Choosing a new mattress that will be kind to your back

With the average person spending around seven hours each night in bed, it’s worth making sure you’ve got the best type of mattress for your back. Sleeping on a bad mattress – those that are saggy and offer little support – can contribute to muscle stiffness and cause back pain as they usually lack support and can effect the alignment of the back.

The lifespan of a mattress is around seven years. That’s 20,000 hours you’re going to spend lying on it! We see a lot of patients who tell us it hasn’t been long since they replaced their mattress – then when they think about it, they realise it’s been 10 or 12 years or more! It’s easy to underestimate how long you’ve been sleeping on the same mattress. Do try to replace it as it gets to the end of its lifespan – just like you would a car.

The type of mattress you choose must be comfortable and have the necessary back support to reduce back pain and help you get a good night’s sleep. Here’s our advice on choosing the best mattress for you:

  1. Firm beds offer more support to your back and are generally better. Firm beds aren’t necessarily more expensive, although comfort, luxury and durability all come with higher price tags.
  2. Choose a mattress with a quilted top. While a firm mattress offers good support for your back, you may find it too hard. A quilted top can provide more comfort and accommodate the curves of the spine better, helping you get a more restful night’s sleep. And here’s a tip for holidays or when you’re sleeping in a bed that isn’t your own: if you find the bed is uncomfortable, place an extra duvet cover or a blanket underneath the sheet to soften the bed.
  3. A good mattress usually is around 7 to 18 inches deep with a good number of spring coils for support, allowing the body to be supported while simultaneously allowing for the natural curves and alignment of the spine.
  4. What someone else finds supportive may not work for you. Take time to try out a number of mattresses and choose what you personally find both supportive and comfortable. It’s perfectly acceptable to lie down in the showroom and try out mattresses – how else will you know if a mattress can offer you the support your back needs? A good salesperson will never mind, although it’s wise to remove muddy boots first!
  5. Ensure your mattress is big enough. If you share a bed that’s too small with your partner, you may find that you both sleep in awkward positions. A bigger bed will be of benefit both for back pain sufferers and their partners. Zip and link beds, which bring two beds together, are a good option if two partners’ firmness preferences are very different.
  6. Turn your mattress regularly to avoid wear and tear. If turning a mattress is going to be a problem for you, look for a mattress which does not need regular turning – there are a number of mattresses of all types of construction on the market nowadays.

Your mattress isn’t the only thing that could cause you back problems as you sleep. Try to adopt a sleeping position which creates less physical stress on the back. If you can’t sleep lying on your back, try lying on your side – it’s far better than lying on your front with your neck twisted to one side. Sleeping on your front is a definite no-no. This exaggerates the curve of the neck and the lower back, leaving you with aches and pains come morning.

You should try to keep your neck and spine aligned while you sleep. Make sure that your pillow can support your neck, and avoid having too many pillows on your bed as this can cause neck strain.

If you have a problem with lower back stiffness, try putting a small pillow between your knees when you sleep. This will help keep your hips aligned, reducing strain on your lower back.

If you still struggle to get a good night’s sleep, you may find these top sleep tips from The Sleep Council helpful.

Keeping colds at bay

imgDecember: such a busy time of year. And unfortunately it clashes with cold & flu season. With over 200 known viruses that cause colds, it’s pretty much impossible to prevent catching colds altogether. But there are lots of ways to reduce your chances of falling ill and to recover faster. Here’s our advice on boosting your immune system this winter:

Some studies suggest that zinc may have antiviral properties. The NHS advises that taking zinc syrup, tablets or lozenges may be an effective treatment for the common cold. Take zinc supplements within a day of cold symptoms starting to help speed up your recovery. If taking supplements isn’t your thing, foods rich in zinc which can boost your immune system include meat, oysters, spinach, cashew nuts and dairy foods.

Studies have found a link between low vitamin D levels and an increased risk of catching colds and flu. Boost your vitamin D intake by eating plenty of oily fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel, hard boiled eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, yoghurts and milk – or fortified dairy alternatives. Taking cod liver oil capsules daily is another way of increasing your vitamin D intake.

Contrary to common belief, vitamin C isn’t a miracle supplement for warding off colds. Rather it can help to shorten the duration of your cold a little. Take in tablet form or eat plenty of peppers and chillis, kale, broccoli, cauliflowers, sprouts, kiwi fruit, strawberries, mango and of course oranges.

Although more research is needed to discover the specific effects plant extract echinacea has on our bodies, many people who take it say they feel the benefits where the common cold is concerned. Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system and help fight infection. A 2007 study by the University of Connecticut concluded that Echinacea can cut the chances of catching a gold by more than half, and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days. Take in capsule form or drink as a tea.

Boosting the immune system is a good idea all year round, and there are plenty of foods that can help. Try to eat a varied diet with some of these super-foods:

With several antioxidants, garlic can give your immune system a real boost and help ward off bacteria and viruses. When chopping garlic, try to leave it for 15-20 minutes before cooking to activate immune boosting enzymes.

A great source of the antioxidant glutathione which helps maintain a healthy immune system, cabbage is easy to add to winter stews and soups to boost a meal’s nutritional value.

As well as being hydrating and refreshing, ripe watermelon is also rich in glutathione and can help strengthen the immune system.

High in selenium, a mineral linked to an increased risk of developing more severe flu, mushrooms are thought to have antiviral and antibacterial properties. B vitamins in mushrooms can also help maintain a healthy immune system.

All types of tea – green or black – are loaded with polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants are believed to seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroy them. Decaffeinated tea works just as well as caffeinated.

A handful of almonds carries nearly 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E, which helps look after the immune system.

But if you do find you’re struck down by a cold, here are our three tips for getting better faster:

  1. It’s important to rest. Although it’s hard for many of us to find the time to spend a day or two under the covers, lying down and getting plenty of rest brings about a change in the pH levels within the nose. This helps the body to fight irritants and recover from a cold more quickly.
  2. A good old-fashioned steaming helps keep the nasal passages moist and can work wonders. Inhale over a basinful of hot water with a towel over your head, or take a hot shower.
  3. Take less exercise while you get over a cold. Continuing with a fitness regime as normal can compromise your immunity, meaning your cold will be prolonged.

And remember to use good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of germs – lots of handwashing after going to the toilet, during food preparation and before eating.

Don’t let your party shoes lead to foot or back problems

Just one in 10 women wear high heeled shoes regularly. But with party season almost upon us, we reckon more ladies will be dusting off their stilettos to hit the dance floor at their festive knees-ups.

Did you know that high heels are one of the biggest factors leading to foot problems in women?

When a woman wears shoes with a heel of two inches or more, her foot slides forward in her shoe. This forces the toes into the unnatural shape of the shoe and redistributes her weight incorrectly. The increased weight on her toes causes the body to tilt forward. To compensate, she leans backwards, overarching her back and creating a posture that can put strain on the knees, hips and lower back.

Regular, prolonged wear of high heels can lead to lower back pain, sciatica and overworked or injured leg muscles. Over time, wearing high heels can shorten the muscles in the calves and back, leading to pain and muscle spasms. A shortening of the Achilles tendon can also occur.

Ultra-high heels force the feet into a position that puts stress on the ball of the foot. It’s at this joint that the long metatarsal bones meet the pea-shaped sesamoid bones and the toe bones. Too much pressure here can inflame these bones or the nerves around them, causing discomfort.

So how can you make sure that your choice of party footwear doesn’t lead to a night of pain? Here are some tips on choosing high-heeled shoes:

  1. It’s a little obvious but make sure your shoes are the right size to avoid your foot sliding forwards, leading to posture problems
  2. Opt for chunkier heels over stilettos – the greater surface area of a thicker heel helps distribute your weight more evenly, leading to less wobble and sprain risks from falls
  3. Add a soft insole which will help reduce impact on the knees
  4. After a night dancing in high heels, try this simple leg stretch: stand on the edge of a step with your shoes off; with your weight on the balls of your feet and your heels extending off the edge, drop your heels down to a stretch; repeat
  5. And if you already suffer from lower back pain, try to avoid wearing high heeled shoes at all.

If you find that the party season takes its toll on your feet, legs or back, our experienced team of 10 osteopaths can assess and look after your aches and pains. They will give you a thorough mechanical assessment to understand the underlying causes for your pain and discomfort, and find the best remedy for you as an individual.

Find out more about our osteopathy treatments

In addition, The Leeds Podiatry Clinic, housed within Good Health Centre and led by Andy Horwood, can help with specific foot pain. As one of the most experienced and dedicated podiatry practices in Leeds, they have specialist musculoskeletal knowledge and can offer treatments for a range of foot, ankle and lower limb problems.

Find out more about our podiatry treatments