Back Pain? Don’t Think Firm!

Back Pain? Don’t Think Firm!

November 8, 2017

In my 40+ years in the bedding business the most cringe worthy statement I would hear regularly is,

“I have back pain so I need a firm mattress.”  Worse yet many said they were told this by their medical professional or some supposed expert.  For the 80% of people who will suffer at some time from back pain (I say the other 20% just didn’t live long enough) this most common bedding myth can be life changing.  For it can keep chronic sufferer from buying the spinal conforming mattress they so desperately need.

Certainly you cannot blame a person for thinking a firm bed will be better for their back.  Everyone who has had the condition knows that, many times if you lie on the floor on your back, the pain will subside.  Most do not realize that this relief often comes from spinal compression that can squeeze the disks and, like putting pressure anywhere where nerve endings may be causing hurt, temporarily relieve the pain.  But this same compression when extended for the hours the sufferer may spend in bed can restrict blood flow and greatly reduce the ability of disks and muscles in the back to repair themselves, thereby exacerbating, and potentially extending the problem.

And again the blame should not be on the individual sufferer, as an internet search relative to back pain and suggested beds will reveal.  Most medical professional sites spend very little space discussing the mattress conforming needs of the sufferer, though they may spend lots of time and space discussing the anatomy of the spine, pain medication and even the effects of diet and other peripheral causes and treatments.  The probable reason is that there is little or no scientific study as to the proper bed for back pain.  Funny, but most sites refer to a “study” that says that most people sleep better on a medium-firm mattress.  The only study in the world for which I am cognizant that says anything like what is quoted are a couple of studies done by mattress industry people who used firm and extra firm mattresses to test what people THOUGHT they slept better on and, unsurprisingly, the one with even a little more comfort won out.  For those of you unfamiliar with my previous articles, firm mattresses are cheaper to produce so the mattress industry has spent millions in the past to convince people that firm is better, which has been excellent in prior years for the industry’s bottom line.

Worse yet are the web sites that claim to be experts in what bed is best for you.  Most of these experts provide the names of sponsors for their sites.  Funny that it is only the “sponsors” who are recommended by these “experts,” even though in most cases these sponsors provide no real differentiating claims for their products.  Buyer beware of experts who list no credentials or who only give some petty reason for their expertise.  Though I know few have the history or depth of my experience, even the experts I listen to are pretty much absent from the top internet sites.

Actual truth be known, only a mattress designed to conform to the body and allow the person to sleep on their side (please see my previous article on sleep position) can truly help an individual with chronic or occasional back pain.  As I said in that article, sleep position can be retrained in most people to the preferred side position.  When experts say to buy what feels better in the store in your preferred sleep position, they are giving you what may be poor advice.

First, a few minutes in a store, or even a night or two on the bed, in no way makes the mattress buying decision better.  Only a bed designed to conform to the curvature of the body in the side sleeping position can truly be the right bed for that individual.  To this goal, support is necessary, but conformity is essential.  Do not be fooled by false or uninformed “experts!”  Your back will thank you.


Authored by: Eric Hinshaw

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