Could Your Pillow Be Giving You Neck Pain?

Updated: May 1

Spending more time at home, and with an entire day to fill up means only one thing... more afternoon naps! With more afternoon naps, it's more important than ever that you know how your pillow may be causing pain or tension in your neck.


First things first, I should point out that there are many factors that can contribute towards neck and shoulder pain. For the purposes of this blog, we will be focusing on sleep-related neck and shoulder tension.

If you are experiencing persistent neck pain, getting headaches regularly, or you are noticing pins and needles, numbness or weakness in one or both of your arms, it is essential that you speak with your Osteopath or other medical professional to help establish the cause of these symptoms.


What is the best sleeping position for neck pain?


Your sleeping position can have a significant impact on the structures of your neck, so choosing the correct position to sleep in is key. Sorry for all you front sleepers, the best position to help prevent neck issues is either laying on your side, or on your back.


A neutral neck is a happy neck


You can't control what you do whilst you're asleep, but you can make sure that you start off with your neck in a neutral position. A neutral position is where all of the joints are aligned and the muscles are in a relaxed state. The problem that front sleepers have, is that the head and neck have to rotate one way (in order to breathe... which is preferable). This creates a lot of neck joint compression on the side the head is rotated to, and will mean a prolonged overstretch to the muscles on the opposite side of the neck. You may or may not experience pain doing this occasionally, but this type of sleeping position will likely cause issues longer term.... so if you're a front sleeper, stop it.


For all of you back and side sleepers, well done. If you sleep on your back, try using a fairly flat pillow that naturally supports the arch of your neck.

A study in 2017 showed that sleeping on your back with one arm resting by your side, and the other by your head increased muscle activity in the neck muscles significantly (Won-Hwee Lee & Min-Seok Ko, 2017). With this in mind, try keeping your arms either by your side or resting them across your chest so that these muscles remain relaxed whilst you are sleeping.


Side sleepers, keep in mind that you're trying to maintain that neutral neck position. Despite how many times my patients ask me for a pillow recommendation, there is no 'one size fits all'. The focus should be on ensuring that the pillow fits nicely in to the arch of your neck, so that your head is neither dropping down towards the bed, or being lifted up too high.

If you can, get someone to see whether your head and neck position are in that neutral position when laying on the pillow. If you are a solo quarantiner, you may have to try getting creative with the photo timer on your phone.


If you are experiencing persistent neck pain or are getting others symptoms that you are worried about, please get in touch and I may be able to help you.


Good luck and sleep well


ben@bencohenosteopathy.com Instagram - Bencohenosteo


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