Nowadays pillows are made from of a range of materials – foam, feather, cotton, latex; and come in different shapes and forms – standard, pre-contoured, adjustable and even water pillows. Consequently choosing the pillow that’s best for neck and shoulder pain can be a bit confusing.
Regardless of the sleeping position, a pillow should support the neck in a comfortable neutral posture. If lying on your back the forward ‘C-shape’ curve of the neck should be supported. If lying on your side the spine should be straight, so the head is neither tilted upwards or down. Sleeping on your stomach is never recommended as this creates twisting in the neck.
A pre-contoured pillow needs to be the right size to mould to the shape of the head and neck. A standard pillow needs to be soft enough so the head will gently sink in and support a neutral posture.
Back sleepers will generally find they do better on smaller pillows, because the gap to fill in and maintain the forward C-shape curve is smaller than the ear to shoulder gap for side sleepers. Of course most people will sleep in both positions, so a compromise between the two may be required.
A newborn does not require a pillow. By the time a child is 1-2 years old a very thin pillow may be useful when lying on their side. A pillow is not usually required for back sleeping until after two years, and once again this should be quite thin.
If you are unsure about what pillow is best for neck and shoulder pain, ask your chiropractor for specific advice.
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