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At my office, I often get asked various questions on how to keep  one’s back healthy.  A very popular question is what kind of mattress should I sleep on?  So here’s a short and sweet discussion on what kind of mattress is best.

Myth:  A firm mattress is better for my back.

I hear this one a lot.  Many people believe that if they’re having back pain, they should sleep on the floor or on a board.   However, this strategy doesn’t work for everyone.  The reason is the spine has natural curves known as kyphosis and lordosis but people with deep ‘curves’ in their spine cannot tolerate a firm surface like the floor.   You can check the curve of your spine by looking in the mirror from the side.  If you have a notable hunch in your upper back or a deep indentation in your lower back, sleeping  a very firm surface is not recommended.

Fact:  A medium-firm mattress is ideal

For most body types, studies out of Europe have suggested that a medium-firm mattress is the most equipped to support the natural curvatures of the spine.  On a scale of 1-10, 1 = soft and 10 = firm, a number between 6-8 should be your target.  Unfortunately, no such consistent rating scale exists across all the major brands but different manufacturers have tried to provide a rating of firmness on their products.

A quick firmness reference guide when you’re at the mattress store.  This is a general guide and may vary subjectively as you test different mattresses.

Firm = 7.5-8

Cushion Firm = 7

Plush = 6

Pillow Top = 6

Ultra Plush = 4

Tip:  Ask about a trial period

Many mattress stores now offer a limited trial period when you purchase a new mattress.  Depending on the store, these can be 30-60 days.  It does take 2-4 weeks for your spine to adjust to a new mattress so don’t judge your new bed after a couple of nights.

What about Memory Foam?

There is very limited research information available on memory foam mattresses and whether it actually prevents back pain.  However, there was a small study in Europe that found medical residents that slept on foam mattresses reported of more low back aches than compared to when they slept on cotton mattresses at home.  The study did not indicate if they were Memory Foam mattresses.   I’ve personally tried Memory Foam mattresses at the store but have never owned one.  But if you really think a Memory Foam mattress would give you a better sleep, there is no harm in trying it for a month.    Have your spouse or friend take a picture of your back while you lie on your side.  An ideal position is that your spine is straight and horizontal.

If you have any questions about mattresses or sleeping habits, please feel free to make a comment below or contact me at

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