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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : What kind of bed is best for back problems?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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July 22, 2013
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Unfortunately, there is no single type of bed known to be best for back problems. For one thing, there are many types of back problems.  What works well for one type of problem may not work well for another.

Also, there is limited scientific study published on the subject. I was able to find only a few studies that evaluated the effect of the type of bed on back pain.

These studies analyzed short-term effects on small numbers of people. And no definitive conclusions can be drawn from such studies. And finally, there are so many variables other than bed type that have an impact on back pain and its response to treatment. So  determining the role of the bed is difficult or impossible to know.

The usual recommendation is that people with back pain sleep on a firm mattress rather than a soft one. But this is based more on intuition and common sense than on scientific research. Yes, studies do suggest that back stiffness may be minimized by avoiding extremes of mattress or firmness or softness. But this provides relatively little guidance for people with established back problems.

One of the largest and best studies of the effect of mattress type on sleep quality found wide variability. Different people slept best on different mattresses.  But, what study subjects found most comfortable while awake did not reliably predict what provided the best sleep quality.  This study did not include people with back pain.

The best approach is probably “trial and error.” If you have more than one type of bed or mattress where you live, try out two or more to see which provides the best sleep.

Finally, if you have significant or persistent back pain, see your doctor for an evaluation. There may be more effective treatments than changing your bed.

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