A good pillow should provide you with two things; comfort and support. It should improve the quality and aid in a good night’s sleep, as well as maintain a good posture ensuring your head, neck and spine remain aligned preventing or alleviating from back and neck pain.
In order to sustain the weight of our heads, the human neck curves slightly forward. Pillows are designed to maintain this curve whilst lying down. When lying on our side or backs and the height of our pillow is too high, it puts pressure on the muscles in the neck and shoulders as the neck bends abnormally. It may also narrow our air pipes resulting in snoring which also affects the restfulness of our sleep. Alternatively, if the pillow is too low, it will have the same effects on the neck and shoulder.
For maximum support and a restful sleep, follow these simple tips for various sleeping positions:
Sleeping on your Back
If your preferred resting position is lying on the back, the pillow height should be lower than that of the sideways position, roughly 4 – 6 inches, and should support the natural curve of the cervical spine and support underneath the head, neck and shoulders.
To reduce the pressure on the back and spine whilst lying on your back, place a pillow underneath the knees, this limits the load on the lower back. Using two pillows further elevates the knees and flattens the lumbar spine, reducing any pressure on the joints in the spine.
When suffering from severe back pain and whilst recovering from back and spine surgery, this is the position many choose to adopt as it is more comfortable and the back is able to rest properly.
Sleeping on your Side
When lying on the side, your pillow should be supportive of the head and neck so that the spine can maintain its natural horizontal position. Placing a small pillow under the waist allows weight to be evenly distributed, taking away any unnecessary bending or pressure.
Placing a pillow between the knees whilst sleeping on your side will also maintain the natural position of the spine and prevent your knees coming together and rotating the upper leg downward. This in turn will pull the pelvis and twist the spine. Click here for more information on the best position to sleep in.
Sleeping on your Stomach
When lying on the stomach, the surface should be as flat as possible or the head should rest on the mattress directly. This is to maintain a horizontal position and ensure the neck and head are not turned in unnatural positions. It is often advised to place a small, flat pillow under the stomach when lying in this position to help maintain as much of a natural position as possible.
There are also many types of pillows that can assist in the comfort of your rest.
• Neck pillow – Designed to fill the spaces under the neck, they are also knows as cervical pillows or orthopaedic pillows and are very helpful for those with spine problems. They fill the spaces around the neck and help maintain a straight posture to alleviate pressure on the spine.
• Body pillow – Perfect for assisting women who are pregnant or suffering from SPD, these pillows are long in length and have multiple functions. The top half can be used to support the neck and head whilst the bottom half will support the knees and hips. For pregnant women, they will also provide added support to the abdominal area. (For more information on back pain in pregnancy, see this post).
• Travel pillow –Travel pillows are shaped in a U and fit snugly around the neck, supporting the head whilst sleeping or sat for long periods of time. They relieve some of the muscles that work to keep the head propped up whilst sitting on a plane or in the car and are beneficial whilst sleeping to prevent the head bending too far on one side or the other.
• Doughnut pillow – These pillows are used to assist those with problems with their coccyx (tail bone). Shaped as the name suggests like a doughnut, they are placed on the chair and allow the individual to sit with much less pressure on the tailbone area.
So there you have it, a pillow for every eventuality and some pillow advice to help alleviate back, neck and shoulder pain. A good night’s sleep will rest the body and re-energise so it is very important. Your pillow should mould to suit your individual shape and reduce any pressure points and don’t forget to replace them once they begin to lose their firmness – this won’t provide you with adequate support.
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