I am frequently asked in my clinic in Rochester, “My neck hurts when I wake up. Why?” New patients routinely arrive because they’re experiencing fingers and sometimes a whole hand, becoming numb.
My first question is often, “What kind of pillow are you sleeping on?” If you are sleeping on a flat pillow that is simply foam or feathers, you may need a new one. Why? Flat foam pillows tend not to have the proper shape that supports your neck. Some foam pillows are molded, so this may not apply to those. However ….
If your pillow has a neck roll or contour that supports your neck and allows your head to drop back into extension, those are great if you’re a back sleeper. (If you are a side sleeper, they can cause issues. More for you in this article.) Feather pillows tend to bunch up in all the wrong places as you sleep and lose their support in all of the areas your neck and head need it most.
If you’re a stomach sleeper, no wonder your neck hurts when you wake up! No pillow in the world is going to make it better. In my opinion, you need to learn new sleeping habits to help your neck. Lying on your belly with your head rotated to one side all night is likely to cause imbalances in your neck with one side of your neck muscles becoming severely contracted and the other side over-extended.
If you sleep on your side, I often recommend a thicker pillow. Something like a high-density foam that is the same thickness as the distance between the side of your head and the outside edge of your shoulder will be the best choice. For best results, use a pillow that will fully support your head so it isn’t tilting to the side all night. When your head and neck remain in that unhealthy tilt-position, the result is squeezing and pinching nerves.
If you are a back sleeper, you need a pillow with a neck roll built in to adequately support the natural curve of your neck. These pillows allow your head to remain in a neutral position. This means your neck is a slightly extended. This relaxed and supported position will keep your nerves happy while you sleep, avoiding tension.
How should you then pick a pillow?
If you’re one of my patients in Rochester, I have a demonstration pillow in my office. Ask me to demonstrate it and explain what to look for when purchasing a new pillow. I keep several of these available at my office for purchase. We’ve even found that many insurance plans will cover the cost for these as they’re recommended by your chiropractor.
As always, if you have neck pain when you wake up, visit us for an evaluation. Good pillows are helpful but they can’t correct the unhealthy movement patterns, imbalances and poor alignment that’s causing the problem in the first place. You can always make an appointment online or call our office at 585-321-3200.