Chronic Back Pain Breakthroughs | Reader's Digest

Chronic Back Pain Breakthroughs

If you've ever suffered back pain, you're not alone; about eight in ten Americans will experience it at some point in their lives. But there's hope: Doctors and scientists are exploring new treatments to ease temporary and chronic back pain. Here are a few of the success stories.

By Michael J. Weiss from Reader's Digest | July 2007

Finding Back Support in a New Mattress

If all else fails or involves too many needles for your liking, consider getting yourself a better bed. A study by researchers at Oklahoma State University found that simply getting rid of a worn-out mattress could significantly reduce back pain and stiffness. A scientific team led by Bert Jacobson, EdD, reports that people who suffered from back pain experienced relief by switching to a new mattress, and that the relief continued long after acquiring the new bed.

“Most people treat their mattresses like a rented mule,” observes Jacobson, head of the School of Educational Studies. “They’ll sleep on a bed long after the support has given out. We found a positive relationship between a new mattress and lower back comfort.”

In the 2006 study, Jacobson’s team examined 59 men and women of all ages for four weeks with their old mattress, and four more weeks with new ones. Then the researchers analyzed the participants’ daily assessment of their back discomfort, spine stiffness, sleep comfort and sleep quality. The subjects reported improvements in each area when they’d slept on new, medium-firm mattresses. Those who entered the study reporting the highest levels of back pain experienced the greatest improvement.

While it sounds like cheerleading from bedding companies—and the study was partly sponsored by a trade group, the International Sleep Products Association—Jacobson points out that the research was approved by a university review board and insists that the findings stand up to scrutiny.

“Here’s a possibility for relief without taking drugs, having surgery or getting manipulated,” says Jacobson. “And all you need to do is trade in your old bed.” That’s the kind of painless treatment that anyone can take lying down.