If you have ever woken up with a stiff and sore neck, you are not alone. But have you ever wondered why this happens when for 365 days for 30 plus years you have managed to wake up pain free? This is something I commonly hear in practice, and generally with this type of presentation, something else has predisposed to your neck being overloaded in your sleep. As an osteopath, we strive to find that root cause and help to ensure you don’t wake up with a crook neck for what seems like no apparent reason. In addition to your treatment plan, we will also look into your sleeping ergonomics. Pillows form a part of this long term management, and many clients simply don’t know where to look for this advice. So let me break it down for you.

We spend approximately 8 hours a day sleeping. That’s a third of our lives spent in bed so it is no surprise that what you’re lying on and how you’re lying, will influence the health and well being of your body dramatically. Plus the age of your pillow- for some reason people are happy to replace their runners every year yet the pillow might be every 5-6 years!

A good pillow is ESSENTIAL to the health and mobility of your neck. But what makes a good pillow? It is important to remember that everyone is different – there is no one size fits all with pillows and that is how our team can help you, by performing a pillow fit for you. Things to consider are: the shape, firmness and number of the pillow/s you are using, your sleeping preference eg side lying or back sleeper, and also your anatomical shape. Keeping your personal pillow preferences in mind, what we strive for in a pillow is something that keeps your spine as neutral, or in other words, as ‘straight’ as possible throughout the night.

The average adult head weighs approximately 4.5-5 kg, which is heavier than your standard bowling ball. The muscles holding your head up all day and the joints within our neck deserve a break at night and the trick is making that break as optimal as possible. If you spend all day looking down at a keyboard with your neck in flexion, and then spending your night with several pillows, pushing your head and neck into further flexion, the muscles in the front of your neck become over loaded, and those at the back become over stretched. Alternatively, if your neck is tilted too far back with a pillow that is too small or soft, then the joints within your neck may be spending the night compressed, resulting in stiffness and irritation. Both of these positions are pre cursers for waking up with a sore neck.

When it comes down to it, any position outside of neutral is going to predispose you to muscular inequalities, especially when held overnight for an extended period of time. When in a position outside of neutral, soft tissues being held in a shortened position will tighten, whilst others are simultaneously lengthened and overstretched. Over time, this can have an effect on how your neck operates, potentially decreasing your neck range of motion and in some cases leading to persistent headaches. As allied health practitioners, we want to consider all facets of your day to day life that may predispose to neck pain and headaches, and pillows form a part of this assessment.

Additionally, some light stretching in the morning under a hot shower can be a nice easy way to keep things moving after being immobile all night. Simply using the weight of your head to cause a stretch, try slowly tilting your head to the right, then the left, and forward and backwards. This can provide a nice release through the soft tissues around your neck and help to alleviate morning tension. Besides, who doesn’t want to spend a couple more minutes under a warm shower in the morning?

So in summary, your sleeping ergonomics is as important, if not more important, than your computer ergonomics, so take the time to assess your mattress, pillows and sleeping habits, as they play a more significant role in your posture and body then you may realise. If you’d like more information, the team at The Health Creation Centre have been trained to fit your pillow and also offer advice on how to optimise your body’s nightly recovery time. So next time you wake up feeling a bit stiff and sore, give us a call so we can help you stay pain free and continue to move through life.

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