Plenty of people know the feeling: Your mattress is comfortable, your pillow is supportive, and your sleeping position is decadent. And yet when you wake up the next morning, your neck is aching like it’s been locked in place. If you’re getting the comfort and support you need from your bedding, it can be frustrating to keep waking up with neck pain. Is it possible that a neck pillow can help? Research shows that for some people, the answer is yes. Neck pillows aren’t an end-all be-all cure for all kinds of neck pain, but they’re worth examining. Pain in the neck is an extremely common phenomenon, and it just gets more common as you get older. You might find that the pain radiates into your shoulder muscles or down the nerves in your arms. Some people wake up with low-level headaches in the morning that don’t really subside for the whole day.
You spend around a third of your life sleeping, so your neck support matters. The neck has seven bones comprising the cervical spine. This area of the body has cushioning discs between the vertebrae, supportive muscles, and tendons holding everything together. Your neck is supposed to be held at a gentle curve. Bending the bones out of this natural shape for hours can lead to pinched nerves, pulled muscles, strained tendons, and all kinds of pain. There isn’t a huge body of established research regarding the efficacy of neck pillows. That said, there have been enough studies done to indicate that a firm and well-shaped neck pillow can reduce neck pain in the morning more than a traditional pillow. In one study conducted of 128 individuals with ongoing neck pain, combining physical therapy and exercise with a neck pillow had a better effect on their neck pain than simply undergoing physical therapy and exercise alone. There are reasons that many chiropractors and physical therapists alike recommend investing in a neck pillow. They’re affordable, they help keep your spine at an optimum curvature, and the potential improvement to your quality of life is priceless.
What to Know About Neck Pillows
Neck pillows are specially engineered to provide cushioning and support for the head and neck. The purpose of a neck pillow is:
- Reduce overall neck pain due to spinal misalignment
- Provide supportive relief from existing neck pain
- Let your head rest naturally and comfortably
- Maintain the natural lordotic curvature of the spine
The lordotic curvature isn’t the same curve that you get by slightly elevating your head and otherwise laying on a flat mattress. A neck pillow elevates your spine and restores the natural shape. There are dozens of different neck pillow designs on the market. If you see a chiropractor or physical therapist, they may have a few available as support devices. They can help you try a few and determine which has the best fit for your particular body. If you’re seeking neck pillows on your own, look up reviews and hold a few against your neck before you purchase them to decide whether you like the firmness. Not only can you get pillows made with different firmness levels and slightly different angles, but you can find pillows in these varieties:
- Memory foam
- Multiple different memory foam layers
- Stuffed with microfiber
- Stuffed with synthetic down
- Filled with beans
- Filled with water
The water-based and inflatable pillows are clever because they let you customize your fit until it’s perfect. If other designs are off by just an inch or two, it could spell disaster for your morning pain. But with adjustable pillows, you can make them softer or firmer until you feel like you can sleep without a problem. A neck pillow is made for back and side sleepers. If you sleep on your stomach, it won’t do much to help your spinal curvature. In fact, it’ll just make your neck position more unnatural. When you sleep laying on your back, the pillow fits you if it provides support and your head isn’t tilted forward or backward. When you sleep laying on your side, the pillow should hold your nose in a line with the center of your body. Your head shouldn’t be tipped too far toward one shoulder or the other. To take the first step in addressing your neck pain through a neck pillow evaluation, give us a call at 205-637-1363.