Selecting the Appropriate Mattress for People with MS

Why do people with MS need special mattresses?

Because of the problems with sensation and movement that are often a component of multiple sclerosis, people with the disease often require special mattresses to keep them safe from developing bed sores and other skin problems. Another problem that people with MS suffer from is heat intolerance. In the presence of a high ambient temperature (temperature of the inside or outside environment), the nerves damaged by MS cease to function. So that when people with MS become overheated, their ability to move and sense the environment is diminished. Choosing a mattress that will protect the individual from becoming overheated and that will provide skin protection is very important for the health of the person with MS.

MS nerve image

What are the various types of mattresses?

When choosing a mattress for a person with MS, it is important to consider the effects of that mattress on skin protection and heat intolerance. Mattresses may be either static or dynamic.


Static Mattresses - For those with MS at low to moderate risk of skin breakdown

Static mattress refers to a mattress that remains in a static position when person lies on it. While possessing pressure-redistribution qualities, these mattresses require the person to be able to reposition themselves. In addition to helping prevent pressure injuries, ie. bed sores,  regular repositioning helps dissipate heat and moisture. These are generally foam, gel or static air mattresses. Please note that different materials absord or radiate heat at different rates. 

• Visco-elastic or memory foam: One kind of static mattress that gets a lot of attention on TV is made of visco-elastic or memory foam (the Tempur-pedic ™). Visco-Elastic foam is a heat-activated foam. Memory foam retains heat which is counter-productive for a person that has limited mobility or can not propery regulate their body temperature. People with disabilities often find these mattresses difficult to use because body heat softens the foam which allows a person to sink into or be enveloped into the matttress. They get "stuck" in a hole in the mattress and this makes it much more difficult for a person with limited mobility to move. 

Memory foam is not the ideal mattress for a person with MS who is at higher risk
of skin breakdown or suffers from heat intolerance. 



• Medical Foam: This is better than memory foam for a person with MS as far as heat retention. Foam mattress systems offer some pressure redistribution for the prevention of pressure injuries and treatment of early stage bed sores. A high quality hospital grade foam mattress is made of multiple layers of foam. In these mattresses, the top layer of foam has a SCT (surface cut technology) that forms channels. This not only provides excellent pressure redistribution to very specific areas of the body such as an elbow or heel, the channels allow air to flow to help dissipate some heat.  Medical Foam mattresses are not recommended for a person with MS who is at high-risk of developing a bed sore or who has developed a stage II (broken skin) or later wound. 

• Gel mattress or topper: Gel mattresses or gel mattress toppers are made with an aqueous or fluidized gel. This gel has a temporary cooling affect. Manufacturer's of these products often promote the cooling affect however, the cooling effect diminsihes as the gel warms with body temperature. The gel inside the mattress displaces for pressure redistribution. This causes the person to sink into the gel and forms a body impression. For a person with MS that has a limited ability to reposition themselves, sinking into the mattress surface can make it more difficult to reposition. If a person remains in one position for an extended time, heat will build up. A mattress made with Gel-Flex™ is an excellent alternative to a fluidized or aqueous gel. Gel-Flex™ will not displace to prevent a person with MS from sinking deeply into the surface.


• Static Air: Another kind of static mattress is filled with air. The air is in interwoven but not interconnected air cells. That way when a person lies on the bed, the air cells move and adjust to small changes in position. This kind of mattress is a good basic surface for a person at low risk of developing bedsores.



Dynamic Mattresses - For those with MS at moderate to high-risk of skin breakdown

A dynamic mattress is constructed of a series of air bladders inflated by an air pump. These system redistribute pressure for the prevention and treatment of stages I-IV pressure injuries. Dynamic mattresses involve at least one of the following technologies: fluidized air, alternating pressure or lateral rotation (side-to-side turning).


• Alternating Pressure with Low Air Loss: Alternating Pressure is constructed of a series of air bladders change the pressures under the patient for pressure redistribution. As one set of bladders inflates, the other set deflates in timed cycles. This way the pressure under any part of the body is relieved on a regular basis. Low air loss: The alternating pressure air bladders have small lasered holes that allow a small amount of air to rises through the special cover on a continuous basis. Low AIr Loss helps to control moisture (like sweating). and helps dissipate heat.


• Lateral Rotation with Low Air Loss: This type of mattress rotates the patient side to side in timed cycles.  One side of the mattress inflates lifting the patient up to a 40 degree angle, the system returns to flat and then lifts the other side,  turning the person in the bed from side to side. Lateral rotation is normally used for patients with lung problems and that lie flat.  



• Low Air Loss: is an essential companion therapy for a person with MS at moderate to high risk of skin breakdown. Low AIr Loss helps reduce heat build-up and moisture between the body and the bed. 


Excessive heat and moisture are prime contributing factors in the development of a bed sore and must be addressed. 



• Air Fluidized Therapy (AFT): involves blowing warmed air through a bed of tiny silicone beads creating a surface that is like a “waterbed” but with warm air blowing up through it continuously. This type of surface is used mostly in health care institutions for patients either with very severe (unstageable) pressure ulcers (bedsores), burns or flap surgery to close large wounds. The air in AFT therapy is heated. The heat can be adjusted so that people with MS can use these surfaces, but they carry some risk of overheating. Lowering the ambient room temperature can moderately help compensate. Alternating pressure and lateral rotation mattress systems are not heated. Therefore, heat intolerance is not as much of an issue with these mattresses.



None of the information above is meant to diagnose or treat any condition. Always refer to your physician when seeking medical advice.

author jeff adise

About the Author:

Jeff Adise has worked in the wound care industry for over 25 years. He is a product specialist and the developer of innovative therapeutic support surfaces for the treatment and healing of Stages I-IV pressure injuries in home recliners, lift chairs, wheelchairs, and beds. His innovative products are recommended for use by wound care specialists, physicians, and caregivers,  across the US. In addition, Jeff is currently collaborating with a team of Doctors and Ph.D. researchers to develop and gain FDA approval for a groundbreaking new topical drug. The promising new drug has been shown to greatly improve the quality and speed of wound healing while reducing infection. 

To Contact Jeff Adise
Tel: (888) 450-0045