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Got A Pain In The Neck (or Back)? Here's How Your Pillow Can Hurt or Help

by Mitchell Chitiz |

You wake up on a bright, sunny day. 

You stretch, you yawn, you turn your neck and then bam! It’s got a kink. 

We’re familiar with that sharp, unpleasant pain that makes it impossible to turn our necks in one direction without wincing. And there’s more. There are sore shoulders, stiff backs, achy bones - the list goes on. 

A major cause of these back, neck and shoulder pains is a poor choice of bedding which leads to poor posture and of course, pain and discomfort. Many of us are sleeping on pillows or in positions that can trigger muscle and joint pains, or make existing ones worse. 

Fortunately, the solutions for this are relatively simple once you have a basic understanding of how your pillow and sleep position affects your body. 

 

How Improper Pillow Use Causes Pain


Your neck, spine and all the surrounding joints and muscles can bend to a tremendous degree. They can absorb shock from an impact, and they can twist and contort in all sorts of ways - just like athletes, acrobats and dancers who can whip themselves into different shapes. 

Of course, for the neck, back and shoulders to be so impervious to such forces, they need to be conditioned to a superhuman level - a level of fitness the average person doesn’t possess. So, when the neck gets bent out of shape due to improper sleep posture or a bad pillow, the results are painful. 

How and why does it happen? There are many reasons including pre-existing injury to the neck, strain from sitting too long at a computer or nerve compression. But a more common cause for neck and back pain is either sleeping on the wrong pillow or sleeping in the wrong position. 

 

Poor Sleep Posture


When the neck is bent any way for too long, you will get uncomfortable. The muscles become strained (too much pull), which of course, will cause pain. Certain sleeping positions also encourage faulty muscle movement in the neck

For example, if you’re a stomach sleeper, your neck could easily be twisted to one side for several hours at a time. As we just mentioned, the neck, when bent out of shape for too long, will cause pain in the morning. Also, sleeping on your stomach causes your abdominal muscles to sink into the bed. This throws off your natural alignment and puts strain and pressure on your spine and back muscles. 

Now there is a way around this that involves your choice of bedding, which we will discuss shortly. 

 

Using the Wrong Pillow


The other cause of the neck and back strain is not your posture, but your pillow. Think about it: assuming you get a healthy recommended amount of sleep, you spend 7-8 hours resting your head on the pillow. If that pillow doesn't support your head and neck correctly, you will build a lot of tension in your neck. 

Then comes the nagging neck pains that spread to the shoulders and even your back. Now, keep in mind that choosing the right pillow boils down to two things:


 1) Getting familiar with what your body agrees with most

 2) Buying a pillow from a high-quality manufacturer or retail brand

 

The Fix for a Neck that’s Achy or Stiff


Fortunately, the solution to these two problems is simple (or relatively simple at least). 

Fix your sleep position and buy a better pillow. It’s a bit easier said than done, but it’s still possible to get that done. You need to know what type of pillow and what sleeping position is best suited for your unique anatomy. We won’t dive into the subject of sleep positions because it’s largely something you have to experiment with to find your ideal posture. 

However, since we’re in the business of making pillows, we know a thing or two about choosing the right one. 

 

Best Types of Pillows for Neck Pain Support


  • Memory Foam - Memory foam is a common choice for many folks. It moulds to the shape of your neck by responding to heat and pressure, forming a supportive cradle around the head and neck. Over time, it retains the shape so that your neck and head always get the right support. As an added benefit, they’re hypoallergenic, low cost and available in a variety of stores. The caveat? Memory foam pillows tend to have a shorter lifespan, retain heat, and often take a long time to form the ideal supportive shape of your neck and head.

  • Feather - It probably comes as no surprise that feather pillows are soft and comfortable. They can also be adjusted by removing the loft out of feathers or adding more as needed. They don’t mould to support the neck as memory foam does, but they offer immediate comfort as opposed to memory foam that takes time to adjust to your neck. The downside with these pillows is that the feathers tend to lose their loft as they get compressed over time. Users might also notice that the feathers may become displaced under the weight of their heads. On a positive note, it’s easy to refresh a feather pillow just by ‘re-fluffing’ it up. 

  • Latex - Natural latex feels buoyant and keeps the neck in place while reducing pressure points. A significant number of latex pillows have tiny holes that allow for better temperature regulation (since air can freely flow through those holes). The main downside with latex pillows is that they come in one piece, meaning that you can’t customize them. Latex pillows that have organic labels also tend to be pricier than other options. 

  • Down - As you probably know, Down comes from beneath the feathers of ducks and geese. It’s incredibly soft and light, and Down pillows can be reshaped to suit your preferences, and therefore, your ideal “comfort settings”. They can be completely revitalized just by ‘re-fluffing’ them up and making them feel brand new again. The downside with these pillows include a higher price tag, and being too soft to offer adequate neck support at times. The main issue with Down pillows, though, is that they can trigger allergy symptoms in some people. However, our line of Westex Down pillows incorporates Ultra-Fresh Antimicrobial Technology, which inhibits the growth of bacteria, mould and mildew - all of which can contribute to allergies - so you can enjoy a truly comfortable, fresher and cleaner sleep, and extends the life of your pillow. A good quality Down pillow could last up to 10 years! 

  • Down-Around - Another option is a hybrid called a “Down-around” pillow, which can also be referred to as a triple chamber pillow. The top and bottom layers consist of soft, comfortable Down, while the inner chamber is filled with feathers which provides incredible support. This combines the best of both worlds to give you a soft, comfortable and supportive pillow, that can be long-lasting and hypoallergenic. Since there is a lower amount of Down compared to an all-Down pillow, the cost is much lower also, making this a popular option. 

  • How do you know which choice is right for you? Well, it ultimately boils down to personal preference (what feels best) and what allows you to get the most restful sleep. You should also look at factors such as cost and longevity, and whether a certain type of pillow might aggravate things like allergies. 

    Nevertheless, don’t hesitate to try different kinds of pillows until you find the one that suits your neck the best. You will know that you’ve found a winner when:


    1. It feels soft and comfortable
    2. You wake up feeling refreshed and with less or no neck pain
    3. You’re in a better mood and have more energy every morning
    4. It doesn’t break the bank
    5. It doesn’t cause any allergies or unwanted reactions

    In other words, if you don’t feel the need to replace it or do better, you’ll likely have found the right pillow. 

     

    A Weight Off Your Shoulders

     

    Neck pain, whether it’s acute or chronic, is a bummer that can dampen your mood and frankly, your life (in the case of chronic pain). Depending on the severity of your pain, you might need to seek medical attention and therapeutic treatment. But in many instances, a simple change in your pillow might be sufficient. 

    If you deal with constant neck and shoulder pain or tension, consider switching your pillow to one of the options mentioned above. You may begin to wake up with a new pep in your step.

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