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Is a Water Bed Bad for my Back?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

There are many misconception and myths surrounding the use of a water bed, including the idea that it does not provide sufficient back support. This misinformation appears to have its roots in the early days of the industry. Most modern beds of this type are as supportive as more traditional mattresses, however, although not all medical experts recommend them.

Compared to the coil-spring construction of most standard mattresses, the inner support system of an old fashioned water bed seems much less supportive of the user's lumbar region. The belief among traditional mattress manufacturers was that this type of bed did not hold the sleeper's body in proper alignment. They held that the long-term results of water bed sleeping would be more frequent back problems.

Most modern waterbeds are as supportive as coil mattresses.
Most modern waterbeds are as supportive as coil mattresses.

In reality, the water bed has proven itself to be just as supportive as most coil spring mattresses. The heavy duty vinyl mattress is usually compressed within the sturdy box frame, and various baffles and barriers can allow full wave action, semi-wave action, or no wave action at all. The water can be quite supportive but still allow for the give that a harder coil mattress might not.

Patients suffering from chronic back problems may find water beds to be uncomfortable.
Patients suffering from chronic back problems may find water beds to be uncomfortable.

Some critics suggest that the full wave action of this type of bed allows the sleeper's lower back to sink dangerously low. In turn, this misalignment could create problems for the entire back. The effect would be similar to sitting in a formless beanbag chair for extended periods of time, and eventually, the lack of support would put too much stress on the joints and vertebrae. Most modern beds don't have quite so much give, however.

Sitting in a beanbag chair for extended periods of time can cause back pain.
Sitting in a beanbag chair for extended periods of time can cause back pain.

One advantage of this type of bed is the addition of heat. Many modern models feature heating elements that can reach therapeutic temperatures, which can help relax all of the muscles of the neck, back and hips equally. The compression of the water by the sleeper's body can also provide the same pressure point relief of traditional orthopedic mattresses. Earlier full wave water beds may have made the entry and dismount process trickier, but once the sleeper assumed a natural sleep position, he or she could still be supported by the weight of the water under compression.

Some high-end water beds provide firm back support.
Some high-end water beds provide firm back support.

A water bed may not receive universal approval from physicians for patients with chronic back problems, but neither is it the spine-twisting torture device some rival mattress companies portray it as. Supporters of heated beds often mention their positive effects on back troubles caused by the sagging tendencies of other mattress systems.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular TheHealthBoard contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I've been looking for advice. I have had a waveless water bed most of my life. When I was 58, I developed some sort of arthritis I assume. I had lots of pain in all my joints mostly my hands, hip knees, feet, back, etc., although doctors could not diagnose any type of real arthritis. My bed was old with many patches so I threw it out.

I have been sleeping on a couch for two months now. It seems to me that my pain is much less than before. I suspect that the water bed had something to do with it. Not support or anything orthopedic - simply water and temperature of less than my body temp kept comfy at 89 I think. Whatever? I am 60 and would like to work till I die. No water bed and I am feeling better, so go figure.


Can you answer this? My boyfriend has a waterbed, and he has no trouble sleeping. He thinks the bed is great. On the other hand, I cannot get comfortable and have a restless night. Is it because I am a side sleeper? Also, I feel as if I am sleeping on a slant and falling into the middle of the bed and want to hug the side of the bed. I hate the hard exterior, and end up bashing my leg against the wood in the dark when trying to find my way back to bed. He tells me it is not a full wave motion bed, but he only has to move and I am fully awake, because I can feel movement. I can't wait get home to my own mattress and get a good night's sleep.

I'm sure that those people that have waterbeds love them. For me, I can't stand them. All I do is wake up with more aches and pains and then bruises from bashing my legs.


Okay! Enough of the pros and cons about "Why do I have back pain when I sleep on a waterbed"? Look at a side profile of the human body and you see that it is not straight like a board -- it curves! When you sleep on a conventional spring mattress, the "lower lumbar"part of your body cannot be supported. Thus the empty pocket there will eventually develop a new muscle to help support the lower lumbar area. Soon you feel comfortable. Now, you switch to a waterbed where the waterbed mattress supports your entire body (filling in all the natural body voids) and soon your "lower lumbar" relaxes the muscles it had to have because of the spring mattress. Now you have back pain! But in a week or so, this new and fully supported position the waterbed gives you will make the back pain go away!


I have slept on a waterbed for at least 35 years and I hate it when I sleep away from home and have to sleep in an "ordinary bed".

My bed is the old fashioned one, just wood sides and no baffles. It's getting hard to find the solution that you have to put in every six months, I did find some on line, but there are not many waterbed shops around. I sure hope they don't disappear.

I love my waterbed. It supports every part of my body in the right way. An old gentleman I knew years ago (he was in his 90's) had a really bad back, and the doctor told him to sleep on the hard floor for a few weeks. I suggested a waterbed. To my surprise this lovely gentleman agreed. He loved it and it really helped his back. There's hardly any maintenance. You can strip the bed and give it a wipe down, and no bedbugs. I love it.


My mother has slept on a waterbed for over 20 years. She is now 83 and has major lower lumbar problems. It's an old style waterbed and has created a bad back problem for my poor mother. If waterbeds are great, why don't you see them in bed shops anymore?


I have been sleeping on a waterbed for 38 years now and I love it! My first one was the full motion in a wood frame type, but about 10 years ago I switched to the soft sided style.

I am 54 years old and my work is somewhat physically demanding, yet I am able to preform it better than some men half my age. I recently severely strained my back lifting something heavier than I should have.

When I went to see my doctor, I was told that I should expect this type of injury to take three to four weeks to heal. Within four days, I was back to normal. I attribute this to the full support of the water and the therapeutic value of the warmth.

My doctor has now taken a more serious look at waterbeds at tells me that she will definitely be recommending them to her other patients. It's nothing but a waterbed for me!


My whole body aches when I get up in the morning on my mattress, so I am off to buy another water bed!


I have been sleeping in a waterbed for the past 12 years and also most of my childhood. My 12 year old mattress just sprung a leak and I was wondering if another waterbed mattress was in my best interest, seeing how I am in my 40's now.

I've heard waterbeds are bad for backs, so I thought I would do some research before replacing it. I rarely have back pain and I sleep like a baby in my preheated bed. After reading posts for a while, I realize I've been right about my bed choice and will buy only a waterbed mattress. Sweet dreams!


Back in 1994, my girlfriend talked me into a waterbed with 10 percent motion. I slept well (I was an HVAC service Tech). In 1996 I blew out two discs and had surgery that failed (all sorts of things screwed up). After the surgery, I bought a regular bed at a cost of $1,100 and it killed my back until I was able to get back in my waterbed. I never slept better.

Now I've moved again and the movers lost the mattress and I am looking for a new one. I will never buy another coil spring bed. When I die they can put me anywhere they want, but I would prefer a water bed.


Wow. You've just all confirmed what I have been denying myself for eight years now!! I had spinal surgery some 20 years ago and defied my neurosurgeon by sleeping in my old, trusted, wavy waterbed and I never looked back until I relented eight years ago and got a superior latex mattress. What a joke! I have been suffering ever since. Now it's gotten to the stage where I'm in constant pain not only in my lower back (surgery site), but also in my hips and both legs and feet. I've had spinal blocks, nerve root injections, acupuncture, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, to name a few, but still am much much worse after a bad night's sleep!

Now desperate, I've realized that, without a comfortable night's sleep I will not get any better, so I've been researching for months now and was looking at purchasing a whole bed system for over $9,000. But after re-thinking things through, I'm going back to a bloody waterbed!


I've owned a water bed for more than twenty years and love it. In winter it's always warm and in summer it's always cool. Never had any back or sleeping problems and always seem to sleep worse on a convention mattress. Improved hygiene when compared to a normal mattress, plus the above positives, make water beds unbeatable in my opinion.


I love my full motion waterbed. I have slept in a waterbed now for about 25 years. Again, keeping the water at the level so your "butt" does not hit the bottom when you sit on the bed.

My chiropractor is suggesting one of those expensive beds but I am going to keep my water bed. I just changed the mattress. I got a new one after 24 years and the new full motion mattress is wonderful.

When I sleep in a regular bed when on vacation, I really don't feel as if I have gotten a good night's sleep. Can't wait to get home and back into my own bed.


I visited a friend for seven days and slept on a water bed and It's been a month now and I can barely walk! I am not overweight and I'm 28. I don't think this is a good option.


I slept on a waterbed with baffles from 1992 to 2001. The sleep was heavenly and comfortable. My fiance hated the waterbed so when we got married, I had to switch to a traditional mattress. I have had back problems ever since. Should have ditched the fiance and kept the waterbed!


I've been sleeping on a waterbed for over 30 years and love the comfort and warmth but lately I'm finding I have mid back pain if I'm in bed for any longer than seven or eight hours. I keep the bed fully filled so I'm not "bottoming out" at all. I work nights so with a crazy schedule, so sometimes I'm in bed for longer than seven or eight hours, hence the back pain. I hate to give up on a waterbed as it's always been so comfortable. Any suggestions? --Susan


I have had a water bed since 1980. I found this site by looking into the best bed for body aches since I'm having a lot of them (lots of stress). In reading through the comments, I realized that I probably have the best bed I can get. I also remembered that every time I had to sleep on a coil or other type of mattress, I slept very poorly and couldn't wait to get home for a good night's sleep.

The only complaint I have is that there is only one wall it can be against as that's where the joist is unless I want to move my bed to my basement.

So thanks for this site and the information, and I will remember to say to those who sneer at it that I will keep my waterbed, thank you!


we got a water bed with baffles. my friend says his back has never felt better, but for me I hurt worse, so after 14 years of sleeping together now we can't because we just don't get proper rest.


I've had a couple prolapsed disks for about nine years and a water bed for little over a year. I found that with a traditional mattress, I would wake up during the night with pain and would struggle to reposition myself to a comfortable position so I could sleep again, losing a lot of sleep in the process.

With the waterbed, I've found it easy to get comfortable again with just one shift in position and off to sleep again straight after.

All in all, it's done wonders for my back and sleep patterns.


I'm tired about hearing this nonsense about "supporting the back". Firm mattresses provide no lumbar support at all; the lumbar region doesn't even touch the mattress!

The problem with soft mattresses is that they provide /too much/ lumbar support. With a very soft mattress, such as the Tempurpedic Cloud Supreme I am currently suffering from the heaviest parts of the body (torso and hips) sinking in more deeply than the lumbar region, putting more pressure ("support") on the lumbar region.

Waterbeds probably don't have this problem because water is moved out of the way by displacement, and is of about the same density as the human body, so the lumbar region can displace the volume beneath it. - Phil G.


I have had a waterbed for about eight years now and love getting into it at night and wouldn't change it for the world. The only thing i worry about is if i have a lie in, it does make my lower back ache, and i do worry it is damaging my back long term. Has anyone else found this, or know why it happens?


I'm 67 years old and have been sleeping on a water bed since 1971, longer than most of the people debating this subject have been sleeping. My mattress is motionless and provides complete support. Maintenance is minimal, one chemical per year, and keeping the water correct as mentioned by (anon85325) above.

Great sleeping.


I sleep on a water bed and it is good for my back. I think that people should keep their minds open to different options and sleep on what makes you sleep the best.


I have been sleeping on a waterbed for over 40 years and I can do a video on how this waterbed has changed my way of sleeping and I do not have any back problems.

I am getting sick and tired of companies advertising mattresses that tell you you are going to get a good night's sleep.

I am 67 and I will never ever sleep on a mattress again as long as I live. All you have to do is sit on the edge of the waterbed and keep your feet off the floor. If your butt hits the boards on the bottom of your waterbed, you do not have enough water in the bed.

Add water so you do not hit the bottom and so you do not touch the bottom. This applies to two people. You do the same thing for two people.

Trust me. I have been sleeping on a full float water bed, no baffles. Mattresses are not good for you and they wear out. Waterbeds do not wear out if you take care of them.


Hi, I have had so many debates re water beds. I have one and have slept on it for 28 years. 21 years ago I had major surgery on my back and the answer to my question to my surgeon when asked if it was OK to sleep on a water bed was "I wish all my back patients slept on a water bed"

My daughter argues that this theory is old fashioned and that I should change my bed. I have tried orthopedic beds and always wake up with numerous pressure marks and back pain.

Thank you for his site, it and others have confirmed ( to me anyway) that I am not all that old fashioned.


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