The Wellness Column
by Martin L. Sanford, DC
I am asked regularly about which type of pillow is best (especially from those with neck pain, particularly in the morning). The usual recommendation is something that is comfortable; it does not have to be expensive, but if you are a side-sleeper it should fill the space between your head and the bed (keeping your from being bent too far one way or the other), or if you sleep on your back the pillow should support your neck and head adequately (not too far forward and not too far back). If you do sleep on your side or on your belly, have another pillow (like a body pillow) to wrap your arms around to further support your body, arms, and shoulders.
I have also found some studies that were done on pillows.
A study that was done at Johns Hopkins University showed that there was a statistically significant improvement when using a “water-based cervical pillow” compared to
their own pillow or a “cervical roll pillow.” Most subjects preferred the water pillow to their own pillow, and many had a very difficult time sleeping on the roll pillow. In fact, the
researchers reported that some of the patients had to discontinue the two-week trial of the roll pillow due to significant discomfort.
The investigators felt that the higher satisfaction ratings of the water pillow were due to its ability to conform better to the position and shape of subjects' heads and necks during various sleep positions. They believed that the roll pillow was not well-tolerated due to its tendency to exaggerate the extension of the neck when supine (since there was no support underneath the head).
Another study at the Lund University Hospital in Sweden compared six different pillows.
One pillow stood out from the rest as the most comfortable, and also the most likely to decrease chronic pain. Rated the "best" by both men and women, this pillow was made of soft polyurethane, with two firm supports along the edges - one side high and the other side lower. This pillow supplied an easily tolerated support for the neck, while the two different sides provided a choice of heights. The pillow that rated the lowest was the one that most closely resembled a roll pillow.
The investigators concluded that the optimal neck pillow to reduce neck pain and improve night rest was a soft, not-too-high pillow with support for the cervical lordosis from a choice of firmer cores. Since the participants used each pillow for only three nights apiece, and only comfort ratings were evaluated, no conclusions can be drawn from this study regarding the long-term effects of these pillows on pain or sleep patterns.
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