Getting Your Pillow Right

One of the major obstacles to improving the upper back and neck pain that people often complain about, is getting their pillow right. Waking up in the morning with a stiff aching neck is not the first thing you want to be feeling after opening your eyes in the morning.

A lot of people ask us to tell them what the best pillow is for them, and here I will attempt to at least explain to you what a good pillow should do and also, some of the problems we encounter when helping people get a better night’s sleep.

Disclaimer: This is for Educational Purposes Only

Let me take a quick intercession to inform you as to the nature of our advice. We are experienced, healthcare clinicians. We wish to share our experience with you on topics to do with your health. We may be a little colourful in doing so, but at the heart of what we do is in-the-trenches experience. Whilst we have achieved academic success and understand the evidence, we are not solely evidence-based. We are, however, EVIDENCE INFORMED. 

We find that the evidence is usually 10-15years (at minimum) behind what we are seeing in the clinic. We see real people, with real problems, and we’ve made a great living out of offering real solutions. 

If all you’re after is the researched evidence, you can find some on Google Scholar, or you can very easily look for more on Google. We want to give you real-life advice, most of which you may not find in the research.

There is no way that this document can replicate or replace expert assessment and guidance given by a qualified registered healthcare practitioner who has seen you personally. I am sure you’re aware that I have no knowledge of your personal medical history or how you take care of your body. If you require care from a qualified practitioner, you would be best served by seeing someone who can empathise with your situation and treat you accordingly.

I’m sure you understand that I disclaim any and all responsibility for anything you do as a result of reading this document. And by reading this article, you accept 100% responsibility for the actions of you or anyone under your care.

Now it’s important that I discuss with you some of the sleeping patterns we find people get into. These patterns will generally tell us how comfortable you are at night – in your bed and on your mattress – and it will also add to our knowledge as to why you have these aches and pains in your neck.

  1. The first pattern is people sleeping on their backs.
  2. The second one is people sleeping on their side.
  3. And the third one, the one that we don’t recommend, is people sleeping on their stomachs.

The reason why we don’t recommend that is that when you sleep on your stomach, you have to extend and rotate your neck to be able to breathe and fall asleep. That’ll put a lot of tension on your upper back and neck and you will find that that is something that you will not recover from really well because you’re doing it for eight hours a night.

This is one of the main problems that I encounter when I’m trying to help people find a better night’s sleep. They often complain that the only position they could fall asleep in is on their stomach.

The two main reasons why people do this is:

  1. They’ve just been accustomed to it for so long, and
  2. There’s generally an underlying mechanical or postural problem in their upper back and neck that needs addressing or treatment.

Now when we transition people from laying on their stomachs to laying on their backs, or when we transition people from laying on their stomachs to laying on their side, we need to use pillows as props to stop them from moving one way or the other.

So when you go from laying on your stomach to laying on your back, you need a pillow under your neck. You need a pillow under your knees. You also need a pillow on either side of your arms to stop you from rolling over.

When you’re going from laying on your stomach to trying to sleep on your side, you need a pillow under your neck, you need a pillow in between your knees, and you should have a pillow underneath your top armpit that you hug that stops you from rolling forward back onto your stomach. Now, if you persevere through that for a few nights, 3-4-5 nights, that along with the treatment that we’re offering you should help you then transition from sleeping on your stomach to a better sleeping pattern either on your back or on your side.

side sleeping pain physio

With regards to sleeping on your back, a good pillow should allow your head to sit back comfortably into the pillow and facilitate that backward curve of the neck. You should feel it more so supporting your neck and less on the back of your head. If you find that your pillow is pushing you too far forward or your head is too far forward, you might find that the pillow is too thick.

If you find the opposite, that your pillow allows your head to go too far backward or extend, then you might find the pillow is too thin, and you’ll have to make sure you test out for that.

With regards to people who sleep on their side, a good pillow should fill the gap between your neck and your shoulders. That’ll stop your head from tilting one way or the other when you’re asleep at night. If you find that you have broader shoulders, you might need to thicker pillow. If you find that you have narrow shoulders, you might need a thinner pillow. Again, you have to add that to your testing.

Now with regards to buying a pillow, if you’re spending more than $100 on a pillow, you’re generally paying for marketing or for gimmicky tempura memory foam nonsense that you just don’t need. A good pillow shouldn’t be more than $100. We often test people here at the clinic and help them find the right pillow. So if you need our help with that, just ask us.

So when choosing the right pillow for you, do some testing. First, make sure you’re sleeping either on your back or side. Second, check that the pillow supports your neck in a neutral position, and third, don’t fall for gimmicky marketing. A good pillow will be affordable. Enjoy your night’s sleep

If you feel that any of the information we’ve given you here resonates with you and you feel we are in a position to help, please BOOK ONLINE as we would welcome the opportunity. If you feel that we can help you in any other way, please reach out to us via our CONTACT PAGE.

Dr. Sami Karam, Osteopath

Dr. Sami Karam, Osteopath

I’ve been a qualified Osteopath since 2004. I’ve been playing football ever since I could remember and I have a passion for it. I’ve played at the highest level in the NSW State League at both Youth and Senior levels, and have also been Head Physician at numerous State League Clubs. I’ve travelled internationally and consulted with Sports academies in Barcelona and Italy. I have a special interest in Strength and Conditioning for footballers, as I believe it gives them an edge in their physical competition. My passion involves bringing all of this knowledge into every single treatment that I provide for all athletes. If you feel that I can help you and want to reach out to me, contact me.

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