Sleeping on a firm beds could do wonders for your back, but then again, it could make it worse. It depends on the nature and source of your pain.
While too soft a bed will make your spine fall out of alignment, too-firm a bed won’t let your spine settle into a natural position.
Thus, medium mattresses are the most popular firmness as a middle-ground. You can go up or down a level with medium-soft and medium-firm.
Generally speaking, firm mattresses are popular with people with middle and upper back pain because a firm mattress supports the upper torso.
Softer mattresses are popular for lower back pain because the hips and pelvis can sink into the mattress, relieving pressure on joints.
Of course, these are general rules, and everyone is different. The best thing to consider is how your existing mattress feels to sleep on. Does it cause you pain? If it’s soft or medium, a firm mattress could improve your pain in bed.
Advantages of a firm bed
Firm beds don’t sink as much when you lay on them, keeping your spine aligned more than with a medium or soft bed.
Another advantage of a firm bed is your bones absorb most of the pressure, rather than your muscles and tissues with a medium or soft mattress. If you have muscular pain, this is a significant advantage to having a firm bed.
Firm beds offer the most support with unrivalled stability, making you feel more secure in bed, which is ideal when you weigh over 180lbs.
Disadvantages of a firm bed
Firm beds don’t compress, so if you weigh less than 150lbs, you will feel like you are floating on top of the bed, a sensation that reduces comfort and intimacy.
Another disadvantage to firm beds is that they are not always suitable for both partners, which is why couples often go down the medium mattress route as a compromise. This is a crucial consideration if you sleep next to someone else!
What does ‘the science say?
We often hear mattress companies claim a firm mattress is better for your back. But is there any actual weight behind this statement?
The most comprehensive study comes from 2003, ruling favour of medium-firm mattresses over firm mattresses. The study found patients with medium-firm mattresses had better outcomes for pain in bed than patients with firm mattresses.
There are no other studies as comprehensive as this, probably because the industry widely agrees that a very firm mattress is too firm.
What about a soft mattress?
Soft mattresses deliver a cloud-like sleeping experience. You literally sink into them!
This is great for a few minutes but not great for your back. A soft mattress won’t align your spine, which will put pressure on all areas of your back.
The only time when a soft mattress is ideal is when you weigh less than 130lbs because your body won’t sink anywhere near as much as someone who weighs 180lbs. If you weigh more than 130lbs, get a medium-soft mattress instead.
What about an orthopaedic mattress?
Orthopaedic mattresses from reputable brands are a sound buy but beware of orthopaedic mattresses from unknown brands because there is no standard for ‘orthopaedic’. Anyone can make a mattress and say it’s ‘orthopaedic’!
Orthopaedic mattresses are firm or medium-firm, with unique layers of springs and foams designed to relieve pressure on joints. They are popular with older people, but anyone can benefit from an orthopaedic mattress.
- The science rules in favour of medium-firm over firm mattresses for chronic and short-term back pain.
- Firm mattresses are generally only suitable for people who weigh over 220lbs due to the additional support required.
- Soft mattresses are a waste of time unless you weigh less than 130lbs. A medium-soft mattress is a better choice for back pain.
- If you have a bad back due to a diagnosed medical condition, you might like to try an orthopaedic mattress instead.
Overall, a medium-firm mattress is the best type of mattress for your back, unless you weigh over 220lbs, in which case a firm mattress might be better.