Can Your Pillow Be The Cause Of Your Chronic Neck Pain?

Neck pain, as unpleasant and uncomfortable as it can be, is something that a lot of people either currently deal with, have dealt with, or will be dealing with eventually (via Harvard Health Publishing). In fact, neck pain is common enough that a 2017 study published in Medicine showed that up to 70% of people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. A 2007 study in The BMJ showed that two-thirds of the population in the UK will be similarly afflicted with neck pain.

There are a lot of things that we do throughout the day that can cause us neck pain, such as poor posture at work, straining too hard while exercising, or hunching over our phones and devices. It can also stem from a more serious physical problem, such as a slipped disk, spinal stenosis, fibromyalgia, or osteoporosis (per WebMD). In addition to the everyday things you may be doing to inadvertently cause your neck pain, how you sleep and what you're sleeping on could also be the problem.

Your sleeping position can determine how you feel in the morning

How you sleep can be a big factor in how you feel in the morning, as evidenced by a 2008 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. That study showed that up to 5% of chronic pain cases could be traced back to issues with how you sleep. In other words, the position in which you sleep, such as on your stomach, can be a factor in your neck pain (via Healthline). However, even if you're sleeping in the right position, your pillow could be working against you during the night.

The purpose of a pillow is to keep your head, neck, and shoulders supported and the spine aligned while you sleep. If your pillow is not keeping your spine in alignment during the night, you will most certainly feel it the next day. Therefore, the type of pillow you use will be a deciding factor in how you feel when you wake up (per the Cleveland Clinic). For example, feather pillows, although comfortable, offer no real support. As you move, the feathers do as well, leaving your neck with no stability during the night. In addition, pillows that have mixed fillers, such as foam and gel, may help somewhat, but they can also keep your neck in an awkward position during the night.

There is no one right pillow for everyone

Finding the right pillow is a matter of trial and error, as everyone's sleep needs are different. If you are someone who prefers sleeping on your back, then a cervical pillow might be a good option, as it can support the curve of your neck (via The Sleep Doctor). People who tend to sleep on their side will want to seek out a pillow that offers between four and six inches of height. Another option for a side sleeper is a body pillow, supporting both the pelvis and the hips.

Memory foam and latex pillows can be a good option, according to a 2020 survey study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. That study showed that those kinds of pillows offer more elasticity, which allowed them to keep their shape better throughout the night, thereby offering better neck support. However, as the Cleveland Clinic notes, there isn't one "right" pillow for everyone. Therefore, try to find the one that fits your sleep habits best, and if problems continue, talk with your doctor to find the right solution for you.