr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher, even sitting in an upright position that we would consider a “good posture” can be taxing on the spine if it is done for prolonged periods of time (see “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance”) . His suggestion is to vary your posture throughout the day so that different muscles and spinal joints are stressed at different times to more evenly distribute the cumulative stress that prolonged sitting (or standing) places on your back.

Various seated postures both good and bad
Any of these postures are acceptable, as long as they are not sustained for too long, although the one on the right is not advisable.
(Photo source and license info)

Another strategy to decrease stress on the spine is to increase your back’s capacity to bear the burden of repetitive stress. A sedentary lifestyle and prolonged stationary postures will sap the strength of the muscles in your back and abdomen (your “core”), effectively leaving your spine with no support other than tissues called ligaments to keep it from buckling. If ligaments have to support the spine for too long, they will become stretched out and then they can be both a source of pain themselves or leave your back unstable and susceptible to injury. For a quick, easy way to break the monotony of sitting all day, try using the follow stretch intermittently throughout the day. This is called Brugger’s relief posture and can be done at any type of workstation. I also included a simple strengthening exercise to help you start to increase your capacity to deal with repetitive postural stress.



For additional core exercises, I would suggest starting with McGill’s “Big 3” exercises for core strength and low back stability, seen in the following video (plus an extra one called “Stir the Pot”). These exercises are simple, don’t take much time, and will give you a great bang for your back…I mean buck.



Spine Hacks: How to beat “Text Neck”

Chances are, you are reading this blog from either your phone or your tablet. If not then likely your laptop. Stop for a second and think about where your device is in relation to your eye level. You are looking down, aren’t you? Now think about how often you use these devices and you will realize that you spend a considerable amount of time with your head down and neck flexed forward. Do you ever feel muscle tension in your upper shoulders or pain in your neck? Do you get tension headaches? This one piece of advice will go a long way toward helping with those problems: Bring your screen up to eye level. Gravity is hard enough to fight in good posture. Don’t make it harder than it should be.

How To Lift A Child Correctly

Welcome to Spine Hacks. Today’s segment is about how to lift your child correctly. I’ll show you two ways to safely lift your kid. Children are so much closer to the floor than we are that we must bend a lot throughout the daily course of activities to take care of them. Therefore, we are going to talk about how to do that safely, as to prevent back injuries.

In the video above, I use a stick and a 20lb kettle bell for demonstration. When we are bending, the goal is to keep our spine in a neutral alignment, as demonstrated with the stick in the video. The stick should maintain contact with your head, midback, and sacrum as you bend. If it comes off of your back , you know that your form is not correct. Most of us will choose to bend the quick and easy way, which can have negative consequences if done repeatedly.

In the next section of the video,using a kettle bell,  I demonstrate how to bend to pick up your child, as well as an alternative by using a lunge. Both actions are much safer on your spine when compared to the traditional way that many of us will pick up our kids.

I hope you enjoyed today’s Spine Hack about how to lift your child correctly. For more information about how we can help you through Beaverton chiropractic care, contact our office today at (503) 526-8782.

Forward Head Posture

Welcome to Spine Hacks. Today we are talking about forward head carriage.  Forward head carriage can wreak havoc on you head and upper back, causing a lot of pain and stress on the joints and can contribute to a lot of headaches. The video above demonstrates why this can happen, using a kettle bell for illustration.

To learn even more about proper head carriage and to schedule an appointment with Beaverton chiropractor, Dr. Thompson, contact Catalyst Chiropractic at (503) 526-8782 .