A hard mattress is good for a bad back: True/False?

Few of life’s ills are as irksome as chronic low back pain or, as we mere mortals know it, a bad back. Not only is it painful and debilitating but, despite the ache, in 85% of cases there is no apparent physical cause. Not that lack of knowledge has ever stopped doctors fiddling around with our insides but even they have their limits and when it comes to back pain many will just throw their arms up in despair and leave the sufferer to their own devices.

And there are certainly plenty of devices out there which supposedly help, ranging from the merely uncomfortable to the kinds of things that wouldn’t look out of place in a torturer’s kit. That’s where the hard mattress comes in. We spend a third of our lives in bed and those with a bad back are urged to spend it on an unyielding, rock hard surface.

The hard facts about hard mattresses tell a different story. The evidence clearly shows that the pain of a bad back is relieved more by a mattress of medium firmness than a hard one. Goldilocks really did have the right idea — a medium bed is just the thing, for a bad back, anyway.

Mind you, if you have a bad back, and you have tried a hard mattress, you may have found it helped. So did the people in the studies on mattress firmness. It’s just that a medium mattress helps even more, and the benefits people put down to a hard mattress are probably psychological rather than physical. You believe it will help — you want it to help — and your mind obliges.

Meanwhile there are good reasons to suspect that hard mattresses aren’t good for a bad back. Hard mattresses distribute the body’s weight on a few pressure points, lead to more tossing and turning and result in higher muscle tension and heart rate.

So if you have a bad back, you’ll find that a mattress of medium firmness is just right. Just keep an eye out for bears.

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