Woman with back pain sits on edge of bed in her room

What is the best mattress for a bad back? 

Millions of people suffer from back pain in the UK – it’s one of the biggest reasons for people calling in sick and makes up a huge percentage of GP enquiries. Sleep is crucial for your body’s recovery, but getting a good night’s sleep can feel impossible when you’re in pain and uncomfortable. Could a better mattress help?  

In this blog post, we look at the best mattress type for back pain and consider how firm your mattress needs to be.

Types of back pain 

Lower back pain is the most common type of back complaint and the one most likely to disrupt your sleep.

The lower portion of your back (lumbar region) comprises the bottom five vertebrae of the spine. According to the Sleep Foundation, pain in this area is usually caused by bad posture, injury or a complication, like a slipped disc or narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis).  

Back pain can also affect the middle and upper back. 

  • Pain in the middle of the back is much less common than lower back pain but is still likely to disrupt your sleep and prevent you from getting comfortable. 
  • Pain in your upper back (including the lower neck) is usually caused by something more severe than a simple muscle strain and is likely to affect your sleep.  

If back pain is causing you sleepless nights, make an appointment to see your GP to establish what’s causing it. Understanding the cause of the problem is crucial to finding the best way to tackle it. 

How does a mattress affect back pain? 

You might assume that back pain caused by poor posture is down to how you sit or stand, but it has just as much to do with your sleeping position. The right mattress promotes a good sleep posture, keeping your spine correctly aligned while you sleep. 

Experts agree that the relationship between sleep and back pain is bi-directional. In other words, back pain can stop you from getting a good night’s sleep, but likewise, poor quality sleep on a bad mattress can cause back pain.

If your mattress doesn’t provide the proper support, you’ll start to see your back pain getting noticeably worse. This is a cyclical problem because pain prevents you from finding a comfortable position to fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Best mattress type for back pain 

The best mattress for back pain should provide support to ensure your spine is correctly aligned without putting pressure on your shoulders and hips. 

How firm your mattress needs to be depends on your weight and sleeping position. As a general rule, the heavier you are, the firmer your mattress needs to be to maintain your sleeping posture.

The Sleep Foundation uses these estimates for people considering buying a new mattress.  

  • Under 130 pounds (58.9kg) – a medium-soft or soft mattress. 
  • Over 230 pounds (104kg) – a medium-firm or firm mattress. 

If your mattress is too soft or worn out, your hips will likely sink into it, moving your lower back out of alignment with the rest of your spine. 

Woman feels the pressure of a mattress

Is a foam mattress better for back pain? 

Traditionally mattresses were made with an inner-spring support system, but latex and foam are increasingly taking over. You can also get ‘hybrid’ mattresses that combine a spring support system with a foam comfort layer.

Latex and memory foam mattresses have enough ‘give’ to support the natural curvature of your spine, which takes the pressure off your load-bearing joints without lacking in support. 

Are orthopaedic mattresses good for back pain? 

Orthopaedic mattresses are simply ‘extra firm’ mattresses. The word ‘orthopaedic’ implies they are doctor-recommended, but this is a myth.

This came about many years ago when it was common for doctors to recommend an extra firm mattress to patients with a bad back.

Thankfully, the study of the spine has moved on considerably since then, and physicians are more likely to recommend finding a mattress suitable for your body weight and sleeping position. 

As it doesn’t adapt to your spine’s natural curve, an extra-firm mattress can worsen your back pain and put extra pressure on your shoulders and hips (especially for side sleepers). 

Read more on the best position to sleep in for back and neck pain in this blog post. 

How much should you spend on a mattress?

If you’ve been struggling with a bad back and are desperate for a good night’s sleep, you may be tempted to rush ahead and buy the first thing you can find. Before you rush in, do your homework.

Bargain basement mattresses are unlikely to provide enough support to promote a good sleeping posture, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune.

The UK’s National Bed Federation (NBF) recommends spending as much as you can comfortably afford.

A mattress will likely set you back somewhere between £300 and £3000, and you can expect it to last between seven and ten years. 

The key to finding the right mattress is trying as many as possible! At the Furl showrooms in London, you’re welcome to spend as long as you like trying out the different beds on offer. 

FAQs on mattresses for back pain

If you need more information, you might find the answer you’re looking for in these FAQs on the best mattress type for back pain.

Can a mattress cause back pain? 

Back pain that is worse in the morning and subsides throughout the day is likely caused (or at least made worse) by your mattress.

If your mattress is too soft or worn out, the chances are it’s not providing the proper support for your spine.

Is it better to have a soft or firm mattress for back pain? 

The best type of mattress for back pain combines the right amount of support with just enough ‘give’ to adapt to the curve of your spine.

Your weight and preferred sleeping position should determine the firmness of your mattress. If your mattress is too soft, your hips are likely to sink into your mattress, pushing your lower spine out of line with the rest of your body.  

Is a pocket-sprung mattress good for back pain? 

Mattresses with an inner-spring system tend to be firmer than foam or latex mattresses. This is ideal for those heavier people who need a medium-firm mattress.

Pocket-sprung mattresses are better for your back than those with an open coil system. The springs are housed in individually stitched pockets that move independently of one another, so they’re better at adapting to the contours of your body.