Sore back? How to care for yourself during a hotel stay

Sore back? How to care for yourself during a hotel stay
Back problems can cause misery even among the most fit, including tennis star Rafael Nadal, whose back tightened during the men's singles final in the Australian Open tennis tournament last month in Melbourne. If you travel, the bed in your hotel room may make a difference, but one health professional says an exercise program that you adhere to is important as well. (Saeed Khan / AFP/Getty Images)

Question: As you know, most of us develop some degree of lumbar disc degeneration as we age. My recollection is that a few years back there was a significant movement among all major hotel chains to offer upgraded bedding. Thicker, firmer mattresses with plush tops became common. Although many properties maintain these, some properties are using thinner, softer mattresses with considerably less back support. What's best?

Randall Gellens


San Diego

Answer: What's best for you depends on your shape, your size and your needs, mattress experts told me.

I can tell you that, as I am writing this, I have just rolled out of a hotel bed, and this mattress is not what I need, unless I need to feel as though I have been run over by a cement mixer.

Among the culprits in my lack of well-being (and I use the term loosely): Father Time, the hotel's mattress and my own inert ways.

As we age, the cumulative trauma to the back, whether from lifting improperly, injuries or the ravages of time, can make the back a problem area, said Dr. Joseph Feinberg, physiatrist in chief at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City (a physiatrist is "a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation," Merriam-Webster says). If you have disc problems, you may need more support from the mattress.

If you are in that latter category, that's good news for you because hotels tend to have mattresses that are a little firmer, even if that's not what everyone needs. "The more petite you are, the more shapely you are, the softer the bed you should have," said Alistair Hughes, managing director for Savoir Beds, a British luxury bed brand with roots in London's Savoy Hotel.

Hotels gravitate toward firmer beds partly to stand up to the rigors of repeated use and partly because guests tend to use mattresses in ways that are different from what we do at home, Hughes said. Yep, some of that wild behavior you're now thinking about includes sitting on the edge of the bed as you make phone calls.

The other issue, whether you're at home or on the road, is your traveling companion, who may need something different from what you need.

Celebrity Cruises has been installing on its ships the Reverie sleep system, which allows the mattress to be "rearranged," said Martin Rawls-Meehan, Reverie's chief executive.

If your side of the bed doesn't suit you or your partner has an issue with the mattress support, the "dream cells" that are at the core of the mattress can be rearranged by zipping off the top and moving around those cells. (If you're on the ship, the butler or room attendant can do that for you.)

If you want a hotel with high-end bedding or a certain kind of mattress, call and ask. (Reverie also has mattresses in boutique hotels, and Savoir is in luxury hotels.) That perhaps should be one way you choose your accommodations.

If you're not staying in a place where a premium is placed on the mattress, you can help ward off the morning-after malaise, said Feinberg, who has suffered back problems most of his life. Having the proper diagnosis and getting guidance from physical therapists and other professionals about what's best will be beneficial in managing your issues, he said. He travels a good bit, and he never fails to follow the exercise routine created with his back in mind.

Rawls-Meehan noted that sleeping well is about more than just waking up pain-free (although this morning, that doesn't sound bad to me); it's about getting a great night's sleep.

You may not be sleeping on a multi-thousand-dollar Savoir or Reverie mattress when you're on the road, but the benefit that comes from minding your back, whether by sticking to an exercise schedule or choosing a hotel whose beds you like? Priceless.


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