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Is a Firm Mattress Best for a Bad Back?


Man in white t-shirt and jeans experiences back pain as he sits on the edge of his bed

If you suffer from a bad back or back pain, you’re not alone. One of the most common questions regarding mattresses is whether a firm mattress is best for a bad back. If you search online, chances are you’ll see all kinds of advice, much of which points to firm mattresses being ideal for back pain. However, this isn’t necessarily true.

There is no “Best” Mattress for a Bad Back

The truth is that every person is different. As such, there’s no single mattress type that is ideal for every back pain sufferer. Even your preferred sleeping position plays a role. For instance, if you sleep on your side, a firm mattress is likely to be uncomfortable for you. Moreover, a poor mattress fit can actually amplify your pain. 

Spinal Alignment and Back Pain

The key to addressing your back pain is optimal spinal alignment. An old, worn out mattress lacks the support to properly align your spine, which in turn makes your bad back worse. However, purchasing the wrong mattress type for your needs can be just as problematic. Even if your spine is properly supported, you can develop pain in new places!

Support vs. Comfort

The support layer of a mattress isn’t the same thing as the comfort level. For instance, you can have firm support from innersprings, and have a soft, cloud-like comfort layer. When it comes to spinal alignment, the support and stability layers do most of the work, while the comfort layer addresses your personal preference for softness. See our dedicated articles on soft vs firm mattresses and plush vs firm mattresses for additional insights.

With the above in mind, many back sleepers find that a firm mattress helps with their back pain. That’s because the support layer, coupled with a firm comfort layer, offers maximum support. Side sleepers, on the other hand, need pressure relief for their shoulders and hips. A firm comfort level doesn’t offer enough cushion in this case, whereas a mattress with a  plush comfort feel does. 

For stomach sleepers, the best options for spinal alignment depend on body shape. Slim stomach sleepers may prefer a firm mattress, for instance, while those of us with rounder stomachs may need some cushion to prevent awkward spinal alignment. Maintaining the spine’s natural curvature is vital to waking up pain-free.

Pillow top mattresses offer the softest sleep experience. However, the sinking nature of this extra comfort padding can lead to improper spinal alignment for sensitive backs. It’s always best to try before you buy with any mattress, when possible. This helps to ensure that your mattress is neither too soft, nor too firm, to give you your best night’s sleep.

The Best Mattress for Back Pain Depends on You

Now that you know a bit more about support and comfort, you’re better prepared to make a choice. If you’re a back sleeper, start with firm mattresses, then try plush. The same applies to stomach sleepers with back pain. Side sleepers should start with plush mattresses, and ease into pillow tops if they need even more pressure relief. 

Beyond the basic comfort feel, there are many materials that support and provide comfort in different ways. For instance, memory foam mattresses relieve pressure by conforming to your body. In fact, memory foam tends to “hug” your body as it distributes weight. Innerspring mattresses start with a strong support layer of coils, followed by layers of support and comfort foams or padding. Hybrid mattresses combine innerspring support with memory foam comfort layers, offering the best of both options.

Latex mattresses are an eco-friendly alternative to other foam mattresses. They offer contoured comfort without hugging, and provide excellent airflow for cooler sleep. Latex is also notably durable, with mattress warranties up to 20 years. Add to that naturally-hypoallergenic qualities, and you’ll see there’s much to love about latex mattresses. 

For the ultimate bed for back pain, you may want to consider an adjustable-friendly mattress. These come in all of the aforementioned types and comfort levels, but can be used with an adjustable bed base. An adjustable bed gives you access to more pressure relief, including a zero gravity position on some models. This special position alleviates pressure from your lower back and hips altogether, for a weightless feel.

Find the Best Mattress for a Bad Back at City Mattress

At City Mattress, our focus is on giving you the best sleep possible, night after night. If you suffer from back pain, speak to one of our Sleep Experts. You’ll find them online and in-store, where they can answer any questions and ask some of their own. They’ll help you find the right mattress for your needs. City Mattress also offers free local delivery and setup with every mattress we sell, so you won’t have to risk your back!