​How To Tell If It’s an Orthopaedic Mattress or Not

Posted by Sarah Harris - Head of Design and Development on 3rd Jan 2023

​How To Tell If It’s an Orthopaedic Mattress or Not

Chances are you’ve heard of orthopaedic mattresses at some point in your bed-buying life. After all, it’s a term gleefully bandied about by bed manufacturers the world over. No wonder, the term ‘orthopaedic’ conjures up medical-grade dreams of a perfect, pain-free spine. But perhaps you’re not sure exactly what makes an orthopaedic mattress. Maybe you want to know if orthopaedic beds are a good choice for you.

As always, we’re here to help you learn more and guide you towards making the right decision when it comes to your bed, whether that’s an orthopaedic mattress, king size bed extravaganza or a simple single and frills-free mattress.

So we’ve gone deep into the world of orthopaedic mattresses. We’ve shared what an orthopaedic mattress is and what it isn’t. We’ve highlighted the benefits, and a few pitfalls too. And guess what? Well. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to what makes an orthopaedic mattress an orthopaedic mattress. Annoying, right? Well, thank goodness we’re here to guide you through the world of mattresses, orthopaedic or otherwise.

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What is an Orthopaedic Mattress?

Silentnight Easycare Miracoil Mattress

Silentnight Easycare Miracoil Mattress

Slapped onto the label of many a product, and especially beds, ‘orthopaedic’ tends to be a bit of a catch-all term. Put simply, an orthopaedic mattress is built to provide firm support to your joints as well as to your spine. That means that usually those mattresses that are labelled as orthopaedic will be at the very firmest end of that mattress spectrum. So don’t expect any springy, cloud-soft squishiness.

What’s the wider meaning of orthopaedic?

You’ll probably have come across the word orthopaedic before, in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals. Derived from the ye olde word for ‘straight’ or ‘upright’, orthopaedics is defined as ‘the treatment or study of bones’ but is in fact concerned with the musculoskeletal system as a whole. An orthopaedic surgeon, for example, will be the doc who is in charge of your knee replacement or who repairs a broken ankle. They might also get involved in muscle strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

A doctor specialising in orthopaedics is also the person who is most likely going to help out if you’ve got chronic back or neck issues. But although they might prescribe you with painkillers, refer you to a physiotherapist or recommend surgery, your local orthopaedic doctor probably won’t get too involved in your choice of bed, orthopaedic or otherwise.

Is an orthopaedic mattress a medical choice?

So we know now that ‘orthopaedic’ is, without doubt, a medical term. Does that mean an orthopaedic mattress has the seal of approval from those highly qualified medical professionals? Well, no. There are no rules and regulations when it comes to orthopaedic mattresses and there’s no requirements when it comes to using the term on mattress labels or advertising.

That’s not to say that orthopaedic mattresses are without benefits. In fact, we think they’re a great choice if you’re concerned about discomfort or soreness. But, as you well know, while we're highly trained bed experts, we’re most definitely not doctors. It’s therefore important that you seek medical advice should you be experiencing sudden, or persistent aches and pains.

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Can anyone use an orthopaedic mattress?

The great news then is this: literally anyone can splash out on an orthopaedic mattress if they want to. There’s no need to wait for your GP to give you the go ahead, and an orthopaedic mattress can be used by anyone looking for reliably firm support.

In addition, an orthopaedic mattress isn’t necessarily something you’ll only invest in when things start to go wrong. Choosing a good quality, firm mattress from our orthopaedic mattress range might just make your nights more comfortable – especially if you prefer an ultra-firm surface without too much bounce.

Is it an Orthopaedic Mattress? Mattress Types Investigated

With no hard and fast rules when it comes to using the orthopaedic label, it can be hard to pin down exactly what makes an orthopaedic mattress fit that all important bracket.

Designed with the principles of orthopaedics in mind, orthopaedic mattresses are most commonly found in the firm or extra firm mattress section. They’ll help to distribute weight more evenly and can relieve pressure on the spine, neck and joints. This pressure relief and support can help your body better relax for improved sleep as well as minimise the aches and pains that can be caused by a bed that’s too soft.

Different types of orthopaedic mattress

Silentnight Easycare Miracoil Divan set

Silentnight Easycare Miracoil Divan set

With such a broad definition, your choice of orthopaedic mattress isn’t necessarily limited by material, size or construction. In fact, any of the following could be classed as orthopaedic:

  • Sprung mattress

A ‘traditional’ sprung mattress contains numerous spring coils for responsive support. An orthopaedic mattress is most likely to be made with pocket springs, which provide a consistent surface and less movement.

The  Silentnight Easycare Miracoil mattress is a great pocket sprung mattress with individual support zones for excellent orthopaedic support.

  • Foam or gel mattress

Memory foam mattresses are made of foam that softens in response to body heat, allowing it to mould to your body for personalised support. Although some brands might claim that their memory foam mattresses are orthopaedic, most mattress experts consider memory foam to be too soft to fit into that bracket.

That said, some orthopaedic mattresses may combine springs with a memory foam layer. One example is the  iGel Advance 2050i mattress, which contains 2050 pocket springs topped with a layer of pressure-relieving gel infused memory foam.

  • Latex mattress

Able to offer a firmer sleeping surface than foam, while still providing all important contouring, latex is an increasingly popular choice for orthopaedic mattresses. With minimal sink, latex is excellent for providing immediate pressure relief.

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What makes a mattress orthopaedic?

Isn’t that the big question? The concept of an orthopaedic mattress is led by marketing, not medicine. This means, as we’ve already established, that there’s no requirement for a mattress to meet certain criteria in order for it to be labelled as orthopaedic.

According to bed legend, the whole idea of the orthopaedic mattress came from the suggestion that sleeping on a hard floor could relieve back pain. Don’t love that idea? Us neither. And thankfully, orthopaedic mattresses are a lot more forgiving than your bedroom hardwood.

But though it might not be backed by certificates and testing, the theory behind orthopaedic mattresses is as solid as your lino. A firm (or indeed extra-firm) mattress, provides much better support than its softer counterpart, promoting natural spinal alignment and, in many cases, helping to relieve the aches and pains that can disturb your sleep. This means that sleeping on an orthopaedic mattress might just assist you in finding a better night’s sleep so you wake brighter and with less discomfort.

Who could benefit from an orthopaedic mattress?

As the name suggests, an orthopaedic mattress can be most beneficial for those with problem aches and pains. Do you wake with lower back pain? Suffer with sciatica or feel discomfort in your knees? Are you a side sleeper with a sore shoulder? Or a front sleeper with hip pain? An orthopaedic mattress could give you the support you need.

Orthopaedic mattresses are designed with weight distribution and bodily alignment in mind. This means that should you be one of the almost 50% of people in the UK experiencing weekly back or neck pain(i) you could find some relief through sleeping on one of these ultra-supportive beds.

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Orthopaedic mattresses: the pros

We love orthopaedic mattresses for their pressure-relieving qualities. And while they may not meet the medical-grade quality that the name suggests, most are designed with input from experts who know their stuff when it comes to beds and bodies. Some, like the  Sealy Newton Posturepedic Mattress , are developed with input from the Orthopaedic Advisory Board, made up of orthopaedic surgeons, biomechanical engineers and medical scientists(ii).

Whether you have existing spinal issues or not, the way in which an orthopaedic mattress promotes spinal alignment can also help your whole body, from top to toe. This gives those hardworking muscles an opportunity to fully relax because they’re not needed to balance your body while you sleep.

And with good support and pressure relief, the risk of developing aches and pains are minimised. We’re not saying a mattress can prevent arthritis or save you from new back pain (there are so many more causes of joint and back problems than just your bed), but a firm bed can lessen the risk of pain caused by poor sleeping posture.

Orthopaedic mattresses: the cons

As with anything, orthopaedic mattresses aren’t without their drawbacks. Chief among these, in our opinion, is that lack of official certification or guidance when it comes to what makes an orthopaedic mattress. This means just about any unscrupulous mattress manufacturer can slap that orthopaedic label on their packaging, regardless of the technology and design nous that's gone into the design. This makes it very important to buy from a trusted source like, well, us.

Bear in mind too that orthopaedic mattresses don’t suit everyone. Much firmer than most, some people can find them uncomfortable, needing a softer, more forgiving surface to sleep on. They also tend to be heavy, which can make them tricky to flip or turn, especially if you live alone.

Choosing an Orthopaedic Mattress

Sealy Newton Posturepedic Mattress on a Staples & Co Divan

Sealy Newton Posturepedic Mattress on a Staples & Co Divan

With so many mattress types to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start. This can be especially true when it comes to opting for an orthopaedic mattress.

Is an orthopaedic mattress right for you?

The most important question you’ll need to ask yourself before hitting the shops is whether an orthopaedic mattress is the right choice for your sleeping needs. After all, if you’ve been sleeping on a sinkingly soft mattress for years, the table-top firmness of an orthopaedic mattress is going to come as a shock.

Even if you suffer from intense back pain or specific joint complaints, an orthopaedic mattress may not be the right choice for you. Or perhaps you’ll be better served by an adjustable bed.

Take it from us, mattress shopping is a process. That's why we recommend keeping an open mind and getting expert advice based on your needs, budget and sleep style.

What to look for in a mattress

When we ask mattress seeking customers what they’re looking for, their answer is almost always ‘comfort’. It’s no surprise. Bad nights of sleep only set us up for a tired, grouchy days.

When choosing a new mattress, it’s vital to find one that gives you just the right level of support. And while for some people this means an extra-firm orthopaedic mattress like this Silentnight Sleep Healthy Eco 1400 orthopaedic mattress, for others it means something soft yet cradling, like the Tempur Cloud Elite mattress.

The mattress you choose may be dependent on how you sleep. For example, softer mattresses may be more suitable to side sleepers, helping to gently support hips and shoulders.

Orthopaedic mattresses: what to look out for

Committed to orthopaedic but still a bit baffled by what exactly it means? Here are some of the features and terms that you’re likely to come across:

  • Firm or extra firm comfort: almost all orthopaedic mattresses will be labelled as firm or extra firm, although a few, like our Rialto Ortho Comfort mattress, offer medium support.
  • Pocket springs: most orthopaedic mattresses use pocket springs for support without bounce. These springs may, however, be used alongside latex or foam for hybrid mattress comfort.
  • Zoning: many orthopaedic beds will ‘zone’ their springs, giving individualised support where you need it most.
  • Edge support: providing firm support right up to the edges of the bed, a good orthopaedic mattress will ensure you’re well held, wherever you sleep.
  • No roll together: a good orthopaedic mattress manufacturer knows about the dreaded middle dip. This means they’ll design mattresses that ensure you won’t roll into the centre of the bed, no matter how much your partner moves during the night.

Orthopaedic Mattresses and Much More at Bensons for Beds

We know better than most that buying a new mattress is a commitment. We know you’ve saved hard-earned money. We understand that you want to invest wisely in long-lasting comfort. And we know that quality is as important to you as it to us.

Our team have the tools and knowledge at their fingertips to help you choose your bed, your way®, including our cutting edge sleeppro® technology. Designed to give you all the information you need when it comes to mattress firmness, sleeppro® can help you avoid mattress regrets down the line, no matter whether you’re an extra-firm Fred or soft as a feather Frances.

Questions? Concerns? Drop into your local Bensons for Beds store or simply call us on 0808 144 6160 to speak to one of our helpful bed experts.

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(i)  British Chiropractic Association

(ii) Why Sealy Posturepedic? | Sealy

authors profile
Sarah Harris
Head of Design and Development
Sarah has worked at Bensons for Beds for 16 years. As Head of Design & Development, Sarah uses her wealth of experience in design to ensure that Bensons for Beds' products use the latest innovation in technologies to deliver maximum quality products that really help customers' everyday sleep issues.
Read more from Sarah