Firm, medium or soft? What’s the best type of mattress for back pain sufferers? Dr. Chris Mabry, owner of Ability Chiropractic investigates.

If you are experiencing back problems or just complain of a bad back in general, you’ll likely be prepared to go to great lengths to feel any bit of relief from the pain. As if having a hurt back isn’t bad enough, there’s really nothing worse than when this problem affects your sleep.

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Since we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, picking a comfortable mattress is a very important and also very big decision. This decision is even more critical for anyone with a bad back, whose sleep will really be affected by making the wrong choice. There are many options out there when it comes to mattresses, so which is the best for a bad back?

A firm mattress is not always best

In the past, doctors would often recommend very firm mattresses for those with bad backs, however, with the changing times, these recommendations have changed as well.

Firmer does not necessarily mean better when it comes to back pain, contrary to what many people may believe. There have been studies that have shown that people who slept on very hard mattresses often had the poorest sleep quality and that their back troubles actually worsened.

Soft mattresses can be problematic

So, we must be saying that soft mattresses are the best for those with back pain? Actually, no! Not only are very firm mattresses not the best choice for those with bad backs, neither are very soft mattresses.

According to Harvard Health Publications, “Soft mattresses can also be problematic. While a soft mattress that conforms to your body’s natural curves may help the joints align favorably, you might also sink in so deeply that your joints twist and become painful during the night.”

So, what is a person with a bad back supposed to do?

This decision will depend on several factors. Your mattress choice should depend on where the pain in your back is and also the type of sleeper you are. If you sleep on your back, the mattress should be firm enough to support your lower back, but soft enough to contour to your body.

When in doubt, medium-firmness is best

You wouldn’t want a mattress that is too stiff or too soft, so a mattress with a medium firmness would be best for this kind of sleeper. Our main general recommendation is that whatever position you sleep in, we want your body in proper alignment (sorry stomach sleepers, probably time to make a change!)

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Medium-firm mattresses tend to be a good choice in general as well. Studies have shown that choosing a mattress with medium firmness will improve pain and lessen discomfort. This type of mattress will provide good support for your back and will help you get a good night’s rest.

Something a little softer tends to be better for a person who sleeps on their side and something a bit firmer is better for those who sleep on their stomach. As we mentioned before, however, having a mattress that is too firm or too soft won’t be good for back pain. It’s almost like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You don’t want something too soft or too firm, you want something just right that will keep you aligned evenly with how you sleep.

What about memory foam mattresses for back pain?

Many people, however, don’t sleep just on their sides or stomachs or backs. Instead, they sleep with a combination of all of these styles. If you move a lot during the night and always tend to start out sleeping one way but end up another, then the best option for you may be a memory foam mattress. This type of mattress isolates your motion and can be both firm and soft. Studies have shown that this type of mattress improved back pain and stiffness for patients after just a short period of time.

While a medium-firm or memory foam mattress seem to be the two best types for bad backs, it’s important that if you have back pain and your mattress is over eight years old (even if it is one of these two types), you should upgrade to a new one.

If you have a bad back, it’s also worth it to make an investment in your bed and mattress and opt for one that’s a little bit more expensive, rather than the cheapest you can find. The saying “you get what you pay for” certainly will hold true here. Spending a little more, will likely give you some back relief, and that is undoubtedly something worth investing in.

About the author

Dr. Chris Mabry, owner of Ability Chiropractic, is a graduate of The Ohio State University and earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life University in Marietta, Georgia.

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