Your pillow isn’t usually the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word “pain.” But that soft, little cushion that sits atop your bed might not be doing your neck any favors, especially if it’s an older model. How do you know if your pillow is literally becoming a pain in the neck? Ask yourself these questions:
When Do I Experience Pain?
It may seem like common sense, but the first step to finding out what is causing your neck pain is to pay attention to your body. If you wake from a restful night of sleep only to be plagued with a stiff neck for the rest of the day, yes, your pillow could be the culprit. However, a bad pillow will also make existing conditions worse. So get your smartphone or a small notepad, and write down when you experience pain and what you were doing when it occurred. If the answer doesn’t reveal itself on its own, your chiropractor can help you solve the mystery.
Does My Pillow Provide Enough Support?
Got a minute? If so, lie down on a flat surface. Feel that space underneath your neck? This is the part of your neck that could use a little extra support from your pillow. If your pillow doesn’t provide that support, a stiff or sore neck may be in your future. Also, if you’ve had your pillow for many years, you may want to consider getting a new one. Like mattresses, pillows tend to lose their supportive powers over time.
Now, it may seem like a fuller pillow, or a harder could be the answer to your woes. After all, at first glance, they seem pretty supportive. Unfortunately, these types of pillows push the spine too far forward or put more pressure on the shoulders. When you’re lying on your back, your pillow should support your neck and allow your shoulder muscles to relax completely.
Now, it should be noted that a properly aligned cervical spine has a natural curve. If yours looks more like an s-curve or a straight line, or if it curves down instead of up, you may continue to have issues, even after you find the right pillow. Chiropractors will often take X-rays of your neck when you make your first appointment, paying close attention to the cervical curve. Many of our clients see improvements in alignment and posture over time, after a series of chiropractic adjustments.
How Do I Sleep at Night?
Do you sleep on your back? Side? Stomach? Believe it or not, your current sleep position may be the reason why your current pillow isn’t ideal. If you sleep on your side, even sometimes, it is often helpful to have a pillow designed to relieve pressure on the neck while you’re in this position, as well as on your jaw and ear.
While sleeping on your side is better than sleeping on your stomach, sleeping on your back is almost always from a chiropractic standpoint. If you’re a stomach sleeper, you may want to reconsider your sleeping position. Sleeping on your stomach flattens the natural curve of your spine and strains the neck. If this is your preferred way to sleep, you can reposition some of your pillows to train yourself to lie on your side. You can also place a pillow between your legs if you experience any back pain.
Have I Found the Right Fit?
There is no shortage of specialty pillows and stores. However, with so many choices, how can you be sure that you’re making the best decision for your cervical spine and your overall comfort? Often the correct fit comes down to four things: your height, your shoulder width, your sleep position and the Goldilocks effect – ultimately the pillow you choose should feel “just right.” Unfortunately, this may take some trial and error, especially if you’re ordering online. But in the end, the extra work will be worth it. If you have an existing injury or spinal condition, you may want to consult your chiropractor before making your decision.
Finding out your pillow is the cause of your pain, is good news. Why? Because the problem is easy to fix. Just buy another pillow (or try sleeping without one) and you’re back in business. However, sometimes a bad pillow is only part of the equation. If you’re still experiencing pain, even after you’ve made the switch, you may want to see your chiropractor.
Chiropractors can determine the source of your pain and recommend treatments to give you relief. We also can point you to a vendor, or even a specific pillow, that will provide the right type of support for your condition, and your sleeping position. Once your spine has the support it needs, you’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake up pain-free.
About The Author
Dr. Marc Browner is the Founder of iChiropractic and Wellness in Naples, Florida. A graduate of the University of Florida in 1991, he earned his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Life Chiropractic in 1995. In private practice since 1998, Dr. Browner is a member of the Florida Chiropractic Society, the Florida Chiropractic Association, and he attends continuing education seminars, classes, and workshops to remain abreast of the most current treatment methods and technological advances in the field.