Previously we have looked at mattresses in regard to lower back pain, but your choice of pillow, and the number of pillows you sleep with, can also affect your neck and shoulders.
There are three curves in the spine which need to be properly alignment to minimise back problems developing, and at night, when you are lying down, these curves need to be supported correctly.
As we generally spend about one third of our life sleeping, having the right combination of a supportive mattress and pillows, and sleeping in the correct position, is very important.
If you regularly wake up in the morning with neck or shoulder pain and stiffness, then your pillow(s) and your sleeping posture may be the problem.
Just as you need a good mattress to support your lower back, your neck needs to be properly supported by your pillow to ensure a good night’s sleep. Unless you are a rugby player or weight lifter, your neck is usually narrower than you head, both from the front to back, and from side to side. This means that if your pillow is too firm, it will be supporting your head rather than your neck, and if your pillow is too soft, your neck will sink in to the pillow. Both of these scenarios mean that your pillow will not be providing sufficient support to your neck, and you may find that you wake up in the morning with a stiff and sore neck.
There is a large variety of pillows available, with different shapes and sizes, and a choice of fillings, and finding the right one for you is not always easy.
A good pillow should hold your head in the correct alignment so that you head is in the same position relative to your shoulders and spine as it would be if you were standing upright with a good posture.
It should also be able to be tucked well into your neck and shoulders, or be shaped accordingly, to support the curve of your neck appropriately.
The most basic pillows are usually filled with a man-made fibre, which does not generally offer as much support as you may need.
Feather, goose down and duck down pillows are much better as you can either tuck them in to your neck, or shake the feathers down to the long edge of the pillow to make a roll, and use this to support your neck. Alternatively there are a variety of pillows that are already shaped to support your neck properly. These are often made of foam, in particular memory foam, where your body heat works with the foam to give good support for your neck specifically.
As with buying a mattress, it is a good idea to buy good quality pillows and replace them every few years, either when they have lost their height, or become lumpy, discoloured or misshapen.
The position you sleep in can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Sleeping on your stomach is not good for your spine at all; in your lower back it causes you to increase the curve in your lumbar spine, compressing the small facet joints in the spine, and in your neck, as you have to turn your head to one side or the other, it causes compression of the facet joints on the side you turn your head towards, leading to neck stiffness and possible pain.
If you tend to sleep on your back, your head will usually turn to one side or the other, leading to similar problems.
If you sleep on your side, a pillow needs to support your neck in a neutral position. If your pillow is too low it may feel as if your head and neck are dropping too far to the side, but if your pillow is too high your neck will feel as if it is being propped up too much.
However, if you are broad shouldered, you may need to use a thicker pillow, or two thinner pillows, rolling one up in to your neck, to give better support.
If you need any further advice, please speak to one of the chiropractors at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre.
A better nights sleep is something we all would like. Sandy Boniface, Chiropractor at Guildford Chiropractic Centre gives some professional advice on the matter.
Do you ever wake up in the morning with pain in your lower back that wasn’t there when you went to bed the previous night, and that resolves once you get out of bed and become more mobile?
Or do you find it difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep in, tossing and turning throughout the night?
If you can answer “Yes” to either of these, then the problem may be to do with your mattress, or your sleeping posture.
Many people buy an “orthopaedic” mattress, believing that, because it is very firm, it will be best for their back and gives them a better nights sleep. However, in many cases, an “orthopaedic” mattress is too firm, giving too little support to the spine.
As we generally spend about one third of our life sleeping, having the right bed, and sleeping in the correct position, is very important.
A good mattress should be both comfortable and supportive, moulding to the shape of your body to support the natural curves of the spine, no matter what position you lie in.
When lying on your side, your spine should be horizontal. If you lie on your back, try sliding your hand under your lower back; if there is a hollow under your lower back and your hand slides in easily, the mattress is too firm, but, if it is very difficult to slide your hand in, the mattress is probably too soft. A mattress that is either too hard or too soft will not give your spine the support it needs, leading to stress on the spine, muscles and ligaments.
If you regularly experience lower back pain when you get up in the morning, you may need to replace your mattress; it is generally recommended that a mattress is replaced every 10 years or so. If you think that your mattress is too firm you can soften it slightly by putting a spare duvet on top of the mattress. If this resolves your back pain, it may be worth investing in a memory foam topper mattress. If you decide to replace your bed and mattress, you need to allow sufficient time for trying new beds out. It is recommended by the Sleep Council that you spend at least 10 minutes lying on a bed, preferably with your partner, and to lie in different positions to see how comfortable each bed is.
The position you sleep in can also have a significant impact on lower back pain. The majority of people find that sleeping on either side in a fetal position, is the most comfortable. Many people sleep on their back, which is fine if the mattress supports the normal curve in your lower back, but, if your mattress is too soft, your spine will sink in to the mattress, flattening the normal curve which can result in pain and stiffness. Lying on your stomach is the worst position to sleep in as it increases the curve in your lower back which can cause compression of the lumbar facet joints, leading to lower back pain and stiffness.
If you need any further advice please speak to one of the chiropractors at the Guildford Chiropractic Centre.
Sandy will discuss more on getting a better nights sleep in Part 2!