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Memory foam and related products have claims like

TEMPUR Mattresses create a custom fit for your body, virtually eliminating painful pressure points and reducing your body’s need to toss and turn in search of a comfortable, pain-free sleeping position.

and

Visco-Elastic memory foam mattresses are commended by medical professionals across Scandinavia and used in the health sector throughout mainland Europe due to their widely recognised therapeutic benefits.

Many of these mattresses are also sold as "orthopedic", implying some kind of beneficial effects. There are some notes about memory foam and pressure ulcers, but little about back pain.

I have only been able to find two very small, potentially relevant studies, and I can't even tell what the "selected bedding system" is in the second article without access.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20579971

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11896375

So: Is there any evidence that memory foam mattresses help reduce back pain? Either during night-time or during the day after sleep.

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Would your answer be dependent on the source of the pain? Anecdotally, I've found that using a foam roller is a much better reliever of back and knee pain than any change in bedding, but that's because my pain is muscle-related. If the source of the pain is something else (herniated disk, for instance), then the effect of the bed may be different. –  mmr Jan 22 '13 at 17:45
    
Interested in any source of pain –  Mr E Jan 22 '13 at 18:20
    
I have no data, but anecdotally: I have various damage to my lower spine from a car accident many years ago so have tried all manner of mattresses, including memory foam. Memory foam causes me more pain - I find a really hard bed is better for my particular condition, so I think this may be variable as @mmr commented. –  Rory Alsop Feb 19 '13 at 8:57
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1 Answer 1

Here is another list of studies, crosschecked with a PubMed search that yielded only a few relevant hits (see this for example).

In review, the results appear mixed and sometimes contradictory. The sample sizes are small and lack controls. The field of chiropractics where such research is often published itself borders on being a pseudo-science. In addition, I would want to make sure that none of these studies are sponsored by the mattress companies.

The answer to your question, then, is ultimately: no, there is no good evidence that memory foam mattresses help reduce back pain.

The studies are few, the terms are ill-defined, and the results are inconclusive. Too much probably depends on the type of back pain, its underlying cause, the preferred sleeping position, sleeping habits, age, weight, and medical history of the subject. In short, it looks like a messy (and unprofitable) thing to study (too many variables), which would perhaps explain the lack of convincing results.

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Hey - thanks for the answer. Your two links are the same, by the way (I think the list of studies is missing). It does seem a very ill-defined thing, and it's such a big industry that it's surprising that there's not much evidence either way –  Mr E Jan 24 '13 at 0:57
    
Yeah agreed. I wish there was a better answer. I fixed the link too, thanks! –  denten Jan 24 '13 at 1:05
    
I've opened a bounty to see if anyone else can add to the bits of info we've got so far... –  Mr E Jan 25 '13 at 15:19
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