Pillows and Sleeping Positions for chronic neck pain and chronic low back pain.
Two of the most common questions that we get at Coast Spine Center, Stuart and Port St. Lucie are “What kind of pillow do I need to prevent neck pain?” and “Do I need to change anything about the way I sleep to decrease my back pain?”
Getting high quality sleep is critical to the healing and regeneration process. Your body does the most healing while asleep. Unfortunately, sleeping well is nearly impossible when your back or neck pain wakes you up several times each night, if you are able to fall asleep in the first place.
Your sleeping position not only effects how well you sleep, it also determines whether or not you are placing unnecessary strain on your spine. Stressing your spine out for 6 to 8 hours while you sleep can have a negative effect on your healing process and your overall health as well.
“That makes sense Doc, so what do I need to do?”
Let’s start with figuring out what type of sleeper you are and go from there…
The two sleeping positions most recommended by chiropractors, physical therapists and orthopedic doctors are side sleeping and back sleeping, but you will need to add support in all the right places.
If you are a side sleeper experiencing neck pain, take care to create proper spinal alignment while you are sleeping. Find a pillow that is the same thickness as the distance between your ear and side of you shoulder.
This will ensure that the spine in your neck stays in line with the rest of your spine, rather than being too high or too low in a kinked position…Ouch!
For low back or hip pain, keeping your hips in line with each other when side sleeping is accomplished by placing a pillow approximately 4 inches thick between your knees, allowing the pillow to simultaneously support your lower leg and ankles.
Avoid sleeping in a curled up or fetal position to maintain full spinal alignment!
For those of you that sleep flat on your back…the less pillow you have under your head, the better. Your neck should have a C-shaped curve in it when looking at it from the side. We spend so much of our day looking at computers, phones, and books with our heads flexed downward, straightening the neck curve, why spend all night in the same position? Using a large pillow that pushes your head too far forward means another 6-8 hours of straightening your neck, leading to increased neck.
Use a pillow that keeps your ears lined up with your shoulders, provides support under you neck and allows your head to fall back into a neutral position. In fact for acute situations like a headache caused by neck tension, a rolled up towel will do the trick.
Stomach sleepers will find it to be more difficult to keep their spine aligned while sleeping because they will need to turn their head to one side or another to breathe. Having your neck in a twisted position all night is hard on your spine for many different reasons.
I suggest that you prop up your torso and shoulder on the side your head is turned toward and rest the side of your head up against the edge of another pillow allowing you to breathe with minimal twisting of the neck.
Here are some other ideas for stomach sleepers…
We sleep for nearly one third of our lives! Sleep is critical for healthy repair and regeneration and sleep shouldn’t be painful! Take the time to assess the position that you sleep in and make these simple changes for better spinal health. It’s never too early to begin with proper use of pillows. Pediatric patients also benefit from proper alignment while sleeping, preventing unnecessary spinal stress from an early age.
Ask Dr. Brown and Dr. Boyland at the Coast Spine Center for advice on where to find pillows for proper support.