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Neck Pain: Could Your Pillow Be to Blame?


Friday, July 24th, 2015

It is known that sleeping position can cause back pain, but could your neck pain also be related to how you’re sleeping — or maybe not sleeping? Traditional pillows often get a bad rap, and endless options such as memory foam, down feather, wedge, lumbar, and microbead, are advertised as premium options over the standard soft, medium, and firm support pillows.

With all of these types (and more!) to choose from, how do you know what kind of pillow will allow you to have the best night’s sleep? Check out our tips below for choosing a pillow to support your sleep needs and prevent neck pain.

RELATED: Reduce Back Pain by Sleeping Position

What Type of Pillow Should I Buy?

When shopping for a pillow that provides the support you need, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead you should look for a cushion that can help support your personal sleeping patterns.

If You Sleep On Your Side

Firm or extra firm pillows that support the head, neck, and shoulders are often best for side sleepers. These pillows can provide an even sleeping surface, which keeps your spine aligned horizontally with the bed to reduce pressure and increase comfort.

If You Sleep On Your Back

Back sleepers should choose a round pillow to cushion the neck and a flatter pillow for under the head. Medium support can help contour the natural curve of your neck. If you don’t have a pillow with built-in, rounded neck support, you can put a round pillow into the pillowcase with your flat pillow to provide support to both areas.

If You Sleep On Your Stomach

When you sleep on your stomach, your back arches and your neck is turned to the side. Sleeping in this position can make it tricky to prevent discomfort in the morning. If you can only fall asleep on your belly, try a soft, plump pillow that cushions both your head and neck. The fullness of the pillow can help prevent your neck from turning to an unnatural position while you’re sleeping.

What If I Move Throughout the Night?

It’s not uncommon for some people to wake up in a different position than the one they fell asleep in. If you fall into this category, medium support pillows are recommended. If you spend more time on your stomach, though, it is suggested that you try a soft pillow.

RELATED: Infographic: 10 Reasons You’re Getting Poor Sleep

Is My Neck Pain Treatable?

If you think your neck pain is caused by your pillow or sleeping position, your doctor likely won’t recommend an aggressive treatment like surgery. He or she will often make recommendations to modify your sleep habits to see if it makes a difference in your pain.

For more information specific to your pain, or if you are experiencing severe neck or back pain every day, talk to your doctor.

What position to you find most comfortable when you sleep? Have you found the right pillow to suit your needs? Let us know in the comments below!

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Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) provides physician services at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute and numerous outpatient clinics throughout western Pennsylvania. The Department’s mission is to maximize the health, function, and well-being of the people they serve by providing the highest quality rehabilitative medical care, conducting highly relevant, cutting-edge research, and training the next generation of clinicians and researchers. Read More