Prevent Future Neck Problems With Good Pillow Practices

April 06, 2019

Woman waking up on her side with her head on a pillow
Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN

Sleep is a key factor in preventative health. But did you know that your choice of pillow can profoundly affect your ability to have a restorative snooze?

The wrong pillow does more than just keep you up at night. Pillows that don't keep your neck in proper alignment can lead to chronic pain issues that make it difficult to enjoy your normal daily activities. Fortunately, you can prevent neck problems by choosing a pillow that helps keep you comfortable while keeping your spine in alignment.

How Does Your Pillow Affect Your Neck?

Your choice of pillow may have unforeseen consequences, such as neck or back pain. Many people like to sleep with extra soft pillows like feather pillows. While these types of products easily conform to the shape of your neck, they eventually collapse, offering no support at all.

Other factors, like choosing to sleep with more than one pillow at a time, can also lead to persistent pain and discomfort. You may stack pillows on top of each other to create a soft layer to sleep on. While this may seem like a good idea, using more than one pillow while you sleep forces your head and neck to bend forward. Over time, this increases your likelihood of experiencing neck and back pain.

Picking a Pillow That's Right for You

No matter what position you sleep in, your pillow should keep your neck as parallel to your mattress as possible. There isn't a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to pillows, but keeping some simple tips in mind will help you choose the pillow that is best for you.

  • Find a pillow that's adaptable to your sleeping position. No matter what position you sleep in, the right pillow helps you catch some z's and prevent neck problems. If you sleep on your back or side, a cervical contour pillow may be good for you. When you sleep on this type of pillow, your head rests in a slight indentation in the center. The raised edge of the pillow supports your neck, keeping it higher than your head.
  • Use a side pillow. Side pillows are especially helpful for people who enjoy sleeping on their stomachs. When you use a pillow while sleeping on your stomach, your neck and lower back both bend unnaturally, which increases pressure on your spine. For preventative health, side pillows provide the weight and support against your stomach while keeping you laying on your side. This allows your neck to rest in a more aligned position and helps prevent neck problems.
  • Changes your pillows regularly. No matter which type of pillow you choose, it's likely that the pillow will wear down over time. With regular use, pillows flatten or become lumpy, and they don't provide the same level of support. In general, your pillow should be replaced approximately every 18 months. You can test your pillow by folding it in half — if the pillow does not spring back, it's time for a new one.

You can prevent neck problems by choosing a pillow that offers proper support while allowing you to sleep comfortably. Some materials, like gel or memory foam, may provide extra neck support since these materials easily conform to the unique shape of your body. No matter which pillow you choose, keeping your neck in proper alignment is key to avoiding pain.

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