One of the most common questions we get asked as a Toronto chiropractor is….what is the best pillow, or what should I be looking for in a pillow for neck pain relief?
So here we go.
For starters, there is NO pillow for stomach sleeping. In spite of what the ads on television will tell you, there is no pillow that makes stomach sleeping ok.
Although it can be SO comfortable, the problem with stomach sleeping is that your head has to be turned all night, otherwise you’d be face down in your pillow, and YOU WOULD SUFFOCATE.
Just imagine if you sat, with your heard turning, for 6-8 hours, all day, every day…how do you think you would feel?
Do you think your neck might be a little sore? Yep. The only difference between this and sleeping on your stomach is that when you’re sleeping, you’re not conscious, so you can’t feel it. But it’s still putting all that same stress on your neck, and over time will make it worse.
So, if you sleep on your stomach, try not to. I know, it’s easier said than done, but really try to switch to your side, or better yet, onto your back.
So we’ve established that there are no pillows for stomach sleeping. Then what about side sleeping and back sleeping?
The issue here is that these two positions are completely differently biomechanically, and put completely different stresses onto your neck, and pillow.
Does it make sense that one pillow could be perfect for both of these?
In my world, no.
I know the pillow manufactures out there, selling $100 or $150 pillows, would tell you differently, but sleeping position is the biggest factor determining which is the best pillow for you.
If you’re trying to find neck pain relief as a back sleeper, your pillow should be positioned under you neck primarily, not only under your head. The purpose of the pillow is to support the curvature of your neck, which should be a C shaped curve. This curve is critical to the health of your neck, and you, and one of the big things we, as Toronto chiropractors, work to correct in our patients.
The pillow should support this curvature, to take pressure off the discs, joints, and nerves in your neck while you sleep.
Ideally, you would want a round pillow for this purpose, or at the least a smaller pillow, to best support the arc in your neck. There is more to it than that, which is why as corrective chiropractor in Toronto we take x-rays to confirm the type of curvature in your neck, but to keep this relatively simple, a round pillow would best support the curve in your neck.
Then there’s the size of the pillow, which SHOULD VARY. Does it make sense that a 6’6” 300 pound guy would have the exact same pillow as a 5’0 120 pound woman?
No, of course not. So, depending on the type of neck curvature (which we determine with digital structural x-rays), and the length of your neck, we’d recommend anywhere from a small to an extra-large pillow for you.
Pillows are definitely NOT a case of one size fits all.
Then there are side sleepers. Completely different biomechanical stresses compared to back sleeping. The purpose of the pillow in this case should be to support the space between your ear and your shoulder, to keep your head in alignment neutral with your neck and spine.
Seems common sense enough. Again, this is why a one size fits all pillow does not make sense, because if you’re a big guy with broad shoulders, you need a much larger pillow to support the space between your ear and mattress than a much more petite woman. They would need totally different pillows.
Flip Flop Sleepers
For those that flip flop between your back and side, another issues arises, because the gap between your ear and shoulder/mattress is generally significantly larger than the gap that needs to be supported for the curvature of your neck.
So if you alternate between back sleep and side sleeping (and hopefully not stomach sleeping), you almost need TWO different pillows.
In general, round pillows do serve better if you alternate back and forth between back sleeping and side sleeping. If you just do one, it makes finding the right pillow a lot easier.
If you have any questions about any of this, please feel free to contact us. Dr. Byron Mackay