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You'll Never Guess What Common Item Affects Your Back Pain

Back pain can be caused by many things. People often point to sitting at work all day or repetitive lifting, whether of boxes, children, or weights. Plenty of people will talk about the fact that they have an old mattress that they sleep on every night. But no one talks about their pillows.



Pillows are confusing. When you go to the store, there are many to choose from. From extra soft to extra firm, costs can range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. If you're like me, you pick a relatively inexpensive pillow, poke it a few times, shrug, and head up to the cash register. But a pillow can make a huge difference in your back pain: the ultimate goal is to keep your spine properly aligned. The pillow(s) you need depends on your preferred sleep position.


For side sleepers:

  • Choose a firmer pillow to support your neck.

  • Choose a medium-width pillow, not too thick or too thin. The goal is to keep your head relatively flat, not bent in any way.

  • Put a second pillow between your knees to keep your hips aligned. Try to keep your legs together, not allowing one to be in front of the other.

  • Alternately, cuddle up to a full-length body pillow.


For back sleepers:

  • Choose a medium firmness pillow that lets your head sink in, without going all the way down.

  • The thickness of the pillow depends on your natural curvature. Again, the goal is to keep your head relatively flat. If you have more rounded shoulders, you'd need a thicker pillow to support your head. Try standing up straight in front of a mirror, facing sideways. Looking at your head in relation to your shoulders, the further forward your head, the thicker pillow you'll need.

  • Place a second pillow under your knees to put your spine in better alignment and decrease compression on the joints.

For stomach sleepers:

(note: Dr. Cheryl Abelow of FlexPlus Physical Therapy cautions that this position is the worst position posturally, but if you must sleep on your stomach, follow these tips.)

  • Choose a very thin pillow, or even sleep with no pillow at all. Your neck will already be twisted from sleeping sideways, you don't want to elevate it as well.

  • If you want to sleep literally face down, consider a wedge pillow with a "U" shaped opening for your face. This will gently incline you while allowing you to sleep without obstruction.

  • Put a pillow under your pelvis to better align your spine.

If you or a loved one is in pain, we'd love to help. Call us at FlexPlus Physical Therapy at 508-650-0060 to set up an initial evaluation! Not sure if physical therapy is right for you? Ask us for a free consultation. At FlexPlus Physical Therapy, we're with you every step of the way.


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