There’s a lot of mixed information about whether it’s better to sleep on a soft or hard mattress. In the past, the recommendation was always to sleep on a firm bed for spinal support. However, doctors have eased back on this recommendation in recent years.
Firm mattresses are sometimes better for spinal issues, but there are a variety of factors to consider. Here are some ideas to explore when considering a firm mattress for your back.
Joint Alignment and Spinal Support
One of the primary benefits of a firm mattress is that it helps keep your body in alignment. The support offered ensures your neck, shoulder, spine, and hips are all supported and properly aligned without the dips and curves that happen on a soft mattress.
A firm mattress tends to take the load off the muscles and tendons and shifts it to the bones. Firmness with some contouring can also ensure the bed conforms to the natural curvature of your spine rather than allowing it to dip.
Bodyweight as a Factor
One of the critical factors in determining whether a firm mattress is suitable for your spinal issues is your bodyweight. Heavy-set individuals tend to fare better with a firmer mattress. This effect takes place because gravity works in their favor, creating a sinking effect that provides contouring back support and comfort without detracting from the overall support.
However, the opposite is often true for lighter individuals. If a bed is too firm, they won’t sink in and get that same contouring support as a heavier person. As a result, their spine won’t have contact in the natural curvature, which can exacerbate existing back pain.
Mattress Firmness for Side Sleepers
Another consideration is your sleeping position. People who sleep on their backs tend to benefit from a higher level of firmness to support their spine. However, when you sleep on your side, the contours of your body in relation to gravity changes. Firm mattresses are also a better choice for stomach sleepers who need ample support to prevent back pain (though they should consider finding a better position for long-term health).
Sleeping on a firm mattress with little give or cushioning won’t adequately support the spine in this position. Conversely, having some extra cushioning will allow the person to sink in, creating spinal alignment. If you have spinal issues as a side sleeper, consider getting a firm mattress with a softer top or a gel mattress that conforms to your body while offering support.
Pre-Existing Medical Conditions
While firmer mattresses can be beneficial for general back pain, they often have the opposite effect for chronic medical conditions. People with scoliosis— a sideways curvature of the spine— often experience worse pain with a firm mattress than a softer one. Additionally, those with arthritis often experience higher levels of bodily discomfort when using a firmer mattress.
If you have either of these conditions, it’s important to rethink the level of firmness you want in your mattress.
Firmness and Motion Transfer
Another consideration for spinal support is bed-sharing and motion transfer. Firmer mattresses tend to have a higher level of motion transfer, which can be disruptive.
Furthermore, if one person is significantly heavier than the other, using a firm mattress can cause a slight grade that leads to back pain as it creates misalignment.
Determining Firmness Level
Another key consideration when purchasing a firm mattress to support your spinal issues is that the firmness level is subjective. Two mattress brands could label their products as firm with varying degrees of firmness. It’s also important to note that you can get a medium-firm bed that offers ample support for your spinal issues without feeling like you’re sleeping on concrete.
Take some time to review The Sleep Doctor list and determine which level of firmness is best for your back condition, body type, and sleep position. If you’re ordering online, choose an option with a return policy in case you determine that you’ve made the wrong choice. It can take a few weeks to adjust to a firm mattress and understand whether it was the right choice for your body.
Firm mattresses are sometimes better for back pain and spinal issues. Take some time to compare your options and determine if this is the right choice for you.
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