From the moment you get up until you lay your head back down at night, your neck is hard at work almost every second of every waking hour. That’s why your choice of a pillow can mean the difference between a thoroughly rested neck and one that starts the day in pain.
At our practice in Torrance, California, Dr. David Wu sees a lot of patients walk through the doors complaining of chronic and nagging neck pain. Through his innovative treatments, he can help you find much-needed relief, but you can do your part by providing your neck safe harbor each night.
Here are a few tips for choosing the best pillow for neck pain.
The average human head weighs between nine and 11 pounds, and carrying that weight through the day is left to seven small vertebrae. But, they’re not alone. Your neck has a vast support network of soft tissue, such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments, that keep your head held high and allow an incredible range of motion. The bottom line is that, by the end of the day, each of these players has earned a well-deserved break.
The goal when you sleep is to find a sweet spot known as the neutral position for your neck. If you sleep with it cranked in any one direction, you’re forcing the support network in your neck to compensate, which means they’re back to work after a long day. And if you’re suffering from chronic neck pain, your condition is exacerbated by your sleep, rather than helped.
The neutral zone means that every component in your neck is in a position where it can rest, without any undue pressure. To achieve a true neutral position, you need to find a pillow that supports your neck from every angle and keeps your spine straight, and much of that depends on your sleep position.
The first step in choosing the right pillow for your neck is to get one that suits your preferred sleeping position.
If you sleep on your back, you want to look for a low pillow that doesn’t elevate your head too much, causing your neck to bend forward. To provide a bridge between your back and your head, you should find a pillow that has a small roll or lip that fits snugly under your neck, giving it enough support so it can rest properly.
You can also pull the pillow down to reach just under your shoulders in order to provide sloping support all the way up to your head.
If you sleep on your side, you need a pillow that lifts your head slightly higher so that your spine creates a straight line. When you’re on your side, your shoulder lifts you fairly high up off the mattress, so make sure your pillow matches this height.
If you sleep on your stomach, we’re going to have to have a talk. This position isn’t good for your spine, and you should avoid it if you can.
As an aside, many people with back and neck problems also find it beneficial to tuck a small pillow between their knees, or use a body pillow, which helps relax your entire spine.
There’s no shortage of pillows that tout the latest materials that provide optimal support, from feathers and foam to water and buckwheat hulls. Whatever material you choose, make sure it’s giving you enough support. Soft pillows that simply collapse under the weight of your head won’t provide much in the way of support for your spine.
On the other end of the spectrum, firm, unyielding pillows can force your neck into an awkward position overnight, causing you to wake up with a sore neck.
When you shop for a pillow, take a page from Goldilocks’ book and find one that’s just right — something that supports your head comfortably from the back and sides, allowing your spine to rest in a neutral position.
Many of our clients have had great success with firm down pillows, memory-foam pillows that provide a neck roll, and standard pillows with enough filler to provide support.
Remember, too, that your pillow is in use for eight hours every day, so like most things, they can wear out. You should update old pillows with newer ones after a year or two to ensure that your neck is getting the support it needs.
If you have neck pain, the simple choice of the right pillow can make a big difference in how you start your day. If you’d like consult us about your situation and which pillow would be best for you, please don’t hesitate to call us, or use the online scheduling tool to book an appointment.