A bad pillow is bad for the neck. If your head is not supported properly, it can cause neck pain and sleep disturbances. A supportive pillow allows the head to rise high enough to keep the spine aligned. People who sleep on their stomach who forget about the pillow could benefit from retraining to a sleeping position on their side or on their back.
But the benefits of pillows do not go far beyond comfort and positioning. Sometimes pillows even harm your health. See Stiff neck: causes, symptoms and treatment. Research suggests that a pillow with good neck support can help relieve neck pain and improve rest.
We often use the phrase “a pain in the neck” to refer to difficult people or situations, without realizing that this phrase aptly describes the challenges one experiences with neck pain. Suffering with an acute episode of neck pain can really cause a “writhing” in almost all activities of daily living, including sleep. Losing sleep due to neck pain usually makes pain worse. Many people who suffer from neck pain would welcome any suggestions to help them sleep better or prevent pain in the morning.
Your doctor or colleagues suffering from neck pain may have suggested using a “specialized” pillow. In search of a pillow to help you, you look at a variety of specialized pillows in local stores. Many are available and you might not expect to face so many options. Which one should you select? Manufacturers make several health claims about the characteristics that make their pillows “special”.
Sometimes these pillows are labeled as “orthopedic” or “specialized” pillows. The manufacturer’s claims suggest that specialized pillows are designed or are ideal for people with neck pain. The claims suggest that the benefits of these pillows may be related to the type of pillow material (i.e. Made of gel or foam or water filling).
Alternatively, the benefits are attributed to the shape of the specialized pillow (i.e. All of these special features are believed to provide better support to the neck or keep it in a good position while you sleep. Some of these specialized pillows are relatively expensive compared to regular pillows. But do these specialized pillows really help? What, if any of these special features, are worth the extra cost? Choosing a specialized pillow for neck pain is a valid health problem given the potential to help and the cost.
Neck pain is very common in the general population (1;. More surprising is that it is one of the leading causes of disability. Out of 291 diseases evaluated, neck pain ranked fourth highest with regard to general disability (. It was shown that women have higher rates of disability and burden associated with neck pain compared to men (.
50 to 75% of the general population continues to experience problems one to five years after reporting neck pain (. Neck pain can be experienced as very painful episodes that get worse over time. During these painful episodes, some cannot work or do the things they really enjoy. Unfortunately, the number of people complaining of neck pain increases as we age.
This is worsened by body postures (that is,. Ergonomics) that stress the neck when working with electronic devices (e.g. Having neck pain can affect your ability to sleep and your overall quality of life. Unfortunately, only one of these five studies was carried out using good scientific methods.
The review noted that there was little information about who funded the studies and what role the pillow manufacturer played in the research. This leaves us with uncertainty about the effects of using specialized pillows and who funded the research. The specialized pillows evaluated in these five clinical trials had very different shapes and materials. These differences make it difficult to judge the benefits of specialized pillows, something like comparing apples and oranges.
Specialized pillows were compared with the participants’ “usual pillow”. The usual pillows were not well described and this again makes it difficult to compare, something like apples and “mysterious” fruit. To make matters worse, only two studies actually measured how sleep quality was affected. More research is needed before we can determine the benefits or harms of using these specialized pillows in people with neck pain.
In general, there are few studies that evaluate pillows and sleep. A study evaluated specialized pillows in people without neck pain. This study (compared five different pillows in people without neck pain who prefer to sleep on their side). This study showed that the type of pillow material and the shape of the pillow can affect some aspects of sleep quality.
Unfortunately, we have the same problem of comparisons that we observed in studies in people with neck pain. Evidence in people without neck pain is equally limited. We do not yet have credible scientific evidence to help us understand the effect of specialized pillows. We don’t know if they will help, hurt, or make any difference in pain, function or sleep in people with and without neck pain.
Nor are we aware of the possible negative effects of using specialized pillows. Few studies measured adverse effects, but when they did, they reported mild effects (eg,. More research is needed to evaluate the potential benefits and harms associated with using specialized pillows. If your doctor or therapist suggests using a specialized pillow, ask if there is an opportunity to try a few different types over several weeks.
Please note that you must enclose the pillow in a plastic pillowcase, similar to those used in hospitals. As you try the different specialized pillows, monitor whether your morning pain decreases, if your neck function improves, or if the quality of your sleep improves. If these benefits occur, only then consider switching from your usual pillow. Until we have more research, we must use caution and common sense when considering buying specialized pillows.
Support for the Portal is largely provided by Labarge’s Optimal Aging Initiative. Help us continue to provide direct and easy access to evidence-based information about social and health conditions to help you stay healthy, active and engaged as you age. Most people don’t think much about their pillow, other than choosing a pillow that is nice and fluffy for immediate comfort. The best pillow for neck pain is one that is the right height, firmness and shape for your preferred sleeping position.
Sleep disorders can cause you to go round and round all night, increasing neck pain and denying you valuable sleep. To keep your spine straight, use a pillow that provides the correct neck support, one that is higher below the neck than under the head. For example, if you sleep on your side with a soft pillow that doesn’t provide enough support under your neck, your head has to extend sideways to meet the pillow. The best pillow for neck pain depends on many things, including the sleeping position, the cause of neck pain and what is comfortable for you.
We will take a closer look at how body position and pillow construction can improve comfort, and teach you what to look for when buying a pillow for neck pain. Pillows made of cotton, wool or synthetic cotton are less expensive, but create a more attractive climate for dust mites. The Original Sweet Night Pillow is an outstanding adjustable model filled with shredded memory foam that can be added or removed to change the thickness of the pillow. For people who experience neck pain, choosing the right pillow can be a key step to living pain-free.
The claims suggest that the benefits of these pillows may be related to the type of pillow material (i. For example, people who sleep on their side generally need a pillow of medium to high height, while people who sleep on their stomach require lower pillows so as not to stretch their necks up. There is no hard rule when it comes to choosing the best pillow because, in reality, almost all of us change positions to sleep during the night, says Breus. Waking up with neck pain could be a sign that the pillow or sleeping position does not fully support the neck.
If you suffer from neck strain, upgrade to a good quality foam pillow that elevates your head without pushing or sinking. . .