November 2019

Which is the Best Mattress for Back Pain: Soft or Firm?

Are you kept awake during the night with back pain or wake up each morning aching? If so, then it may be your mattress that's to blame. This guide will give you a checklist of things to consider if you're looking for the best mattress for back pain. In some cases, it may be just a tweak that's needed to your mattress so it's worth reading on!

Recent statistics have shown that around 10% of people suffer from severe back pain in the UK, which can affect your sleep. We know all too well from the hundreds of visitors that get in touch just how frustrating lack of sleep due to a bad back can be. Given the importance of sleep, it’s vital that you make sure you have the correct mattress and sleeping configuration to enable you to get the best night sleep possible. But do you know what is the best type of mattress for back pain?

Here are our best tips for ensuring you choose the best mattress for back pain:

Suffering with Back Pain from John Ryan Website
Waking up with a bad back is no fun. But there are things you can do to improve your sleep.

Have You Got the Right Spring Tension?

This is the first thing that most people get completely wrong when buying a mattress. If you’ve been to a bed showroom you will see signs for Soft, Medium or Firm mattresses based on the spring tension of the mattress. Most people use this to try and choose the overall ‘feel’ of the mattress. This is where you’re going seriously wrong.

Your spring or support tension is selected entirely by your weight and has nothing to do with the ultimate feel of the mattress.

Surprised? Most people are.

What’s worse is that the retailers themselves don’t even understand this and will often suggest a ‘firm’ spring tension for someone who wants a firmer ‘feel’ mattress. This leads to aches pains and completely unsuitable spring tensions for you.

To help, we have a handy table below that gives you an idea of what mattress tension you will require based on your bodyweight.

Spring TensionWire diameter (Gauge)Weight Range
Soft1.2mmBespoke Tension (Please Call)
Medium1.4mmUpto 16 stone
Firm1.6mm16 stone plus
Extra Firm / Orthopaedic1.9mm20 stone plus

If you fail to get the right spring tension then you’ll either be on a mattress that’s not supportive enough or so punishingly firm that it causes you discomfort. If you and your partner have different weights, then a Zip & Link or Split Tension model will allow you a different spring tension per side for a perfect night’s sleep.

Spun bonded pocket springs
The incorrect spring tension for your body weight is the biggest contributor to waking up in discomfort.

Are Soft, Medium or Firm Beds Best for a Bad Back?

The next step is finding out what upholstery layers are used on top of the spring tension. These layers of fibre provide the comfort of the mattress and give it the true ‘Comfort Feel’ of Soft, Medium or Firm. The spring unit is often confused with the ‘Comfort Feel’, probably because it’s easier for salespeople to just look at the spring unit instead of understanding the many natural fibres options at your disposal. However, by understanding that it’s the upholstery layers that give the mattress it’s ultimate ‘Comfort Feel’, you’ll be better informed to make a wiser mattress choice.

Materials such as Wool provide a much softer comfort layer and allow a quick sink, whereas Horsehair and Coir are far more supportive and allow for a firmer feel in the top layer. There has been a lot of misinformation over the years from retailers that a firm mattress is the best for a bad back. However, this has generally been proven to be false and can even make your bad back worse!

Artisan Luxury closeup
It’s the upholstery layers of a mattress that give it the true ‘Comfort Feel’.

The best mattress for a bad back is, firstly, one that supports your body weight by the correct mattress tension, followed by comfort layers to allow you to take the pressure off your joints. For the most part, a medium feel mattress is the best all-rounder if you have a bad back, providing equal parts support and sink.

This means that you’re not held in an awkward sleeping position, as you may find with a firm or super soft mattress. A medium feel mattress in the comfort layer is best for a bad back. Have a look at our Origins 1500 or Artisan Natural as two examples of a medium feel mattress in the comfort layer.

Every sleeper is, of course, different, but after speaking to thousands of troubled sleepers over the years, this advice of a medium feel in the upholstery layers has helped alleviate restless nights’ sleep for many people with bad backs. We label each of our mattresses in our Shop based on the ‘Upholstery True feel’ of the mattress and not just the spring tension like retailers.

Soft mattresses can be troublesome as they allow a far deeper sink during the night. Which is fine if you're flexible and in good health, however, if you have a spine complaint or existing bad back this can result in you overextending your spine as you sink into a curve. This can then make your bad back feel worse. Again its dependant on the sleeper but for most people a mattress that has too much of a soft sink can make your bad back worse. It's better to start off with a medium feel in a mattress and then add a topper if you need some deeper comfort layers. A soft mattress can never be firmed up by a topper so it's always best to choose a slightly firmer feel bed as you can always soften it.
Soft mattresses can aggravate bad backs so a medium comfort feel is always recommended
Most retailers wrongly confuse spring tension with mattress comfort. Selling you the wrong mattress.
Most retailers wrongly confuse spring tension with mattress comfort. Selling you the wrong mattress.
Comfort comes from the upholstery layers vs spring support which is chosen by your weight
Comfort comes from the upholstery layers vs spring support which is chosen by your weight

Is Your Mattress Upholstery Suitable for Your Sleeping Position?

Another niggle with choosing a mattress for a bad back is your sleeping position, which in turn will affect whether you prefer a Soft, Medium or Firm comfort layer in your mattress. Different sleeping positions require different support and comfort layers from your upholstery, so it’s a good idea to try and identify these when shopping for a mattress. Most people fail to realise that your sleeping position can directly inform the types of bed fibres you will need to sleep comfortably. To help you work out what kind of upholstery you may need, we have some guidance below.

1200 gsm of blended wool and cotton cross section
Your sleeping position will help you choose what fibres, Natural or Synthetic, your body needs.

Side Sleepers

Given you’re putting most of your pressure into a more targetted area, such as hips and shoulders, then a softer set of upholstery is usually preferable to enable you to align your spine properly. Most people don’t realise this but try adding a topper to your mattress if you’re a side sleeper to notice the positive difference it can make. Softer fibres include Wool, Alpaca, Cotton and Bamboo.

Back Sleepers

Usually, a firmer feel in the upholstery layer is best to keep your shoulders in line with each other. For a back sleeper, the correct spring tension is really important to enable consistency for a level sleeping surface. Too firm a spring can mean that your back ends up conforming to the spring unit when it should be the spring unit that conforms to you! Firmer fibres include Horsetail, Coir and Flax.

Stomach Sleepers

A medium-soft feel in the upholstery layer is advisable so that your stomach and chest can sink slightly into the mattress whilst keeping your back in alignment. If you choose too firm a mattress it can cause an arch in your spine, making your sleep even worse. Medium feel fibres include Mohair, Cashmere & Polycotton.

Have You Been Following Good Sleep Hygiene?

Trouble sleeping with a bad back can also be made worse by poor sleep hygiene and disjointed bedtime routines. Once you’ve taken the time to ensure that your mattress has both the correct spring tension for your bodyweight and upholstery layers for your sleeping position, it’s time to make sure your bedtime routine is conducive to sleep!

It may sound obvious but try following the points below to make sure that you can experience the best nights sleep possible:

  • Avoid caffeine two hours before bed.
  • Sleep at regular times.
  • Switch off your gadgets.
  • Avoid eating late at night.
  • Hot baths can help you sleep better.
  • Free your mind by making lists of to-dos.
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness in the evening.

Have You Been to See a Doctor?

Lastly, there’s no better advice than making sure you go to see a medical professional if you’re experiencing backaches and pains. It’s important to make sure that any chronic pain conditions or other back illnesses are correctly diagnosed. Choosing the correct mattress is only part of the solution when sleeping with a bad back, so always seek medical help too.


If you’ve got a bad back then it’s imperative you check you’re sleeping on the correct spring tension first and foremost. If you’re not, then no amount of tweakings or changing things will help you. The spring tension is extremely vital to ensuring the correct support throughout the night and most retails actively steer you away from realising this for a quick sale.

The next step is to work out what upholstery you need for your sleeping position, which again will be different for each individual. Lastly, a healthy bedtime routine can help set you up for success during the night alongside your ideal mattress.

Our team are experts in assessing your sleep needs and requirements, so why not give our small friendly team a call on 0161 437 4419 to take away the guesswork?

Don't you deserve a mattress tailored just for you?
Our small friendly team can help you choose a mattress specifically tailored to your needs. With our 60 Day Love it or Return it Guarantee its completely risk-free.

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  • We are the mattress experts! Ask us anything about any mattress by any manufacturer for honest advice and support.

Call our small friendly team for tailored advice or drop us a message below
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