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Soft Bed or Hard Bed for Back Pain?

If Goldilocks had lower back pain, she'd still prefer the
bed that was just right.

It's one of the most common questions back pain patients ask. Which is
better -- Daddy Bear's hard mattress or Mommy Bear's soft one?

Kim Bergholdt, DC, of Denmark's Funen Back Center, and colleagues tried to
find an answer. They randomly assigned 160 patients with lower back pain to
sleep in one of three beds for one month.

When the truck pulled up to the patients' houses, it delivered either a hard
futon, a water bed (Akva brand), or a body-conforming foam mattress (Tempur
brand). Akva and Tempur sponsored the study, although Innovation Futon provided
the harder beds.

Unfortunately, many of the patients assigned to the water bed never started
the study -- they did not want to sleep on a water bed. And many of the
patients assigned to the futon quit the study before it was over.

The large number of dropouts -- and the failure to stratify the patients
according to the cause of their back pain -- makes the study hard to interpret,
says Robert Molinari, MD, associate professor of orthopaedics at the University
of Rochester Medical Center.

Among patients who did finish the study, slightly more preferred the water
bed or the body-contour mattress over the hard futon. Even so, there were
patients who said they felt better after sleeping on the hard bed as well as
patients who said they felt worse after sleeping on the softer beds.

That's no surprise to Molinari.

"We really don't understand why, but some patients respond better to
hard mattresses and some to soft ones," Molinari tells WebMD. "There
are very few studies lending support to one mattress over another."

So what does Molinari recommend? Exactly the same method Goldilocks used --
trial and error -- to find the bed that's just right.

The Bergholdt study appears in the April 1 issue of the journal
Spine.

By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
©2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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