Are you waking up with significant neck stiffness on a daily basis? Your pillow may be the culprit. Your neck or cervical spine should have a nice flowing forward curvature called a lordosis, which bends in an opposite direction from the backwards or kyphotic curvature in your mid-back or thoracic spine. One way to look at the neck curvature, is to compare it to the shape of a bow used in Archery, with the string facing backwards and representing the muscles of the back of the neck and the curve of the bow facing forwards and representing the bones of the cervical spine.
Your pillow is often the source of neck pain because of it’s shape. If it’s a traditional pillow with the thickest part in the center, then there is no support offered to the center of the curve of the neck, which is supported by the outer portion of the pillow. In fact, the thicker the pillow the more the head is pushed forward, resulting in a flattening of the neck curvature. When this happens, the neck muscles become activated and tighten in an attempt to maintain the lordotic curve of the neck. When this occurs over the course of the multiple hours that we sleep, the muscles of the neck become fatigued and will result in soreness in the morning. As much as we try to position the pillow directly under the neck by scrunching it up with our hands, we soon lose this position of support after we fall asleep and start moving.
The answer might be a shaped pillow or “Cervical Pillow”, as they are called. These pillows can be very effective in eliminating morning neck stiffness, because they cradle the head in a slight depression in the center of the pillow and support the neck with increased bulk around the edges of the pillow and more importantly under the neck.
While cervical pillows, such as my favorite the memory foam “Tempur-Pedic Pillow”, can be a terrrific solution for morning neck stiffness, caution must be used when there are serious neck problems present. As a Chiropractor who actively treats neck pain, I have seen patients with certain types of neck conditions get worse with shaped cervical pillows. Namely, extensive degenerative joint problems and cervical disc problems can at times be aggravated by the type of support offered by these pillows. So if you have either of these types of conditions involving the neck, a quick consult first with your Chiropractor before choosing your pillow is your best bet.
Sleep well my friends!