Waterbed Pros and Cons

Early versions of waterbeds were first used for therapeutic purposes in the 1800s. The modern incarnation of water-filled mattresses dates to the 1970s, and such beds are making a comeback these days. In addition to seeking out alternatives to spinal fusion, the concept of gaining therapeutic benefits from using waterbeds is something people with back pain are considering when exploring sleeping options. However, there is some debate as to whether or not sleeping on a waterbed eases back pain or reduces the risk of waking up sore and stiff.

Contouring to Your Body

The biggest pro for using a waterbed to manage back pain is the way it naturally contours to your body. Unlike a traditional mattress, pressure is evenly distributed with your movements. For your spine, this means:

  • Less stress on spine-supporting muscles
  • Reduced pressure on spinal joints
  • Increased circulation

Soothing Your Back with Heat

Heated waterbeds can be especially therapeutic. The controlled level of heat you’ll have on your back as you sleep has similar benefits to applying a heating pad. An increased blood flow from the steady warmth also delivers more oxygenated blood and nutrients to your spine and its tissues.

Gently Massaging Your Spine

Some waterbeds have a feature that produces a steady wave motion through the water under the mattress. There are many potential benefits to gain from massage therapy, but it may not be so beneficial if you have chronic back pain or a specific spinal condition and the massage motions are continual as you sleep. Hours of nonstop massage-like motion may stress the muscles that support your back. Stressed muscles near the spine can result in:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Possible nerve irritation from inflamed tissues
  • Muscle spasms

What Research Shows

In one study, 15 percent of people with back pain reported relief when making the switch to a waterbed, and nearly 10 percent said their discomfort became worse. Another study found differences with a waterbed or foam mattress over a standard mattress to be minimal.

The Final Verdict

Waterbeds do have some appealing benefits if you have back pain. However, they don’t naturally provide a lot of support, so you may find yourself sinking slightly into a position that throws off your spinal alignment. Your partner’s movements also affect the motions you feel, which may mean frequent disruptions, leading to less recuperative sleep to help your spine naturally heal. Also consider:

  • You don’t have a lot of control over firmness
  • Your sleeping positions can also affect your experience with a waterbed
  • Waterbeds can be therapeutic, but you’re not really going to experience lasting relief until the true source of your back pain is identified and treated
  • Trying to move a heavy waterbed won’t be good for your back

If you have existing back pain, check with your doctor before considering a waterbed. The doctor should be able to give you an idea if you’ll be making a wise choice or doing more harm than good. Even if a waterbed isn’t right for you, be just as diligent about selecting any type of bed. Try any mattress you’re considering in person to see if it’s supportive enough. Also, some stores offer a trial period, so take advantage of opportunities to try a mattress before investing in it.

Though sleeping in a waterbed may be helpful to some degree, people with chronic back pain may need a more extensive solution. At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we specialize in various types of surgery that can help you find relief. Whether you need a traditional fusion procedure or Coflex surgery, the trusted surgeons at The Spine Institute are here to help. Call our office today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.