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Neck pain at a glance
Neck pain is estimated to affect two in every three people at some point during their lives. Anyone who has suffered with any kind of ongoing neck pain will attest to how miserable an experience it can be. Even just waking up with a stiff neck can be enough to spoil a good day.
Neck pain is most commonly reported in middle-age, but it can affect anyone. Whilst neck pain caused by accidents and injuries tends to subside within a week or two, research suggests up to 10% of cases can become chronic.
Chronic neck pain is defined as any neck pain lasting more than three months. Many people, however, continue to suffer from the physical discomfort of neck pain for years and even decades. This often leads to a host of associated problems.
Causes of neck pain
The causes of neck pain can be extremely varied, from injuries suffered during sports or exercise to more serious and long-term conditions such as herniated discs, arthritis and pinched or trapped nerves.
Often our lifestyle can be the cause of neck, back or shoulder pain. Simple actions and habits such as how we sit at our desk or look down at our phones can easily cause neck strain when repeated routinely. Similarly, poor posture, especially when exercising, can also lead to serious pain in the long run.
Even some less obviously demanding activities can lead to stiffness in your neck, such as holding children for long periods, regularly carrying heavy or uncomfortable bags, even driving or sitting on the sofa in the wrong position for a long time can lead to considerable stiffness and discomfort.
Why your pillow is important
Many people understand the importance of mattresses to a healthy spine but most of us overlook the importance of our pillows. No matter how fancy the mattress or how much we stretch and massage, the wrong pillow will exacerbate and potentially even cause neck pain, when it should be helping you avoid discomfort. Despite this, many of us use whatever pillow is around rather than finding one that suits our body shape, preferences and sleep position.
What type of pillow do I need?
A pillow should support your head so that it rests in a position almost as if you were standing up straight. This means your pillow has to be the right shape, size and firmness to help your neck and head follow your spine’s natural curve. This will depend on your sleeping position.
We all have unique sleeping positions, but generally speaking we all fall into one of the following categories:
Best Pillow for Front Sleeper Neck Pain
Front sleepers, also known as stomach sleepers, often sleep with their neck twisted to one side. Front sleepers often suffer from having a pillow which is too thick, forcing the sleeper’s head back at an undesirable angle and arching the spine. Front sleepers therefore need slimmer pillows, keeping their heads closer to the mattress and the natural alignment of the spine.
Some front sleepers even prefer not to use a pillow at all, but this will depend on your mattress and personal tastes.
Front sleepers will like that this set of pillows’ stuffing can be adjusted to a desired thickness. The filling is microfiber rather than memory foam, so in the long run, the filling might need replacing when it clumps up. A reviewer mentioned the pillows were “soft, plush, and full”.
Best Pillow for Back Sleeper Neck Pain
Back sleepers, like stomach sleepers, often benefit from a thinner pillow, allowing the head to rest naturally in an ‘upright’ position. Sleeping on your back is common but many standard pillows force the head forward, onto the chest, or provide too little support to prevent your head rolling to one side. Because of this many people choose to use a foam-filled or an ergonomically indented pillow, which is designed to support the back of the head, neck and shoulders.
Finally, many back sleepers opt to use a bolster or cervical pillow. These are usually tubular and narrow and are often used as extra pillows, in addition to a regular pillow, to add neck support.
This machine washable pillow comes with a removable bamboo cover. It doesn’t have many reviews yet, but all of them so far have been 5 star. A few reviewers with neck pain mentioned it helped reduce their suffering after only one night.
Best Pillow for Side Sleeper Neck Pain
There are many ways to position your limbs when side sleeping. Because of this there are many shaped pillows designed for very specific poses. Some have arm or ear holes and many include neck supports and specific designs to fit your preferred arm position.
Side sleepers also often use cervical bolster pillows to add neck support. The most important thing for side sleepers is the height and amount of support the pillow provides, as anything too thick or too thin will result in your head being either too high or too low, relative to your spine, which can mean a stiff neck in the morning.
As you may have guessed these people sleep in a combination of positions, often moving many times during the night. Unless you’re simply flipping from your stomach to your back, it’s unlikely that one pillow will be suitable for many different body positions.
For this reason combination sleepers often use bolster pillows or orthopedic pillows which can be designed for more than one position. Solid memory foam pillows also come in many more shapes and sizes than most traditionally filled pillows.
This pillow is fairly well rated at 4.7 stars. Its contoured, ergonomic design follows the natural curve of your body. Because it is made of memory foam, it will mold to you, and provide support all along your neck, rather than just a few spots. For the handful of reviewers who had a poor experience with the pillow, the company reached out and offered a full refund.
Other things to consider
For side and combination sleepers especially, the firmness of the pillow will play a major role in how comfortable it is for you. Many pillows can be modified by adding or removing filling depending on what you like. Some pillows, like water pillows or traditional buckwheat-filled pillows (which are very popular in Japan) offer the ability to control the height of the pillow completely.
One other factor to consider besides the firmness of your pillow is the materials it’s made from. For example, people with allergies should change pillows more regularly and also look for hypoallergenic materials. Others may like to seek out organic or environmentally friendly materials, avoid using animal products, or avoid being in contact with certain chemicals.
In summary, while a pillow may not be a magic wand that can wave away neck pain, choosing the right style and filling for you is a huge part of keeping your spine, neck and shoulders feeling good. After all, we spend almost a third of our lives sleeping, so your sleep quality is important!