People who suffer from lower back pain may find that choosing the best mattress is like trying to walk through a minefield. You don’t want to make an uninformed decision and end up with the wrong mattress since people with bad backs need good support even more than most people.

Regardless of what type of back pain you experience (on one side, both sides, lower back only etc.), a good night’s rest is essential for staying active during the day without feeling tired too quickly.

The first thing you should know is that if your doctor has prescribed you a special mattress, you should definitely stay with that one. But if not, there are some easy measures you can take to improve your sleep quality while reducing back pain.

However chronic or severe your symptoms are, it’s important to consider your mattress firmness. For example, make sure your mattress is the best one for your specific body weight and curvature. It should offer enough firmness and support for your back while keeping it aligned properly.

On that note, let’s take a deep dive into mattress firmness and compare firm and soft mattresses in the context of back pain relief while trying to get a good night’s sleep.

Firm vs. Soft Mattress

Using a Firm Mattress

correct spinal alignment

A firm mattress is good for your back. If your current mattress is rather soft, you may want to try a firmer mattress instead. Perhaps it’s too soft or sagging, thus creating an uneven surface whilst lying down.

If you’re concerned about the firmness of the mattress, it’s possible to find one that has medium-firm or even firm support. But don’t worry too much about finding something super hard as it is usually not preferred by most people anyway.

Proper Spinal Alignment

If you have lower back issues, the correct support is essential. The right mattress should provide good spinal support and keep your spine in natural alignment, no matter the sleep position.

Firm mattresses provide more support to your spine, especially when you sleep on your side or back. They can relieve pain in both your hips and shoulders because they keep the spine aligned properly. When you sleep on your side, a firm mattress will not bend or collapse under your weight. This helps reduce the pressure points around the hips and shoulders which may otherwise leave you with numbness in your hands or feet.

If you have pain around the shoulders that doesn’t seem to be going away, perhaps try one of these top-rated mattresses for shoulder pain based on our expert recommendations.

Better Sleep Quality

Good back support is important if you have chronic lower back pain that wakes you up at night. The firm mattress will help reduce tossing and turning which will let you sleep better so there’s less waking up because of discomfort, keeping your muscles fresh to stay active during the day without getting tired too quickly.

Sleeping Positions

If you’re a combo sleep and move around a lot, a firm (or even medium-firm mattress) is good for back pain because it can help you switch positions easily, whereas a softer one will most likely leave you trying to get out of a “stuck” position. This is particularly applicable to soft memory foam mattresses. However, firm memory foam mattresses, on the other hand, are one of the best types of mattresses for back pain (see our top 10 reviews) because they provide the best contouring.

Mattress Type

Choosing the right mattress type is imperative. For example, the firmer surface of a latex mattress is good because it provides the right amount of bounce-back lift to fill those pressure points. However, a medium-firm memory foam mattress may be better because it allows your body to sink into the mattress just enough for support, but not too much that it can be a problem.

Using a Soft Mattress

soft mattress back pain

Many people wonder if the opposite is true.

If your mattress is too firm, are you better off with a softer one? Perhaps the firmness is providing too much pressure on the body, enhancing the pain? Can soft mattresses be helpful for back pain sufferers?

Lacking Support

The general advice is to stay away from very soft mattresses. If the mattress is too soft, it will not provide adequate support, and may make your condition worse by creating uncomfortable pressure points or putting additional strain on your spine.

Soft mattresses do not provide proper support and stability even when you sleep on your side. If you move around a lot at night, it’s likely that you won’t get comfortable either because there’s no cushioning under the hips.

Mattress Sagging

Deeper impressions (dents) may cause you more problems as they allow some parts of your body (e.g., arms or legs) to press against the surface more than others, causing some areas to be deprived of necessary support.


Softer mattresses are generally preferred by those who suffer primarily from upper body pain since they can contour around their shoulders and hips more easily than firm surfaces. Some doctors don’t recommend them, however, because of the lack of lower back support mentioned above.

Balance and Movement

With a soft mattress, you may find that it’s difficult to get in or out of bed because the edges may be much softer, therefore lacking good edge support. Older people may suffer from balance issues too, which will only make the matter worse.


Also, a softer mattress may be less durable than a firm one. They are more prone to excessive and premature sagging, which create indentations in the surface, thus leading to more pain in the morning as the muscles have been too relaxed during sleep.


So, are firm mattresses better for your back? There is no definitive answer as to which is best, firm or soft for pain relief, as there are varying degrees of back issues, and every person’s requirement (and personal preference) is different.

However, as you can see from this article, firm mattresses have much more pros than cons in comparison to soft mattresses.

If you are unsure about choosing a soft or firm mattress for lower back pain, consult with your doctor and seek professional medical advice before making the final decision. He/she will know what would work best for your condition.

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