​What is an Orthopaedic Mattress?

Posted by Sarah Harris - Head of Design and Development on 29th Dec 2022

​What is an Orthopaedic Mattress?

Orthopaedic. The word itself suggests something that’s going to be really good for your bones. And the idea of an orthopaedic mattress is that it’s just that: it’s designed to be bone and joint-friendly.

If you wake in the morning with back, hip or neck discomfort, you might well be tempted to invest. We don’t blame you, a good orthopaedic mattress could help to relieve or minimise those aches and pains, help you to wake with less discomfort and, ultimately, allow you a better night’s sleep. But we also know that there’s a lot of mysteries out there when it comes to these beds.

We think it’s important to get hold of all the info you can before you make a decision on an investment furniture item like a mattress or bed. So we’ve taken all of the legwork out of making that choice. We’ve investigated all the aspects of orthopaedic mattresses, from their special features to the benefits they can offer you. So whether you’re buying a new bed for yourself or helping a loved one to choose their next mattress, you’ll be fully armed with all the information you need before making that big purchase.

What Makes an Orthopaedic Mattress?

Silentnight Ortho Extra Firm Orthopaedic Mattress

Silentnight Ortho Extra Firm Orthopaedic Mattress

Let’s start at the very beginning. What is an orthopaedic mattress? How does it differ from other mattresses? And who gets a say in what makes an orthopaedic mattress? There’s lots to think about, so let’s dive right in…

What does orthopaedic mean?

Fellow etymology fans will already know that the word ‘orthopaedic’ relates to the bones. However, the Greek root of the term is in the cure of deformities in children (‘ortho’ meaning upright and ‘paed’ relating to children)(i). Not, of course, that the world of orthopaedics is limited to children these days. In fact, an orthopaedic doctor is more likely to be found replacing knees and hips for the elderly and poking at middle-aged bad backs.

You see, modern orthopaedic medicine relates to the whole musculoskeletal system. That means, the bones, the joints and the bits in between. It’s the stuff that keeps you flexible and upright and the stuff that, if it’s not well cared for, can cause all those irritating strains and twinges.

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Who decides what makes an orthopaedic mattress?

So, surely all that means that an orthopaedic mattress is a medical item recommended by doctors, right? Nope. Your orthopaedic mattress isn’t available on prescription and doctors have no say in what makes an orthopaedic mattress.

It turns out that, in spite of that very medical sounding description, when it comes to mattresses ‘orthopaedic’ is actually little more than a marketing term.

That’s right, in the 1950s some smart marketing pros recognised that using a medical sounding term – the more Latin-y, the better – would convince us, the bed-buying public, to more readily part with our hard earned.

Now, that’s not to say that an orthopaedic mattress isn’t a great investment. A good one, for the right person, can be worth its weight in gold. However, it does mean that just about any mattress could be classed as orthopaedic. That’s why it’s so important to do your research and shop with a knowledgeable and reputable brand, like Bensons for Beds.

What is an orthopaedic mattress?

Staples Restore Eco Latex Ortho Mattress

Staples Restore Eco Latex Ortho Mattress

Alright, so now we know that any Tom, Dick or Sally can whack a label that says ‘orthopaedic’ on their most expensive mattress and sell it to us. But what does an expert brand like ours consider to be an orthopaedic mattress? Because we still use the term and love a good ortho-friendly bed.

Most well known and well respected mattress brands offer an orthopaedic range of mattresses. These are usually firm or very firm comfort ranges and are often designed with the input of sleep experts, doctors and scientists. Take, for example, Sealy orthopaedic mattresses, which are scientifically designed and manufactured in conjunction with the brand’s Orthopaedic Advisory Board.

A good orthopaedic mattress is built to give reliably firm support to your spine and joints for pressure-free, pain-relieving comfort. Often these are sprung mattress, although increasingly orthopaedic beds offer hybrid construction, blending springs with foam or latex.

The Benefits of Orthopaedic Mattresses

Most of us have heard the old wives' tale: sleeping on a hardwood floor is the ultimate solution for a bad back. Rumour has it that this is where the idea of orthopaedic mattresses came from, and that’s why they’re so much firmer than your usual bed. Let’s investigate the potential benefits of a firm night’s sleep…

Orthopaedic mattresses provide good spinal support

Much more than an unforgivingly hard sleeping surface (let’s be honest, nobody really wants to sleep on a wooden floor), modern orthopaedic mattresses are cleverly designed for perfect support without discomfort.

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Orthopaedic mattresses for pressure relief

Pressure can be a real problem for joints, as anyone with a gippy knee or sore hips can attest to. Nowadays, as well as providing firm, reliable support, an orthopaedic mattress that uses modern technology offers great support with a pocket spring unit and tops it off with a high-performance comfort layer to offer pressure relief. The innovation behind these mattresses combined with specialised fillings means we can achieve firm comfort with great feel, too.

Increasingly, modern orthopaedic mattresses, like this iGel Advance 2000 mattress for example, offer a smart hybrid design. In this case, highly supportive firm pocket springs are blended with cool, pressure-relieving gel infused memory foam. In some other mattresses you might find memory foam or latex used. And since we’re on the subject of latex, this is a winning alternative to sprung mattresses when it comes to orthopaedic pressure relief. Capable of improved firmness compared to softer, more pliable memory foam, latex can give you that long-lasting support that, previously, only springs could.

Orthopaedic beds for a great night’s sleep

If there’s one thing we can all agree we want from a mattress, it’s a good night of uninterrupted sleep. But it can be difficult to achieve that when we’re uncomfortable and tense.

One pleasing side effect of the excellent levels of support that an orthopaedic mattress like Bensons for Beds’ own Ravello Ortho mattress can give you is the opportunity to properly relax every muscle in that tired body.

You probably don’t even notice it but, on a less supportive mattress, muscles throughout your body remain at work in order to keep you well balanced and aligned. Which means you aren’t able to fully relax and recover from the stress of the day just gone. A firm, supportive mattress, on the other hand, takes the strain for you. It properly supports your spine and joints so your muscles and tendons can take it easy and you enjoy a properly refreshing night of sleep.

Who Needs an Orthopaedic Mattress?

We’re going to level with you. An orthopaedic mattress isn’t the right choice for everyone. If you’re a fan of floating off to sleep on a soft as a kitten bed or like to put some spring in your sleep, these firm mattresses probably aren’t going to do it for you. But for some of us, an orthopaedic mattress offers everything we need for a great night’s sleep.

Choosing an orthopaedic mattress after an injury

Although not backed by in-depth medical evidence or clinical studies, many people find that orthopaedic mattresses can help them to deal with the pain and discomfort of a back injury or joint problems.

The clever design of orthopaedic mattresses, which often includes zoned springs and edge-to-edge support, makes them a smart choice for people recovering from injury. Whether it’s a broken leg or a spinal disc injury, the additional firm hold that a mattress of this kind offers could help to make recovery less of a pain.

That said, lying on a completely solid surface without any give whatsoever can have a negative effect on your body too. Especially if that body is working to recover from an injury. That’s why hybrid mattresses that combine firm or extra firm springs with foam or latex can be a better choice for pressure relief.

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Orthopaedic mattresses can be a good choice for the elderly

As we age our bones and joints, and especially our spine, can begin to give us all sorts of problems. From osteoporosis to arthritis and more besides, getting older can make sleeping in a bed that we once found comfortable less than relaxing.

Orthopaedic mattresses are often recommended to older people who need more support for their joints and bones. This is because these mattresses not only offer good support for better spinal alignment, they can also help to relieve pressure on the joints. This is especially good news for those of us with hip, knee or shoulder problems, which can develop or get worse with age.

Another common problem for the elderly is the act of getting in and out of bed. While a mobility bed, also known as an adjustable bed, can help to solve this frustrating issue, another useful tip is to invest in a firmer mattress. That firmer surface not only supports you as you sleep, it also makes sitting up and getting out of bed that bit easier.

Orthopaedic Mattresses, Beds and More at Bensons for Beds

Slumberland Natural Solutions 2000 Mattress

Whew! That’s a whole lot of ortho-info to take in. But once you’ve absorbed and contemplated, we’re ready to help you shop ‘til you drop (into your amazing new bed). Whether it’s a yes to an orthopaedic mattress or you’re still not convinced, our in-store teams are bursting with good advice when it comes to finding your bed, your way®. In fact, our whole ethos is built around just that, giving you the input you need to choose the bed that’s exactly right for you, and if you care to share, your sleep partner too.

Armed with smart tools, like our ultra-clever sleeppro®system, the team at Bensons for Beds make the big decisions easy. In fact, so confident are we that you’ll love the mattress you choose that we offer a 40 night comfort guarantee. This means that if your new bed just isn’t hitting the spot you’re not committed to sticking with it.

Whether you still have questions or you’re ready to place that all important order, pop into your nearest Bensons for Beds store,  continue browsing online or give us a call on 0808 144 6160.


(1)  orthopedic | Etymology, origin and meaning of orthopedic by etymonline

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