How Common Is Chronic Neck Pain
To say that pain is widespread in the US is an understatement. In fact, 100 million people suffer from chronic pain. Thats far more than the total number diagnosed with cancer , heart disease , or diabetes . The American cost of pain is estimated at about $600 billion. Pain doesnt just impact people during the day but at night, with one in five people saying that it makes it difficult to get sound sleep.
Among those who suffer from chronic pain, neck pain is one of the most common types:
·;;;;; Back pain 27%
·;;;;; Face pain 4%.
How You Should Sleep To Relieve Neck Or Shoulder Pain
Have you ever laid awake, tossing and turning, because of that annoying ache in your neck or shoulder? Why is it that you can be busy all day, but when you lay down to sleep, you start to feel more discomfort or pain? The reason for this is that your brain is busy handling a million other tasks during the day, not paying attention to the problem in your neck or shoulder.
When you rest in your bed, your mind becomes more aware of the body, fixating on any dull or throbbing pain. In addition, since you are now in a reclined position, the weight of gravity will pull differently on your neck or shoulder, causing strain. The goal is to support the body correctly so that you can have a restful nights sleep.
Here are some tips for finding a comfortable way to sleep:
- Use two pillows, with the top pillow staggered slightly back of the bottom pillow.
- Try to lie on your side or back. Have the bottom pillow supporting your shoulders and the top pillow supporting your neck.
- Hug a pillow, as this will put your top shoulder in an open position. Tuck the pillow up high under the arm.
- Use a pillow between your legs when you are on your side, or behind your thighs if lying on your back. This helps take pressure off your whole spine.
- Use gentle deep breathing when you first lie down, to calm your body down and improve the oxygen flow to your muscles, helping them relax.
What To Consider When Purchasing A Pillow For Neck Pain
Most people dont give much thought to their pillow, beyond choosing a pillow thats nice and squishy for immediate comfort. This means that when we do realize our pillow may be contributing to our neck pain, we may not know how to go about choosing a proper one. Shoppers in this position may be susceptible to misleading marketing and end up choosing a pillow thats ill-suited for their needs.
To help you get started, weve made a list of the most important factors. Focusing on these factors and having a basic understanding of how pillows work can help you find the pillow that works best for you.
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How To Prevent Neck Pain While Sleeping
Neck pain is a common problem, with approximately one in three people experiencing it at least once a year. Although neck pain is often harmless and can resolve on its own, the risk of it becoming chronic increases with age.
The causes of neck pain can be unknown, but are often related to posture or other body mechanics. Neck pain with no known cause affects about two-thirds of people, typically in middle age. Neck pain from known sources, such as injuries from whiplash, can heal within days or weeks, but becomes chronic in approximately 10% of people. Chronic neck pain can also result from conditions such as arthritis or a bulging disk in the spine.
Unfortunately, an aching neck can also result from the simple act of sleeping . Certain sleep postures, types of pillows, or sudden movements in bed might lead to a stiff neck in the morning. Neck pain can also make it more difficult to sleep, affecting sleep quality and duration.
Although occasional neck pain is a nuisance, chronic neck pain can more seriously affect a persons quality of life . For this reason, scientists have been investigating ways to help prevent neck pain from occurring in the first place, including while sleeping. Well cover how neck pain impacts sleep, how sleeping can cause neck pain, and how to help eliminate and prevent neck pain.
What Pillow Materials Are Best For Neck Pain
The best pillow for neck and shoulder pain is firm enough to hold the head at a healthy angle, but soft enough to alleviate pressure points. Most sleepers find success with either a memory foam, latex, buckwheat, or feather pillow, as these materials offer the best balance of support and pressure relief.
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Two Reasons For Torticollis
So now we know the what of neck pain from sleeping. What about the how?
Generally when you wake up with neck pain, there are one or two issues at play here. Either your pillow isnt right for you, the position in which you sleep is aggravating your neck, or both.
You might think that a hard pillow can hurt your neck, but its usually a pillow thats too soft that makes you wake up with neck pain. Just like you need to keep your cervical spine aligned during the day to avoid overly taxing your muscles and ligaments, you need to do the same at night. Its harder, though; you can make a conscious effort in daylight, but how can you control your posture when youre asleep?
Your pillow is the answer. A nice, firm pillow will keep your spine in a straight line from your atlas down to your coccyx . Any deviation from straight runs the risk of torticollis, so avoid it by making sure your pillow is right.
Your pillow or your sleeping position could be the culprit.
The way you sleep can also have a profound effect on the way you wake upready to face the day or ready to crawl back under the covers and hide from your neck pain. The best sleeping position for neck pain is usually on the back.
Back sleeping may not be right for youit can aggravate sleep apnea, for example. In that case, sleeping on your side is the next best thing. Try to avoid stomach sleeping; it can put pressure on nerves that start in your neck, leading to further neck pain or radiculopathy .
Good Pillows For Neck Pain
It might be tempting to stock up on pillows when theyre on sale, but regular pillows filled with synthetic fibers provide absolutely no support to the neck while sleeping. While feather pillows conform to the neck, they lose their shape quickly and need to replaced yearly.
Memory-foam pillows are the best pillows for back and side sleeping as they contour to the neck and head and provide the necessary support to prevent neck pain and headaches. Pillows that are too hard or too soft will leave you feeling achy and stiff in the morning.
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What You Can Do About Neck Pain From Sleeping
So, what now? Just go about your day in pain, with your neck tilted? No! Time to take action.
Although time can be some of the best medicine for a sore or stiff neck, we want to speed the healing process along AND cut down on the risk you wake up with neck pain again. First things first: If you woke up with neck pain, get some ice on it. Try 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. That will cut down on the inflammation. Ditto an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Motrin .
If its been a few days and your neck pain is stubbornly hanging around, switch from ice to heat. Again, 20 minutes on, 20 off is a good starting point. If your neck pain is caused by a spasming muscle, heat can help it relax and get the blood flowing to it. A gentle massage of the area can sometimes work for the same reason, but be careful not to overdo it.
Stretching, which may prove helpful as well, straddles the line between treatment and prevention. By the time youre actually in pain it may be too late for stretching to help, but keeping your muscles loose and supple can reduce your risk of future neck ligament sprains, muscle and tendon strains, and torticollis.
Try stretching your neck through multiple planes of movement:
- Try to touch your right ear to your right shoulder. Push gently on the left side of your head. Come back through center, and repeat on the left side. Do 10 reps each of left and right.
Common Causes Of Neck And Shoulder Pain
In addition to the achiness many of us experience while seated for long periods at our desks, there are several other things that can lead to neck and shoulder pain.
When it comes to the neck, Tozer lists injuries like whiplash and sprains and strains, as well as chronic conditions like arthritis. He also cites forward head posture, which is when someone drives their chin forward instead of keeping their spine and head aligned. Meanwhile, a few standard causes of shoulder pain include rotator cuff issues, bursitis, and arthritis.
Neck and shoulder pain can come from many different underlying conditions,” says Tozer. “For a proper evaluation and diagnosis, it’s necessary to look at all aspects of someone’s life.”
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Another Way To Alleviate Neck Pain Is To Use A Memory Foam Pillow
This type of pillow molds to the contours of your head and neck for optimal support while you are asleep. Some designs have a small hump in the back of the pillow and a larger hump in front. The head fits between these humps and the neck is completely supported and pain-free. I personally use this type of pillow and it works very well for me.
If you are a back sleeper, do not use a pillow that is too high or too stiff. These types of pillows cause the sleeper to flex their neck throughout the night and can lead to a stiff neck in the morning.If you are a side sleeper, make sure the pillow you are using is higher underneath the neck than the head. The memory foam pillow works well for side sleepers as much as for back sleepers.
Better Sleep Pillows And Watching Tv In Bed
We see so many of the role models that we watch on TV and in movies, sleep with pillows. Usually they have, at least, two pillows, and sometimes theyre even more upright than I am right now.
Thats great if youre in Hollywood and youre getting paid big bucks. But if youre just going to sleep, and want a good nights sleep, I highly recommend that you follow these tips:
If you are still determined to read in bed here are some safe suggestions:
- Read from a supported side-lying position as discussed above.
- Read from a supported back-lying position.
- To support your book/e-reader, rest your elbows on a large pillow, decorative bed pillows work well.; It should allow you to have your arms fully supported, elbows at roughly 90 degrees of bend and your reading material a comfortable distance from your eyes.
Finally, ensure that your pillows are underneath your head and neck, and not underneath your shoulders.
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See A Physical Therapist
If the stiffness lingers for more than a couple days, make an appointment with your doctor or a physical therapist .
A physical therapist may try a joint mobilization or manipulation to rotate the misaligned spinal segment back into place. Once that happens, surrounding muscles tend to go into spasm, Casey says. Your PT will also calm those muscles down during an appointment.
A PT can also help determine the lifestyle changes you can make like improved desk ergonomics to help you sit in the right posture to protect your spine in the future.
“If you don’t take care of it now and sit with joints stacked correctly, they’ll wind and grind in abnormal ways that will catch up to you as you age,” Casey says.
So, while the above fixes may help in the short term, they can’t quite overcome days and weeks of poor posture so don’t hesitate to get help when you need it.
If You Sleep On Your Side
Still according to Dr. Knauf, For side sleepers, its important to have a pillow that isnt so big that it pushes your head toward your shoulder or one too thin where your head now leans to the side that you sleep on.;
Ultimately, you should look for a pillow that isn’t either too thin or too big. In addition, getting a customizable pillow is also an option to keep in mind. After all, you’re looking to get the right height and support. When your spine is in the correct alignment on your pillow, you wont wake up with neck pain.
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Sleeping On Your Back
Sleeping on your back helps maintain your spines natural curves. You can use a thinner pillow in this position than you would when sleeping on your side. Your head position should be only slightly raised so that its at a similar angle as when youre standing.
Take Care When You Sleep
Dr. Bang says if your neck is bothering you, you also should pay attention to your sleep positions. Sleep only on your side or on your back never on your stomach, he says.
When you sleep on your stomach, often you will end up twisting your head one way or the other for hours at a time, Dr. Bang says. Sleeping on your stomach also can affect your low back because your belly sinks in to the bed if you dont have enough support.
For minor, common causes of neck pain, try these simple remedies:
- Apply heat or ice to the painful area. Use ice for the first 48 to 72 hours, then use heat after that. Heat may be applied with warm showers, hot compresses or a heating pad. Be sure not to fall asleep with a heating pad or ice bag in place to avoid skin injuries.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Keep moving, but avoid jerking or painful activities. This helps calm your symptoms and reduce;inflammation.
- Do slow range-of-motion exercises, up and down, side to side, and from ear to ear. This helps to gently stretch the neck muscles.
- Have a partner gently massage the sore or painful areas.
- Try sleeping on a firm mattress without a pillow or with a special neck pillow.
- Ask your health care provider about using a soft neck collar to relieve discomfort. Dont use the collar for a long time. Doing so can make your neck muscles weaker.
If the pain gets in the way of your daily activities, Dr. Bang says to call your doctor.
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Side Sleeping And Shoulder Pain Or Neck Pain
Many of my clients are side sleepers but they need some coaching on side sleeping and shoulder pain. The tips below also apply if you have neck pain and side sleep.
- The key elements to a comfortable side sleeping position is supporting your entire body in a side-lying position.
- You want to ensure that your pillow fills in the space between your shoulders and your neck and that its not sitting under the shoulder. It should support you at the neck.
- You could also use a rolled towel in your pillow case to support your cervical spine for support.
- The pillow that works for me tends to be a feather pillow, but thats not the case for everybody, especially if youre allergic to feathers.;
- The little belt that Ive created provides me with support between my pelvis and my lower rib cage.
- I suggest that you put a pillow between the knees and ankles;to create a supported position for your pelvis.
- Your spine is now supported at the small of the waist and your spine is totally straight.
- A point that I forgot to mention in the video, is to align your shoulder directly beneath your torso.
- Avoid letting your shoulder roll forward.
- There are more tips below for shoulder pain sufferers.
How To Create Space Between Your Ribcage And Pelvis
Here are the steps to creating a support for the space between your ribcage and pelvis:
- Start by finding a towel thats the perfect size for you.
- A hand-towel size generally works well.
- If you do not find the perfect size for you,; cut;a towel. Youre worth it. Watch the video above if youre not sure of the towel size before cutting.
- Find one of your softer belts,; a belt from a bathrobe or one of the older loop belts works well.
- Take the belt and rest it on one edge of the towel.
- Next roll the towel and the belt together. Youre creating is a little supported belt for your waist.
- The towel has to be wide enough so that it sits on both sides of your waist. Its got to come around so its sitting on the waist itself and leaves me enough space that I can actually tie it in the front, or enough end of my belt that I can tie it in the front.
- Whether Im lying on my side or on my back, the towel roll will support my spine.
This is not something that you have to do if you dont have back pain. But certainly if you have back pain, it just gives you more support.; Individuals with disc pain will appreciate the support. If however, your back pain is coming from spinal stenosis or facet joint irritation you may benefit from the support while on your side but should not use it if you are a back sleeper.
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