Complicated mattress need due to a work injury


I’ve been looking for a replacement mattress that would work for my wife for over 2 years already and so far still haven’t found what would work. So far I’ve done some research on my own, including from The Mattress Underground, and I’m wondering if anyone can give us some advice and point us to the right direction.

Wife got injured from work in the upper back and neck area, and is currently around 12% permanent disabled according to workers comp. The reason of the injury is from repetitive motion at work and looking downward, and she has some spinal disk protrusion that is pinching the nerves. Also she has some nerve damages and the regrowth of the nerve is near the skin, so if the skin around the neck and elbows are pressurized, she would feel pain.

We are currently sleeping on a Simmons Beautyrest World Class Extra Firm purchased in 2006 from Mancini’s. It was fine for a while until we both aged a bit (both 34), the “fish bones” of the bed frame bent down a bit, and the mattress sagged a bit (not visible but you can tell a difference sleeping in the middle vs 1 of the 2 “sides” of the mattress).

Wife is feeling neck and back pain in the morning that goes away after a couple hours. The pain is near the border between the upper back and the neck (around C7 and T1 according to chiropractor) and the shoulder. We currently have a 1" medium firmness Talalay latex topper from The Foam Factory, and it helps a bit (We tried 3" but that was too bouncy and returned it).

The problem we have when shopping for a mattress, is that it is either too firm and make her tail bone hurt or too soft and make her neck / upper back / shoulders hurt. Many mattress sales told us it is the pillow if it is the neck, and she tried many pillow and settled on a synthetic down pillow that she has to shape once in a while. Even with that she is still having neck / back pain.

We previously bought a Simmon’s Beautyrest NXG400 and it was making my wife feel worse, that we end up returning and take a $270 penalty from Macy’s (at least we could return it). We also bought a simple plush twin mattress with no memory foam or euro top, just decent coil count, for our guest bedroom and it feels decent for my wife in the butt area. It feels good for a while as the support is very “progressive” according to the article of how the layers are put together page here, but after sleep for a few night she would develop neck and upper back pain. She was sleeping between the 2 beds for a while but now decided that she need something with support yet not too much sink in. Yet if it is a firm bed with little cushioning, her butt / tailbone would hurt.

We went to a sleep number store and try their 3D imaging, and they basically said she need a compromise between the 2 or her butt will have a lot of pressure. Her number is 45 and she feel OK on a p6 mattress (that’s 1.5" of foam). We haven’t pulled the trigger because we want to see if we can find something that works better. One idea that I was thinking of is sleeping on a dual zone King sleep number horizontally so the top is firmer and bottom is softer.

Any suggestion? I am really out of ideas and don’t think I can find an off the shelf mattress that would work great, even before factoring in the price.

My thinking is something like this will work:

  1. 1.5"-2" layer of medium firmness latex foam as comfort layer
  2. multiple support layers progressive design for more comfort and durability than differential design
  3. Different zoning that is soft on the butt and firm near the neck / shoulder.

p.s. one extra observation of my wife’s ergonomics: she has problem with curved seat back that pushes her shoulder inward. She feels the best sitting with a hard surface or firm seat back with no left to right contour (i.e. bench seat). The most comfortable seat to her is a train’s bench seat and because of that, she’s taking train to work instead of driving.

p.s. many people suggested using a rolled up towel as pillow / neck support but that is also painful to my wife. The rolled up portion is suppose to support her neck but this “support” would put pressure on her neck’s nerve as well. I’m suspecting that when we are finding mattress we need to make sure there’s a “void” at her neck. This is probably the main reason that anything with memory foam would cause her pain.

Hi Pandabear,

Unfortunately your needs and medical conditions are far too complex for me to provide any specific advice based on what I call “theory at a distance” but perhaps I can at least help you with a step by step approach that can lead you to finding the best possible mattress for your specific needs and preferences. Bear in mind that a mattress may not solve some of the medical issues you are mentioning.

While it certainly appears like you’ve done some research on the site … the first step I would take would be to read post #1 here and especially any information it links to that you haven’t yet read. This will help you eliminate many of the worse choices and avoid the chain stores and mass market outlets (and possibly any “advice” they give as well although there may be some more knowledgeable people in some of them).

In addition to the links in the post (or the ones you haven’t read) … I would also read this article about airbeds before considering an airbed (which I believe would make a poor choice for almost anyone).

There is a fair bit of reading here but I believe it will be very helpful and even essential in your case before you start with the next steps which are identifying some of the better manufacturers or retailers in your area that carry the mattresses you want to test using the materials that you are most comfortable with. I also believe that personal testing on various mattresses will also be essential if for no other reason than to act as a guideline for an online purchase if your local options are more limited or not great value. I would certainly make local testing a priority though before taking the extra risk of an online purchase when your specific needs may be outside of the “averages” that most online purchases are based on.

It also seems that you are leaning towards latex which can be a good idea in your circumstances but the trick is to find the layering through personal testing that works best for you and unfortunately there is no “formula” that can choose your best possible choice that is more accurate than your wife’s personal experience and perceptions.

I think that zoning as you mentioned may also be helpful but may not be necessary with the right type of support layers (and Dunlop latex may be a good idea here because it can become firmer faster with compression and is more “supportive” than talalay in the same ILD.

From your description of the type of seat back she prefers it would seem to me that I would tend to avoid thicker comfort layers which may allow her to be closer to “firmer than average” support layers and sleep in a “flatter” position which may avoid a more “curved” or misaligned sleeping position where either parts of the spine are out of neutral alignment, where the midback is sinking in too far, or the shoulders are extended too far forward and sleeping in either a “hunched” or “shoulder slouched” position.

Once you have done the reading and preliminary research (and feel free to post any specific questions that you can’t find answers to along the way) … then it’s time to start testing mattresses and if you let me know the city or zip you live in I’d be happy to let you know about any of the better options I’m aware of in your area. Connecting with “experts” that have the knowledge and experience to give you good guidance and answer your specific questions about their mattresses and your specific needs is much more effective than trying to become an expert and “designing” your mattress yourself based on “theory”.

I’m not surprised a topper isn’t completely effective because if your mattress has softened then a topper is at best a partial or temporary solution because it will follow the curves of the softened foam below it. I would also avoid buying anything that is “application critical” from foam factory because what you receive is likely to be different from what you thought you were ordering (and your topper may not be Talalay latex or the firmness level you believe it is at all). There is more about them in post #2 here along with post #2 here.

So to recap … I would take one step at a time with some preliminary reading followed by identifying the best possible manufacturers or retailers in your area that have people with the experience and knowledge to help you and carry mattresses that you want to test and then testing mattresses with the help and guidance of an “expert”.

The knowledge and experience of the person you work with and buy from can be one of the most important parts of buying a mattress that is the best possible choice for your wife’s very specific needs.