Neck Pain, Pillow, and Sleep Position

Sleep posture and neck pain:

If you suffer from neck pain and or headaches, a crucial component of your management plan will involve reviewing your sleeping position and the pillow you are using. When we sleep, we spend hours each night, often in the same or similar positions, which, if not positioned optimally, can place strain on the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the head and neck, potentially resulting in pain discomforting and contributing to cervicogenic headaches. Therefore, choosing the correct pillow (height, support, and material) to provide support is essential.


Sleep Position:

The first step is to identify whether you are a side, back, or belly sleeper. For side sleepers, it is ideal that the space between your head, neck, and the bed is supported, and your neck is positioned in line with your spine. If you have broader shoulders, you will need a higher pillow than someone with a smaller build. The aim is to support the neck to reduce excessive side-bending into a particular facet joint in the neck.

For back sleepers, your pillow must provide enough support so that your head is in a neutral position rather than being flexed forward or extended back. If you naturally have a forward head posture, you may need a slightly higher pillow with firm neck support to ensure you are in a neutral position.

Front Sleepers:

Out of the three sleeping positions, sleeping on the abdomen is the most contentious. Side sleeping can result in the neck being positioned in rotation for hours, which is a contributing factor to both neck and back pain. In an ideal world, belly sleepers should attempt to train themselves out of this position by starting the night in either a back lying or side-lying position and returning to this position if you find that you have moved. However, if you are a person who is not able to change your sleeping position, you should aim to look for a pillow that is not too high. This will prevent your neck from being forced into a position that is both rotated and extended. You can also try placing a pillow underneath your torso and pelvis, which will reduce some of the load on the neck.

Pillow Advice:

When looking for a pillow, it needs to be specific to your needs, thus providing you with a suitable height and enough support. As there are so many pillows on the market, it can be time-consuming and costly to trial and error different types. Therefore, if you are in the market for a new pillow, I recommend booking into the clinic for an assessment, and we can provide you with advice to ensure you get a pillow that is right for you!

Post by: Physiotherapist Sarah Loveband