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Back Pain Health Center

Best Mattress for Lower Back Pain

Study Disputes Long-Held Belief by Some Doctors That Firmer Bedding Is Better
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"The spine is not a straight line, and padding or a moderately firm mattress 'gives' better to the concavities and convexities of the spine," he says. "A younger spine may tolerate a firm mattress perfectly well. But as we get middle years any beyond, when back pain is more prevalent, we find that more equalized support seems to be better."

The researchers, led by Francisco Kovacs, PhD, who operates an independent medical research company in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, say that a medium-firm mattress leads to better "pressure distribution" when lying in bed, resulting in less pain while lying or after getting up.

But McClelland and others say you also shouldn't use a soft mattress, because it doesn't provide enough support.

"From my own perspective, if a mattress is soft or too hard, it's not comfortable," says orthopaedic surgeon Dana C. Mears, MD, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Something in the middle works best for me -- a medium-firm mattress. If a mattress is too firm, you might as well be sleeping on the floor."

When buying a mattress, McClelland advises against relying on store ratings as an accurate guideline. "These numbers are all over the place," he says. "Individual companies use different rating systems, so you don't really know what you're getting." In fact, in the U.S., firm mattresses typically have a higher rating number; in Europe, a lower number goes to firmer mattresses.

His advice: "When testing for a mattress, don't push on it or bounce up and down, as many people do. What's better is to lie on it for 10 minutes or so -- on your back, on your side, every way. It shouldn't be too hard. If it is, get some padding to place on top of the mattress."

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