Are firm mattresses better for your back? Experts reveal the comfiest bed for back pain

If you suffer from back pain, here's everything you need to know about whether a firm mattress may be the best sleep surface for you

Are firm mattresses better for your back? Best firm mattress on bedframe with abstract art
(Image credit: Sleep Inc firm mattress)

If you find yourself struggling with back pain, the problem could be your mattress. It's likely that your spine isn't being supported, as your sleep position, weight, and the mattress type you sleep on can affect spinal alignment. If your bed isn't adhering to your needs, it's time to rethink how to better your back. 

But contrary to common belief, a firm mattress doesn't always equate to a supportive one – depending on your sleep style, a firm mattress could evenly distribute your weight or put too much pressure on your hips, shoulder, and neck, causing discomfort and pain. 

To confirm whether a firm sleep surface is better for your back, we've spoken to a mattress expert. We've also got their advice on the best mattress for back pain, so you can get back to sleeping comfortably. 

Are firm mattresses better for your back?

To know whether a firm mattress is going to be best for you, and your back, you need to know your sleep style. Think about whether you sleep on your front, back, side, or a combination of a few positions.

Expert answers

Whether firm mattresses are better for your bed depends on your sleep style. Making sure you wake up without any aches and pains all relies on how well your spine is supported – and this will differ if you're a side, front, or back sleeper. 

As Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counselor, explains, 'firm mattresses do not necessarily offer the most support. Firm mattresses work best for front sleepers as it is important that your body is as close to the bed as possible. Minimal gaping between you and the mattress ensures your body is supported adequately.' 

If you sleep on your front, firm mattresses are better for your back. However, side sleepers should opt for a medium-soft mattress, and back sleepers require more cushioning, and should therefore choose a soft mattress instead. 

Thomas Høegh Reisenhus headshot
Thomas Høegh Reisenhus

With an extensive knowledge of sleep, from sleep conditions to the ideal microclimate to ensure quality and quantity of sleep, Thomas has worked with a number of leading universities, hospitals, experts and elite athletes. 

In 2018, Thomas qualified as a sleep counsellor, thereby acquiring an even deeper knowledge of how sleep hygiene, diet, exercise and general lifestyle impacts sleep, as well as how to help and guide people who experience specific sleep issues.

Shop the best mattresses by sleep position below, tried, tested and recommended by us: 

Which type of mattress is best for back pain?

Memory foam and latex mattresses are actually the best for back pain. Both conform to the body, cushioning joints and supporting the spine to keep the knees shoulders, and neck in place. 'Memory foam distributes weight evenly and removes pressure points to help ease any aches and pains' explains Reisenhus, 'it is often recommended by chiropractors thanks to the supreme support and comfort they offer.' 


Do doctors recommend a firm mattress?

If you're suffering from back pain it's always best to consult a doctor first. Buying a new mattress or adding a topper can help with sore joints and body aches but are not a medical solution. It's always worth speaking to your doctor to avoid causing any more injury. If your mattress is old and sagging, an orthopaedist may recommend buying a bed that is most comfortable for you. It's important to replace your mattress, as over time it may get softer and less supportive. You should do your research before buying new bedding or other items to help with the pain. What works for your sleep issues may not for someone else.

How do I know if my mattress is too firm?

A mattress that is not at the right firmness level may lead to pain and discomfort, interrupting your sleep. There are a few signs to look out for to tell if your mattress is too firm: 

Do you wake up in the night? Do you find yourself tossing and turning? Do you wake up with any pains? Struggle to sleep because of aching feelings? If so, you should assess the mattress you're sleeping on. 

No matter your sleep style your mattress should hug your hips, knees, and shoulders (at least), helping you feel supported and cushioned. If not, your mattress may be too firm. 

Your own bed should be best suited to you. Sleeping in it night after night, it's important it suits your sleep needs. If you've recently slept on a softer mattress, and found it to be more comfortable, it's time for a softer sleep surface. 

Whether you've been struggling with back pain for some time or have only recently been waking up in discomfort, you don't have to go and splurge on a brand-new bed – especially if yours is in good-new condition. Adding a mattress topper is a quick and affordable way to alter the firmness of your bed. That being said, if your mattress is old, softened, and sagged, it's probably to blame, and you should look to invest in a new one. 

Louise Oliphant
Ecommerce Editor

Louise is your eCommerce Editor and sleep specialist to help you wind down well. A connoisseur of the mattress world, Louise previously covered sleep and wellness (as well as the occasional organizational buy) at Real Homes, and has tried, tested, and reviewed some of the buys for your bedroom. With an MA in International Journalism and PR experience, Louise brings bags of bedding expertise and enjoys nothing more than helping readers find solutions and products that best suit their sleep needs.