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Can Pillows Cause Back Pain

What Causes Back Pain And How A Pillow Might Help

How to Choose a Mattress & Pillow (For Neck, Shoulder, Hip, or Back Pain)

There are a couple of different factors that could be causing your back pain during the night. The most common problem and the one that a pillow will help with the most is that your spine is not properly aligned while you sleep. While you sleep, your head, neck, and spine should be in a straight line. If one of these sections is out of line, it can cause irritation or, in this case, back pain.

The Wrong Pillow Can Cause Discomfort

Experts believe people with sleep problems, which can be caused by using the wrong pillow, experience more problems with back pain. Ohio spine specialist Santhosh Thomas says,

Sleep deprivation is known to affect mood and functional ability and negatively impacts the perception of pain.

It can be difficult to part with your favourite pillow but its important to find the right pillow for your sleep needs, including your preferred sleeping position. Each sleeping position puts strain on your spine in a different way. The goal of using a pillow is to help keep your head in what is called a neutral alignment meaning your head is sitting squarely on your shoulders without bending back too far or reaching too far forward.

Possibly Improves Wrinkles And Hair

Some studies suggest that your face compressing against your pillow during sleep may eventually contribute to wrinkles. However, further research is needed to know if removing your pillow can prevent wrinkle formation altogether.

Its true that your pillow absorbs body oils over time . Thats why regularly washing your whole pillow every two to six months can help keep everything clean for your skin.

Some people also theorize that pillows damage their hair by rubbing against it in the night. Theres currently little research to support this. However, if you think tossing and turning against your pillow is the culprit behind frizzy or tangled hair, we recommend switching to a silk pillowcase to reduce tension on your hair.

Our Casper silk pillowcase is luxuriously smooth, protecting hair and skin from friction damage.

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Try Gentle Yoga Stretches Before Bed

Research has shown that yoga or intensive stretching can help reduce low back pain. It can also help reduce your stress and make you sleep better.

Talk to your doctor about which poses are safe for you to practice and which ones wonât make your pain worse. It might be helpful to start off using yoga props like blocks and bolsters for added support so that you can hold poses comfortably. And taking a few yoga classes with an instructor to be sure youâre doing the poses and breathing correctly — which is key to relaxation — isnât a bad idea either.

The Role Of Your Mattress

The 5 Best Body Pillows For Back Pain

We spend one-third of each day in bed, meaning your mattress and how you sleep is just as important as focusing on posture in the daytime hours. Since sleep is a time for healing and renewal, it may arguably be even more important.

So, what is the best mattress for back pain?

Its an important, often-asked question. But, there is no single right answer. When it comes to picking a bed, there are no hard and fast rules that will apply for every person, every time. Essentially, the best mattress is the one that you feel gives you good, refreshing sleep with minimal pain and stiffness.

While we all have different preferences and needs that are important to consider, research and studies can shed some insight on different mattress traits and how they may interact with back pain.

The Two Basics of Beds

At their most basic, beds do two things: provide support and comfort.

Support comes from the core of the mattress, typically a sturdy foam layer or innersprings depending on the type of bed. A supportive mattress will have enough firmness to keep your spine aligned, meaning your heavier areas like hips and shoulders wont sink too far into the bed. On the other hand, it shouldnt be so firm that it forces hips and shoulders up at an awkward angle either.

Now, comfort is pretty easy to identify, but how do you know if a mattress is providing adequate support? Essentially, your spine should maintain an even, natural posture , with whichever sleep position you prefer.

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Remember: Alignment Is Key

No matter what position you choose, keeping proper alignment of your spine is the most important part of the equation. Focus specifically on aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips.

You may notice gaps between your body and the bed that strain your muscles and spine. You can reduce this stress by using pillows to fill the gaps.

Be careful while turning in bed. You can get out of alignment during twisting and turning motions as well. Always move your entire body together, keeping your core tight and pulled in. You may even find it helpful to bring your knees toward your chest as you roll over.

Can A Pillow Cause Neck Pain

A pillow that is too high or too low can force the neck to bend at an unnatural angle, causing tension and discomfort over time. That’s why sleep experts recommend choosing a pillow that keeps your head and neck aligned with the spine, 3 days ago. Bang says that neck pain and stiffness in the neck are the most common. Beyond that, you may experience problems with your entire spine twisting in the wrong way, which for a long time can create lasting damage, he adds.

You spend about a third of your life sleeping. Pillows that are too stiff or too full can strain the neck by keeping it flexed throughout the night, causing pain. Neck pain caused by improper pillow is caused by muscle tension and lack of neck support. You may suffer from tension headaches due to a bad pillow along with neck pain, loss of sleep, and irritability.

A foam pillow made of breathable and pressure-relieving material could provide greater support and better sleep quality. See Causes, symptoms and treatment of stiff neck. Unless you can adjust the amount of filling in the pillow, these fillers move easily so that the pillow ends up providing support that is, at best, unreliable. Not much research urges an automatic recommendation for pillows with mixed fillings such as memory foam or latex with crushed foam and a gel insert.

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How Do I Get Rid Of Neck Pain When I Wake Up

For minor, common causes of neck pain, try these simple remedies:

  • Apply heat or ice to the painful area. …
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Keep moving, but avoid jerking or painful activities. …
  • Do slow range-of-motion exercises, up and down, side to side, and from ear to ear.
  • Dreamer Car Lumbar Support

    Pillow Positioning to Reduce Shoulder and Back Pain

    Full-size, contoured design.

    Heres another full-sized lumbar support pillow from the guys at Dreamer Car. I want to offer multiple alternatives in this category because each pillow has a unique combination of design, materials, and thickness and thus variety is important to make the right buying decision.

    • Dimensions: 20.9 x 16.5 x 5.9 inches.
    • Design: This lumbar pillow is designed to mold to your back and to absorb the pressure on it caused by rough terrain, bumps on the road, or car starts and brakes.
    • At its thickest part, the lumbar curve, its about 5-inches thick and at its flattest , its about 2-inches thick.
    • Comes in 3 different cover colors .
    • The materials: High-density memory foam. Odorless.
    • Can I wash it? No. The cover cannot be removed, so youll have to spot clean it.
    • How will it stay in place? This is the feature that sets it apart from the other car lumbar pillows on this list. The Dreamer cushion has two adjustable straps with built-in.
    • As shown in the picture above, one strap goes around the back of the car seat and the other one goes around the headrest.
  • Warranty: 1-year guarantee.
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    Sleep Position And Spine Problems

    If youre waking up in pain that you dont feel during the day, then your sleep position is likely playing a role.

    Where sleep posture plays a role in back pain is the neutral spine. If youre not positioned in a way that keeps your spine aligned and relaxed, you may be putting excess weight or strain on different parts of the back.

    If you have neck pain, stiffness, or soreness when you wake up in the morning, consider:

    • Sleep posture. Sleeping on your stomach with your head twisted to one side is a recipe for neck strain. But sleeping in any position can be a problem if your neck isnt sufficiently supported.
    • Pillow choice. If your pillow is too high or too low, too firm or too soft, your head will bend away from the neutral spine position. Finding the right pillow can be difficult. Some people prefer memory foam because it molds to the head and neck, providing support where you need it most.
    • Weak or tight muscles. If you dont stretch often or if you keep your shoulders and head in a fixed, unnatural position during the day, you may may be bringing that stress to bed at night. Stretching, strengthening, and massage may help you to re-balance your body and loosen up in the neck and shoulders. Its difficult to achieve a neutral spine in sleep if you cant achieve it when youre awake.

    As with neck pain, its important to sleep in an optimal position but also to choose the right mattress and the right pillow, and to use extra pillows or bolsters if necessary.

    Who Gets Back Pain

    Back pain can affect pretty much anyone at any time. However, a few traits are linked withhigher risk.Verified SourceNational Library of Medicine Worlds largest medical library, making biomedical data and information more accessible.View sourceOlder adults and women are more likely to experience back pain. People who are overweight or obese, and people with a sedentary lifestyle and poor fitness levels have higher rates of back pain.

    Physically strenuous work that involves a lot of lifting, pushing or pulling creates greater risk of injury or strain. Other occupational risks include extending sitting with poor posture, and even mentally stressful work.

    Factors that increase risk of back pain:

    • Age: most common between 35 and 55
    • Gender: more common in women
    • Being overweight
    • Anxiety and depression

    Smoking is another potential risk that might not be so obvious. Data suggests smokers are more prone to back pain for a couple reasons nutrients may not be able to reach the back where theyre needed, coughing can cause strain, and smokers are slower to heal from injury.

    Other factors also increase the odds of back pain, such as pregnancy, strenuous exercise, anxiety and depression, and certain hereditary conditions.

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    Why Should You Use A Lumbar Support Pillow

    Lower back injury can be caused by siting in an office chair for extended lengths without proper chair back support. This is because sitting forces you to maintain a static position, which places stress on the spinal discs and back muscles.

    Worse yet, many people tend to slouch forwards in their seat, failing to maintain a good posture while sitting. This further contributes to the ongoing stress in the lower back resulting in added discomfort.

    Standing desks and ergonomic kneeling chairs are two accepted solutions for preventing lower back pain, particularly for people who tend to work in a seated posture for prolonged periods.

    However, there is another more convenient and simple solution to lower back pain lumbar support cushions.

    Lumbar support for office chairs naturally fit against the S-curve of your back to provide added support for the lower back when you sit for extended periods of time.

    They also help correct posture by aligning the neck, upper spine, and shoulders. This provides instant relief from upper and lower back pain. Furthermore, lumbar support pillows help relax the muscles and tendons in the low back to alleviate pain and discomfort.

    Benefits of a Lumbar Support Pillow

    Lumbar support cushions have the following benefits:

  • They help improve posture and relieve pain by aligning the back, neck, shoulders and hips properly.
  • They are safer and more cost effective than using painkiller medications.
  • Certain health insurance plans may cover them.
  • Pillows Can Derail Cpap

    6 Best Pillows for Back Pain Reviewed in Detail (Jul. 2020)

    For people who have sleep apnea a condition in which you stop breathing periodically during sleep pillows can interfere with continuous positive airway pressure treatment. CPAP keeps your airway open by means of a bedside device that pushes air through a mask you wear while you sleep. “If you’re a side sleeper, the pillow can knock the mask off,” says Dr. Epstein.

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    Blame Your Expensive Mattress

    Like pillows, your mattress needs to provide support that conforms to your body. The right mattress will help you maintain proper sleep posture all night.

    Beware of the squishy pillow top mattresses!

    Pillow top mattresses have become quite popular in recent years. Theyre not necessarily better than non-pillow top types. Laying on a very soft compressible surface all night long can cause back pain for some, particularly stomach sleepers. These mattresses can allow your body to bend too far downward at the heaviest part, your waist. This can be a result of the pillow tops filling:

    • simply being too soft or
    • sagging and/or compressing over time from repeated use.

    Maybe your mattress is just too firm?

    If your mattress is too firm, it wont compress sufficiently to allow your body to sink downwards in the appropriate locations.

    If youre convinced that a new mattress is the key to eliminating your back pain, shop with caution.

    The large mattress manufacturers are frequently criticized for their marketing practices. They often distribute the same mattress under different names to each retailer intentionally making it difficult for consumers to comparison shop.

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    Should Shoulders Be On Pillow When Sleeping

    Your shoulders should not be on the pillow. Not So Great: On your side, with your legs curled up towards the chest. This does not provide spine alignment for the shoulders and neck. It also does not evenly distribute weight throughout your body and can lead you to waking up in the morning with back pain.

    You Wake Up With Back Pain

    Best Type Of Pillow for Sleeping with Neck Pain, Pinched Nerve, or Herniated Disc

    While it may seem obvious, morning pain is one of the first signs that you and your mattress may no longer be friends. If you feel fine when you go to bed but wake up groaning and clutching your lower back, your mattress could be a contributing factor. A problematic mattress can contribute to spine misalignment, which in turn leads to morning pain.

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    Which Pillows Relieve Lower Back Pain


    There are both synthetic and natural latex pillows on the market. You might find these listed as rubber rather than latex. These pillows often contain shredded bits of latex fill, which lets you remove or add filling in order to personalize the fit. Its customizable capacity makes them a compelling option for many back pain sufferers.

    Down pillows

    Down pillows are probably the plushest and softest type. So, if youve never liked sleeping on a hard pillow, this could be your winner. Down is likely to be your most comfortable pillow option if you are a stomach sleeper, as this position usually calls for a thinner, softer pillow. Down also retains body heat quite well, so if you require additional warmth, this could be your pillow of choice.

    Memory foam

    Memory foam pillows are made from the synthetic material polyurethane. It goes through a special manufacturing process that gives it that characteristically spongy and bounce-back quality. Since a memory foam pillow conforms to your unique shape, it can help keep your back aligned. These pillows will also return to their original shape, and resist getting compressed over time . As a result, these pillows can make very effective knee pillows which can be positioned between the knees when sleeping on your side.

    Cooling pillows

    Lifestyle Factors That Prevent Back Pain

    Aside from being conscious of how you sleep and where you sleep, there are a few daytime habits that can help reduce back pain as well. Much of the recommended habits for prevention go hand-in-hand with leading a generally healthy lifestyle. TheMayo ClinicVerified SourceMayo ClinicRanked #1 hospital by U.S. News & World Report and one of the most trusted medical institutions in the world. The staff is committed to integrated patient care, education, and research.View sourcesuggests the following for minimizing back pain risk:

    Back pain is not a small or insignificant problem, but for many people the side effects and severity can be minimized with fairly simple changes to habits. Awareness of ideal sleep positions and the relationship between mattresses and backs are essential for keeping pain at bay during the night, and paying attention to posture and movements improves comfort throughout the day.

    What do you find helps reduce back pain most for you? Do you notice differences between sleep positions?

    About the author

    Rosie Osmun regularly contributes to the Amerisleep blog writing about topics including, reducing back pain while sleeping, the best dinners for better sleep, and improving productivity to make the most of your mornings. She finds the science of sleep fascinating and loves researching and writing about beds. Rosie is also passionate about traveling, languages, and history.

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