What pillow should I buy? | Total Performance Physical Therapy

What pillow should I buy?

June 6, 2019

None.  Easy enough?

Everyday we are inundated with ads and commercials and pop ups on our computer telling us that we need this pillow because of this, or that pillow because it promises the best night’s sleep ever.  The fact of the matter is those advertisements are false.  And I know we all know someone who has bought the $100 pillow and swears by it and that is great for them, we all should have a good nights sleep.  And if you are that person, I’m not telling you to change as you found something that works and you should stick with it.  But speaking as someone who has had just about every type of orthopedic pillow given to her to ‘try’ so I can recommend it to my patients, I recommend none.  My last pillows were bought at the Ralph Lauren outlet, buy one get one free for $20.  Oh yes they were the extra firm king pillows, that is as fancy as I get.

Let me start by saying that when buying a pillow, the one type to avoid is a down feather pillow.  These are terrible and while they feel very soft in the store, they offer no support to your head and neck.  They wind up flat as the bed by the end of the night.  I have seen almost every different variety of these, they all wind up flat.

Now you have the pillows with the ‘natural’ curve in them.  What is a ‘natural’ curve?  Yes I know that everyone’s neck has a curve in it.  But I can honestly say I have touched over 1000 necks and none are alike and none have the same curve.  So how is a generic pillow supposed to know what your curve is like.

This pillow is sold as a way to relieve neck pain. However, unless that curve is measured to your specifications, you may actually cause yourself more neck pain.

These are like lumbar supports built into cars. How do they know what the curve of my spine is?  I heard the statistic once that the lumbar support built in cars was modeled off the average 5’8″ male.  So if you are an average 5’8″ male, congrats you have lumbar support in cars.  The idea behind this pillow is that it follows the natural curve of your neck and it supports it.  And then it drops off where the base of your skull protrudes allowing for maximum support.  Unfortunately it only works for some who have measurements close to the pillow’s design.  I am not one of those people and chances are you are not either.

For more information on physical therapy services head to www.totalperformancept.com.

Then there are the square pillows with the hole cut in the middle of them.

These pillows also aim to support the curve in your neck while allowing room for the base of your skull. Unfortunately for most people, they fail to accomplish that goal.

The idea behind these pillows is the same as the ones above, support the neck and provide space for the base of the skull.  However, this time this pillow tries to provide more of a ‘pillow’ feel.  But it fails just the same as the one above and most people do not have the spine measurements to use such a pillow.

Those are only two examples of the many pillows that are out on the market to relieve neck pain and give you a great nights sleep but the truth of the matter is you can do that without spending hundreds on a pillow.  And here’s how.  The first thing is to determine what type of sleeper you are.  Are you a side sleeper or a back sleeper?  The goal for any pillow is if you were to take a picture of your spine, specifically your neck, it should look the same when you lay down as when you stand up.

The slight curve shown in your cervical spine is what many specialty pillows try to keep intact when you lay down but a simple pillow from a national retailer can accomplish the same thing if you know what to look for.

This curve is what you want to maintain when buying a pillow.  Test it out in the store.  When you lay on your back and you rest your head on the pillow does it sink down too much causing you to have an increased curve or on the contrary does it push your head forward to much so that your chin is near your chest.  You know these pillows are wrong.  And trust me while the first few times selecting a pillow may take some time, after you find the right height of what you want, it will become a breeze and you will no longer need to try them before buying them.

If you are a side sleeper, you want a pillow that will fill the space in between your neck and then bed.  I was an ex swimmer, I have extremely broad shoulders and I am side sleeper.  So I have to go with a thick, extra firm pillow so that when I lay down, my neck stays straight.  The problem I find with most side sleepers is they don’t buy a thick enough pillow and when they lay down, their head drops down and then they scrunch their shoulder up to push the pillow up under their head thus creating shoulder and neck issues.  If you find yourself scrunching your pillow, you are not using the correct pillow.  You want to also make sure that you aren’t pushing your shoulder forward in order to move it out of the way to rest your head on the pillow, this occludes precious blood supply to your shoulder.

While I do not like specialty pillows, I do highly recommend positioning aids such as leg spacers and knee elevators.  These allow your lower body to be in proper position therefore not pulling your low back and neck out of position.

One thing I will say though about the generic pillows, you do have to replace them often, using the same one for no more than 3-6 months.  They wear out and lose their firmness so they need to be replaced often.  But I promise you when you find the right pillow it will be the best $10-$20 you ever spend.

For more information on physical therapy services head to www.totalperformancept.com.