One of the most frequently asked questions asked of back pain clinicians is ‘What type of mattress should I sleep on?’
In these days of evidence informed medicine this is a pretty difficult question to answer; due to the complexity surrounding back problems and the lack of available evidence.Considering that 60-80% of people in Europe will suffer from back pain at some point during their lives and we sleep for almost a third of our lives, it is surprising that there is no current research to tell us what type of sleep surface is best for people with a back problem.
60-80% of people in Europe will suffer from back pain at some point during their lives and we sleep for almost a third of our lives…
Sleep and back pain appear to be inexorably linked. In general the more pain a person is suffering, the less they’ll sleep. In addition, however, being sleep deprived can also means that a person will be more stressed and, as a result of this and other associated factors, will be more likely to feel pain more intensely, potentially resulting in a very disruptive downward spiral. The human body is known to heal and restore more effectively during sleep, it is therefore much more important for people who are in pain to get the required/advised 7-8 hrs of sleep a night. However, there is also an understanding that patients who have back problems also require some appropriate postural support during sleep to prevent further irritation as well as further damage and therefore aid the mechanical side of healing.
The sleeping surface is a problem that we, a small collaboration between academics of the Welsh Institute of Chiropractic at the University of South Wales and a commercial partner (Innovative Health Organisation Ltd) are tackling by designing and trialling new types of mattresses specifically for people with back problems. This work is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the European Union’s Convergence programme administered by the Welsh Government and is in conjunction with the Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarship (KESS) project.
Our particular group is made up of Jon Lewis, an innovator with a long track record of mattress manufacture, who has great experience of both creating and selling mattresses into the NHS and Scot Yoxall, a chiropractor with over 10 years in private practice and clinical education based in Caerphilly. Jon is the Managing Director of start up company especially created to investigate this problem: Innovative Health Organisation Ltd. and is based in Caerphilly. In an advisory role is Prof Peter McCarthy, Head of the clinical technology and diagnostics research unit, University of South Wales, who has been an educator and researcher in chiropractic and back pain for over 20 years. The postgraduate research student responsible for the project is a recent graduate chiropractor Ceri Ann Jones, who will use the work/research as the basis for her postgraduate degree.
The project aims to determine if the new concepts of mattress being tested can affect the sleep quality of volunteers who have back problems. The research was given ethical approval through the University of South Wales, Faculty of Health Sport and Science ethics sub group and is currently recruiting from within the local patient base (apologies to those readers outside South Wales).
The aim of the grant sponsoring body (the European Social Fund) is to help the local economy by building or expanding local manufacturing capacity of companies by facilitating research and development of products with a view to getting them to market and ultimately having a positive effect on the local economy through an increase in production and job creation.
In the current retail landscape, mattresses are advertised with claims such as ‘best for back pain’, ‘best night’s sleep’ but have little or no research to back those claims’…
This is one of the few times in mattress development where the company has made an ethical decision to test and trial the efficacy of their mattress prior to production and marketing. Jon Lewis has a strong research ethic believing that there should be a solid evidence base to what he sells. However in the current retail landscape, mattresses are advertised with claims such as ‘best for back pain’, ‘best night’s sleep’ but have little or no research to back those claims. The best evidence tends to be by having been ‘endorsed’ by professionals or clinicians. Hopefully, this study might start a trend to change this landscape, as scientific evidence will increase reliability as well as confidence in any choice that people make and with that we might all sleep better.
Professor Peter McCarthy
Original article from Back Chat Winter 2014, the magazine of the Chiropractic Patients’ Association Supporting Patients, promoting the awareness and benefits of chiropractic and funding essential research. www.chiropatients.org.uk || Patient Helpline: 01980 610218