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Choosing the Right Pillow

Choosing the Right Pillow

Choosing the right pillow is important not just for your comfort but also for the health of your muscles and joints. Combined with proper sleeping posture and a good mattress, the right pillow can help you avoid neck pain and injury.

Most people should use a pillow that supports the spine in what is called neutral posture. Not only should the backward C-shape curve of the neck be supported when lying on your back, but the space between the shoulder and head and neck should be supported when lying on your side.

We recommend the “Opti Rest” pillow, manufactured by Anabolic Laboratories, which can be purchased through our office.

When sleeping on your back, your head should lie in the “hole” of the pillow with your neck supported below by the neck roll. From this position, you can roll to the side portions of the pillow to lie on your side. The space between the head, neck and shoulder is supported once again.

It is almost never recommended that our patients sleep on their stomach because neutral posture is unattainable. When sleeping on your stomach, you turn your head to the side to breathe. With this position all night long, the neck and shoulder muscles are strained. Although you may not complain about pain when sleeping this way, you may develop imbalanced neck muscles or cause abnormal changes to your spinal curvature.

There are exceptions to these general pillow recommendations. In cases such as severe neck arthritis, a softer pillow, such as a memory foam pillow, may be a better choice. For most people, memory foam pillows are not recommended because they simply conform to the posture or habit you have, rather than supporting a correct posture. People with heart or respiratory conditions may need different sleeping posture recommendations.

Choosing the right kind of pillow is just as important as choosing the right kind of bed mattress. Both need to be chosen appropriately to support the spine properly. (We recommend the “Sleep Number” bed from Select Comfort. Because its firmness is adjustable, people of different conditions and body types are accomodable. It also does not have as wear issues such as sagging with weakened springs. Because it has two adjustable sides, you and your partner can choose different firmness settings to fit your needs.)

It is also important to remember that even with a good pillow, neck problems may be caused by other means and these problems need to be addressed through treatment or other recommendations. Delay of care may result in chronicity or permanence of the condition or increased pain and injury.


1.) The “Opti Rest” type of pillow is generally recommended to maintain a healthy spine.

2.) Sleeping on your back or side with the “Opti Rest” pillow is good. Sleeping on your stomach is NOT recommended for most people.

3.) There are some people who should not use an “Opti Rest” type of pillow.

4.) Choosing the right kind of pillow is just as important as choosing the right kind of bed mattress.

5.) Neck pain may be resolved by choosing the right kind of pillow, but make sure that you address any other causes as well.

Have any questions about whether a pillow is specifically right for you? Contact us and ask.

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