Lying and resting in poor postures are a frequent cause of neck pain and neck related headaches. If you consistently wake in the morning with a stiff and painful neck that was not bothering you the night before, there may be a problem with the surface you are lying on or the position you are lying in. It is a much easier task to correct the surface on which you lay, as we often adopt many positions throughout the course of a nights rest. We may not even realize the position that is causing our trouble unless it causes so much discomfort that we are awakened from the offending position.
To correct your sleeping surface you should alter your pillow. The pillow may need to be a different thickness or made from a different filling material. The main function of the pillow is to support the head and neck. The pillow should fill the natural contour of the neck between the head and shoulder girdle. The pillow should hold your head in the same relation to your shoulders and spine as if you were standing with correct upright posture. If you sleep on your side, you may want a fairly firm pillow to give your head and neck extra support. If you sleep on your back, try a medium-firm pillow to cradle your head with more "give." The pillow should not lift the head up to high when lying on the back, or tilt the head to high or low while lying on the sides. The head should be allowed to rest in a dish shaped hollow on an appropriate sized pillow. The pillows contents must accommodate the head rather than force the neck to conform to the shape of pillow. If your pillow filling does not conform to your neck, consider changing the filling to feather or down. If your pillow still does not provide adequate support you may need to add additional support to it. The original McKenzie cervical roll is specifically designed for the purpose of providing additional support to the neck while lying on you back or side.
If you notice the following, you should consider replacing your pillow.
When considering the position you sleep in, one position warrants considerable discussion. Lying face down with the head turned to one side (prone position) places the joints and soft tissues of the neck in extreme rotation for considerable periods of time. Prolonged end range stress in this posture has the potential to eventually overstretch the joints and soft tissues on one side of the neck or the other. This prolonged stress can place enough force on the joints and soft tissues of neck to cause mechanical neck pain of different types. For this reason, I always recommend to my neck patients they refrain from lying face down, as this position has the greatest potential to aggravate existing neck problems, or cause problems in healthy necks. The safest position which to lie in is on your side or back with an adequate pillow as described above.
If you have tried these recommendations and continue to experience neck pain, you should contact my office for an evaluation of your problem. Often mechanical therapy exercises or manual therapy techniques may be required to correct your neck disorder. If you do not live in my geographical area contact a clinician formally trained in MDT at the McKenzie Institute.
Mattress and more. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2014, from The Better Sleep Council: http://bettersleep.org/mattresses-and-more/pillows/
McKenzie, R. (2006). Treat Your Own Neck. Spinal Publications New Zealand LTD.
Don Stover PT
husband and father
PT in private practice
TKD black belt (retired)
hapkido black belt (retired)
outdoor cooking fanatic
hot tub soaker
Thanks for visiting my blog page. My name is Don Stover. I am a seasoned physical therapist in Oklahoma City OK. with over 20 years in the biz. I have a lot of knowledge and training in orthopedic PT and spine care. I will be sharing my thoughts on physical therapy for orthopedic problems such as spinal pain, extremity joint pain, sports injuries, health/fitness, and life in general. I hope you enjoy reading!
Forward Thinking PT
Evidence In Motion
The Naked Physio
The Sports Physio