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Can a Mattress Cause Back Pain?

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Sleep Advisor

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28 November 2023 5 min read

If you wake up every morning with pain shooting down your back, you might ask yourself “Can a mattress cause back pain? Or is it something else?”. Well, let's find out!

To answer the question “Can a mattress cause back pain”, we must first understand how your mattress influences your posture and spinal alignment. This is because your mattress is the number one player when it comes to spinal support during the night!

So, let's see exactly how your mattress can help or hamper your back and cause pain. And then we'll see how you can pick out the right mattress and potentially solve your back pain once and for all!

How do mattresses affect our spine?

To start things off, we need to discuss how your mattress affects your spine in general. Then we'll get into the specifics and how you can potentially alleviate your back pain.

So, as a general rule, you want a mattress that suits your sleep position and your weight. This is because, depending on these two factors, a mattress can either provide support and a good night's sleep or back pain and insomnia.

And while this might seem complicated, it's actually quite simple. Your new mattress needs to keep your spine aligned and straight as well as take some of the pressure off your joints. So, let's get into the specifics and see whether the wrong mattress is causing your back pain!

An illustration of spine support

How sleeping positions affect back pain

Depending on how you sleep, your back is in different positions and thus requires different types of care. And this relates to whether you need a firm mattress, a soft mattress, or something in between. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The main point is that having a mattress that doesn't support your sleep position will inevitably lead to a poor sleeping posture. Let's look at a few examples.

Side sleepers

An image of a woman sleeping on her right side .

If you sleep on your side, your pressure points are going to be your shoulder and your hip. All the while, your midsection is going to be “floating” perse. So, you'd want a mattress that has some give. This is so that your shoulder and hip can sink into the mattress, letting your midsection to “come down” and stay in a proper line.

On the other hand, if you have an old mattress that's a bit too firm, your midsection will have to come down on its own, curving your entire spine in the process. And it's easy to see how this can cause back pain even after just a few nights.

Back sleepers

a woman sleeps on her back with a sleep mask

When it comes to back sleepers, things are a little different. Since your back is directly taking on the pressure, you just have to make sure your hips don't dip into the mattress too much. This is why firm mattresses are often a good idea.

With that being said, some people might not want a firmer mattress. For example, if you're a bit bigger and realise that your hips are bent forward. This causes a lot of pressure on your lower back and could make your back pain worse over time. So, while a firmer mattress is generally a good idea, some might prefer a medium firm mattress or even a soft mattress. It's also worth mentioning that some professionals deem back sleeping as the best sleep position for back pain!

Stomach sleepers

a man sleeping on stomach in his bed.

For a stomach sleeper, a good mattress is almost always a firm mattress. Just like in the previous example, your spine is directly taking on your body weight. However, since your front doesn't tend to curve too much, you typically don't want to sink into the mattress at all.

The same goes if it's a lumpy mattress, as your spine will have to bend to get around it.

So, if you have back pain and are a stomach sleeper, getting a firm mattress is often a safe bet when it comes to pain relief.

How your weight affects back pain

Another important aspect to consider when talking about back pain is your weight. This is because, once again depending on your sleeping position and your weight, different mattresses may be better or worse for your back.

For example, if you're a side sleeper but on the heavier side, you'll need a firmer mattress than a side sleeper who's on the lighter side. This is because the heavier you are, the more pressure is exerted via those pressure points. So, if you're very light, the mattress has to be very soft, otherwise your hip and shoulder won't be able to sink into it.

So, just because we suggest a memory foam mattress for side sleepers, it doesn't mean the same mattress will be ideal for everyone. Some might want a firmer, more supportive mattress with dense foam while others might want an ultra-soft model. Here's a table to help you figure out where you're at.

An infographic showcasing different mattress firmness levels

How does mattress firmness affect back pain

Lastly, to wrap up this part of the article, let's talk about mattress firmness. By this point, it should be obvious how mattress firmness can help relieve pain as well as better your sleep quality. However, it's important to note that when we say “a soft mattress”, we're not talking about a purely subjective feeling.

There's an established mattress firmness scale that dictates how much give the mattress has. It's a 1-10 scale, with most mattresses falling in the 6-7 range or medium-firm. So, if from the previous section you've determined you need a 6 or 6.5, make sure to only look at medium-firm mattresses!

An infographic showing the mattress firmness scale

How to relieve back pain?

An image of a woman suffering from back pain due to improper sleep posture.

Now that you know that a mattress can cause back pain, the logical next question is how you can relieve back pain. And the most obvious answer is to first look at your current mattress and see whether it's the problem. Look at the sections above and find your mattress model online to see whether it fits. Also, consider its age.

You can also pay attention to whether the pain occurs during the morning, as that's a clear indication that something's wrong with the mattress. If you have chronic back pain, it's debatable how much pressure relief a mattress can really offer.

Also, before you go mattress shopping, consider getting a mattress topper. This is because they can make your sleep surface a bit softer or firmer while also saving you the cost of a high-quality mattress.

Which mattress type is best for relieving back pain?

Lastly, let's quickly talk about mattress types. Not everyone knows the difference between memory foam and pocket springs, and this can significantly shorten your search for the best mattress.

Foam mattresses

Foam mattresses are generally soft and have a decent amount of give. They can also provide support and pressure relief to ensure a better spinal alignment. However, they can also be hit-or-miss. For one, not all foam mattresses are soft. This is because high-density foam is typically at a medium-firm or above.

Secondly, foam mattresses tend to have slight overheating issues. So, if you don't want your new sleep surface to leave you sweaty, you might want to look at other models.

Spring mattresses

Spring mattresses are often a bit more firm and can offer proper support to your spine. This is especially true for pocket spring mattresses, as each spring can adapt to your body and your movements. Firmer spring mattresses are also often called orthopaedic mattresses and are known for helping ease upper and lower back pain.

So, while they can't cure chronic pain, they're typically a solid choice. At least if you're a stomach or back sleeper. Side sleepers might prefer foam models.

Hybrid mattresses

Hybrid mattresses can be the best when it comes to fixing poor posture as they combine the benefits of the previous two mattress types. They typically have a layer of memory foam that can take the pressure off your joints as well as pocket springs that move with your body. Plus, higher-end models usually come with zoned support, which is a blessing when it comes to back pain.

With all of that being said, not every hybrid is going to be a perfect mattress. They can be rather hard to find and are usually a bit more expensive. Plus, if you want an extra firm mattress, regular spring models are usually a safer choice.


Overall, can a mattress cause back pain? Yes. However, this pain can be remedied! So, keep what we've said so far in mind, get one of the best mattresses for back pain, get a supportive pillow, and listen to your body. Ultimately, you can invest in a good mattress topper for back pain if you want to save a few bucks and avoid buying a new mattress. And if that doesn't work, or the pain persists throughout the day, see a medical professional to get a professional advice that will help you to soothe your pain.

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