Scoliosis: Which chairs, mattresses and pillows should I be using?
When patients are undergoing treatment for scoliosis, they often ask our scoliosis specialists questions about which lifestyle changes they can make to help alleviate symptoms, make the most out of bracing or to reduce the likelihood of their spinal curve progressing. Those with severe scoliosis curves may experience difficulty sleeping due to aches, pain and inflammation.
Below are some of the most common questions about chairs, furniture, sitting positions and mattresses, asked by patients undergoing treatment, with LOC’s Schroth-Certified physiotherapist Deborah Turnbull to answer them.
Deborah Turnbull, Schroth Certified BSc. CSP and HCPC registered physiotherapist, is qualified in both original German Schroth and modern Best Practice Schroth methods.
Are there specific mattresses or pillow products for people with scoliosis?
There are many mattresses and pillows out there that use the terms ‘orthopaedic’ and ‘postural’ that purport medical benefits for back pain and scoliosis sufferers. Our advice would be, don’t be conned by the term ‘orthopaedic’ as, in relation to mattress products, this simply means ‘to support the joints, muscles or body’. The term ‘postural’ simply means ‘position of the body’.
Which mattress should I be using if I have scoliosis?
This is a commonly asked question, though the answer really depends on what your issues are.
Although a bad mattress won’t worsen your curve, it may aggravate symptoms of scoliosis, and the right mattress can help alleviate discomfort. Most of the time, a few simple modifications and adjustments can help as mattresses tend to lose their upper layers of support over time.
If you have scoliosis and do not suffer greatly from pain and are relatively mobile then the general advice I would recommend when buying a new mattress is buy as many pocket springs as affordable, go for medium to hard firmness for support and a layer of memory foam for comfort. If you upgrade the firmness of your mattress, you may need to upgrade your pillow at the same time or you could end up with a painful neck.
Memory foam mattresses; good for comfort, bad for support.
While a soft, cushiony mattress may seem appealing, a medium to firm mattress will keep your spine supported. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine and conservative treatment (i.e. bracing and physiotherapy) broadly aims to return it to a straighter position. A firm, supportive mattress and pillow that supports your spine into a flat position is best. Memory foam is helpful for increasing comfort, as medium to hard mattresses can feel unbearable to some, but an entire memory foam mattress will deprive your spine of support.
With adults, it’s often more important how we sit and the daily activities we do that keep the spine extensors and bones loaded and strong. If you suffer from chronic back pain (chronic meaning it’s lasted for over six weeks) then you may need to try out different types of mattresses to see what helps your symptoms and what you can tolerate. Most mattress companies offer a risk-free trial period of around 90 days, so this could be worth exploring. If you have mobility issues, again, your needs will likely require a more complex assessment with a specialist.
For scoliosis sufferers, a new mattress with as many pocket springs as affordable is a good place to start.
Do you recommend any specific chair, pillow or mattress brands to scoliosis patients?
We don’t recommend a specific product to patients at present, just the guidance above.
Which position is best to sleep in if you have scoliosis?
Another common question - though you would need to be assessed by a physiotherapist to be sure advice is suited to you. Scoliosis treatment at the London Orthotic Consultancy is entirely bespoke; the Gensingen brace is tailored to each curve as well as the breathing and Schroth-based physiotherapy exercises. Sleep positioning will likewise be specific to the type and severity of scoliosis.
What sort of chair is best for my scoliosis?
Another popular question. The simple answer, again, is it depends on what your issues are. There are many seating products that claim to reduce back pain though the majority are extremely costly as they’re made with expensive material and manufacturing costs.
My general advice, for those without mobility issues or complex medical needs is:
- If you work in an office, have a desk assessment completed to ensure your desk level to monitor ratio is at its optimum.
- Use a chair with height adjustment settings and lumbar and head support.
- Try not to sit for more than 40 minutes at a time – your postural muscles will get tired and your posture will collapse. Take one or two-minute breaks and change position to reset. We were designed for hunting and gathering, not data entry, hence why back pain is the second most common cause of absence from work in the UK.
- When not using the computer, use the support of a chair with lumbar and head support to recline and relax into.
- If you can’t find a comfortable position, consider a standing desk if your workplace is willing to accommodate.
- Modern sofas are generally terrible for back support and you will tend to slouch into sacral sitting, so use a firm and supportive armchair preferably.
If you’re tall – small, short-legged chairs will automatically cause you to slouch. If possible, go for a chair with a seat that reaches your knee height level or higher.
If you’re short – you’re more likely to struggle to reach your feet to the floor and will therefore perch and slouch at the edge of a chair. The deeper the chair the more likely this will happen so try to find one with a shallow seat.
What can you do if you spend a lot of time in a car all day and suffer from scoliosis?
Take regular breaks and consider postural advice from a physiotherapist to help offload certain postural muscles.
Our specialist Scoliosis clinic in our headquarters clinic in Kingston, though we also offer a Schroth Best Practice physiotherapy clinic at The Portland Hospital in central London. You can make an appointment at any of our scoliosis clinics by calling 020 8974 9989.