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Q: Are futons good or bad for your back? ( Answered 3 out of 5 stars,   5 Comments )
Subject: Are futons good or bad for your back?
Category: Health > Fitness and Nutrition
Asked by: neonzebra-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 16 Aug 2002 14:30 PDT
Expires: 15 Sep 2002 14:30 PDT
Question ID: 55410
I purchased a new mattress around a year ago, and almost immediately
did not like it. It was too soft and fluffy for my comfort. But since
I spent a considerable amount of money on it, I decided to give myself
a chance to get used to it.

Well it's almost a year later and in the past year I've had more back
problems than I've ever had before. I recently developed a serious
neck problem (a cervical herniated disc) that's caused some severe
paralyzing pain. A few visits to the doctor and chiropractor cured the
severe pain, but I'm still feeling discomfort around the neck area.
I'm having difficulty sleeping more than 6 hours or so (the longer I
sleep, the worse the pain gets).

I'm almost certain that my new mattress is a major source of my
problems, but I'm not sure what to replace it with. I'm certain that I
want a firmer mattress, but I want to know what the possible long-term
effects of a very firm mattress are. The mattress I had before this
one was somewhat firmer but was also very springy. I got rid of it
because I was starting to have occasional back pain (though it's
actually gotten worse because  of the new mattress).

Actually, I'm really considering a very firm japanese-style futon
mattress (the ones that come with those convertible-couch/bed futons)
for the following reasons:

1) Recently, I spent about 3 weeks away from home, sleeping on a very
firm futon that was essentially a 3-inch thick slab of foam. I slept
better on that thing than I ever did on my bed at home.

2) After the recent neck problems appeared, I've experimented with
sleeping on the floor (on a thick comforter) a few times. My neck pain
lessened considerably (but the hard floor caused other problems).

3) I've tried futons before and have always felt comfortable with

BUT, nearly everyone I know who has owned a futon has told me to STAY
AWAY FROM THEM because, over the long-term, they've found them to be
either A) a cause of back pain or B) just uncomfortable.

So these are my questions:

1) What does the medical community have to say about futons and
mattresses in general?

2) What are the possible long-term effects of sleeping on a futon (or
other similiarly firm mattress?)
Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
Answered By: ldcdc-ga on 16 Aug 2002 21:35 PDT
Rated:3 out of 5 stars
Hi there.

This is a really interesting question. Even more interesting
considering that my back hurts (for no known reason) as I type you
this answer.

Anyway, my conclusion after reading quite a few articles on this
matter is that a very firm (=hard) mattress is, just as a soft
mattress is, bad for one's back.

The mattress should be firm enough to support your body's weight and
soft enough to make you feel comfortable. This should most likely lead
to a correct position of the spine during the sleep.

The spine must be in a correct position or the muscles will stay
contracted during the night to compensate the lack of support. And
when you'll wake-up you'll feel them hurting. Also the spine will not
be in the right position even with the muscles contracted, and this
will lead in time to real back problems.

Here's a page where you can see the right sleeping position: - Spine Care Tips:

I am familiar with the "firm mattress" issue. When I was still a boy,
my grandfather used to sleep on a bench that he made, with a blanket
on the bench because, he said, it is good for the back. And for a
while I believed in the myth of the "hard bed". But after sleeping in
some really hard beds (a few nights in a row) and feeling the results,
I changed my opinion.

I must say that soft beds are the worst! After sleeping in such a bed
for 7 hours I have to wake up because the pain in my lower back
becomes Really disturbing.

I'm young, and still different kinds of beds make me have different
kinds of nights. And different kinds of days too!

For your neck problem, I think you should take care if the pillow is
positioned OK or if it is the right size. The mattress is important,
but it alone will not do the right job. You must use the pillows to
support your head's and even your body parts weight and to keep the
right position during the sleep.

Another matter is the position of the body when you're sleeping. Do
you sleep on your back, on your side, or on your stomach? If you're
sleeping on your stomach you should know that your neck and your spine
are turned for hours in a "not so comfortable" position. You should
educate yourself to sleep in a foetal position (on your side with your
knees bent). This is the position recommended as being "the best". If
not, at least try to sleep on your back.

I know from personal experience that it's very hard to change the
sleeping position. I tried to change it just for the fun of it, but in
your case I think it's something you should really put some effort

In conclusion, it doesn't matter if you decide to use a futon or
something else, all you need is to find something that makes you feel
comfortable. And unfortunately this is a trial and error process.
Indeed, you should find a firm mattress, but it doesn't have to be
That firm. I don't think you should switch from a very soft to a very
firm mattress.

About your second question: Long term use of very hard mattresses
(despite the fact that your back will probably hurt) would be the
modification of the relative position of the vertebras, which is of
course a serious health problem. However, I was unable to find
information to back up this idea (or to prove it wrong either). This
is most likely because this kind of research was not done, as Robert
H. Shmerling states in his article:

Now I will recommend you some pages that I found useful. Some of them
are on a broader subject so please search for the words "mattress" or
"futon" to find the thing you're interested in. If you're using
Internet  Explorer you should the "Find on this page" feature by
clicking on the "Edit" tab from the menu. - Chronic pain - Robert H. Shmerling, M.D - Physiotherapist Nathalie Lessard - Take the pain out of snuggling up this
Valentine's Day

Medlineplus - Back Pain - Low

Medlineplus - Nonspecific  Back Pain - Backache and Stiff Neck - How to cope when you have low back pain - Dealing with neck pain - What is the best sleeping surface?
Here's a quote: "The American Physical Therapy Association maintains
that you should sleep on a firm mattress and use a pillow under the
head just big enough to maintain the normal neck curve." - Mattresses and sleep play role in low back pain
Here's another quote: "ATLANTA-Most orthopaedic surgeons agree that
mattresses play an important role in the management of low back pain,
with a firm, but not hard, mattress most frequently recommended." - article - Guidelines in the prevention of back injuries - Pummeling Mattresses for Science - By Vince
Rause - How to select a mattress - For people with back pain - Health Center - Battling back pain - by Nancy A.

LeedsMattress - Mission Statement - Guide to better sleep - Find the right mattress for

Market Village Chiropractic - The right mattress is the key to healthy
sleep - It's easy to lose sleep over finding the right
mattress - by John Ewoldt

Thirsk Chiropractic Clinic - Top 10 tips to prevent back pain - Classic mistakes - A tip for the futon mattress! - From an ex-mattress salesperson - Firm Mattresses Aren't Always Best For Bad Backs
- Comfort And Support Are Key, Physical Therapist Says

Search terms used:
"firm mattress" +chiropractor
"firm mattresses"
"firm mattress"
"the right mattress"
"firm mattreses" +pain

Important Note: Before deciding what you want to do, you should see a
doctor. He's the one that knows exactly what is needed in your case.

That's it.

Before giving a bad rating my answer or deciding to ask for a refund,
please post a clarification. I'll do my best to give you the
information you need.

Good luck in finding the remedy for your health problem!


neonzebra-ga rated this answer:3 out of 5 stars
Thanks for an informative answer. While it didn't really tell me if a
futon is the best way to go, it at least didn't tell me that it's the
wrong way to go. As for my neck problems, I think you're right in that
I should look into the pillow as well as the mattress. I guess I just
have to go out there and try out different options.

I realize it's not your fault that there isn't more definitive
reasarch on the subject. Most of the sites that had a definite
recommendation were obviously trying to sell a specific type of
mattress, so I didn't may much attention to them. Had you found some
definitive and impartial research on the subject, I would have
probably given a higher rating.

Thanks again!

Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
From: lstein0-ga on 17 Aug 2002 00:24 PDT
I'm someone with a history of back problems. Here is what most
doctors/chiropractors will recommend that you don't purchase: a pillow
top mattress.
Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
From: mother-ga on 17 Aug 2002 22:19 PDT
I slept on a king-size futon mattress for about a year. This mattress
was "top of the line" with springs, cotton padding, very thick when
new, and a ten-year warranty. It was comfortable for about a week. I
had it hauled away as soon as I could afford a real mattress. Just
flipping/turning the darned thing every 2 weeks or so (as recommended
and required to save the warranty) can throw your back out in itself!
As far as helping my own back problems - didn't help a bit. I slept on
it while pregnant and I still have no feeling in my left hip from the
lack of circulation when sleeping on my side. I started to dread
sleeping on the thing after 6 months or so, and instead slept on the
guest bed "as a break."

Check out the "Relax the Back" site [ ].
I've always received practical and impartial advice from the people at
these stores.
-- mother-ga
Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
From: sluggy-ga on 18 Aug 2002 00:15 PDT
I suffer from scoliosis in the lower back and in the neck, so I KNOW
back problems LOL. For my neck I found instant comfort with a Japanese
buckwheat pillow my mother-in-law bought me several years ago. I
removed some of the buckwheat because it was too firm, but now it's
perfect. Real Japanese buckwheat  pillows are smaller than Amercian
standard pillow, but that's because you're supposed to scrunch it
under your neck. It really does work if you can support the neck
between the base of your skull and your shoulders, especially when
sleeping on your side.

As for that too soft mattress. Place a sheet of plywood between the
two mattresses, and that should firm it up a lot.

If you do go for a futon mattress, you may want to try using it on the
floor, instead of within the frame. The frames are made with slats,
and too often they bow under your weight, and don't give total
support. If you decide you want to sleep with the futon on the frame,
throw your trusty plywood on top of it to strengthen the slats.

Good luck.

BTW: I have had NO neck problems since I started using my buckwheat
Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
From: btn-ga on 18 Aug 2002 01:23 PDT
I also tried using a high quality standard size futon (that cost as
much as a mattress) for my primary bed. A futon appealed to me because
I had space constraints; the futon could be converted into a couch
position. Having slept comfortably—short term—on futons before, I
didn’t consider long-term comfort. This oversight was a costly
     After a few months, the daily chore of converting the futon into
a couch in the morning and then back to a bed at night grew tiresome.
At least the option was still there. However, after six months, I
started to wake up with lower back discomfort. The problem worsened to
the point where I was not getting a good night’s sleep and the
backache would linger into the day. That’s when I decided to invest in
a real bed.
     I ended up with a Select Comfort <http://www.selectcomfort/>
mattress although I also seriously considered a Tempur-Pedic
<>. As its name implies, the Select Comfort
mattress adjusts to your preferred level of support from super soft to
floor firm. Since it uses sturdy air chambers, there’s no worry that
it will sag and need to be replaced like a regular spring-cushion
based mattress.
     Regardless of what mattress you choose, make sure that you can
try it out for a while. My Select Comfort had a 90-day trial where
expenses are reimbursed less shipping. I believe that Tempur-Pedic
does this as well.
    BTW, if you have a desk job, you might consider investing in a
better chair too. Herman Miller’s Aeron chair
<,1469,c201-pss1-p8,00.html> is
one of several ergonomic office chairs on the market.
Subject: Re: Are futons good or bad for your back?
From: btn-ga on 18 Aug 2002 01:27 PDT
Whoops. The Select Comfort URL is <>.
They also have stores in malls, one of which helped sway me away from
the Tempur-Pedic.

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