Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pillow Talk

One of my favourite memories involves an Austrian bed and a good .... pillow.  Isn't sleeping fabulous!  When I am about to sleep the last thing I want to be concerned with is comfort but unfortunately for many people a lack of pillow comfort literally keeps them up at night. 

Environmental balance is a key to health and the pillow you chose to sleep on is a major factor in how well your neck performs and how long it lasts.  In my life I have tried many pillows and there are a few key factors to remember in your search for pillows. 

I remember when I was little I probably had the thinest pillow available and luckily, for my neck that is, I am a back sleeper.  Sleeping position is another topic altogether, but a hint I will tell you is that sleeping on your stomach is a little bit like biting a bottle cap off with your teeth.  When it cracks or doesn't feel great, don't be surprised. 

Regarding pillows I would like to address three things: Spinal Health, Pillows and Pain.  How can you minimize your pain by choosing the right pillow so that you can optimize your spinal health?

The first thing we need to understand is that back pain is the most common condition managed in primary care and is one of the most common causes of disability in Western society. (BMJ 2008;337:a884), (Waddell G, Aylward M, Sawney P. Back pain, incapacity for work and social security benefits: an international literature review and analysis. London: Royal Society of Medicine Press, 2002), (Andersson G. Epidemiological features of chronic low-back pain. Lancet1999;354:581-5.)

Anything we can do to fight back pain is good not only for our health and economy, but it just makes life feel a little sweeter not to hurt.

In April 2009 a Consumer Reports survey found that about 80 percent of the adults surveyed had been bothered by back pain at some point.  More than half of those that were experiencing back pain but had never had surgery said that the pain severely limited their daily routine for a week or longer, while 88 percent said it recurred throughout the year. Lower-back pain disrupts many aspects of life; in the survey 46 percent said that it interfered with their sleep, 31 percent reported that it thwarted their efforts to maintain a healthy weight, and 24 percent said that it hampered their sex life.

One key to spinal health is sleep. Your sleep environment typically involves at least 3 things: a bed, some covers and a pillow.

Today the topic is pillows and if you are confused about pillows you aren’t alone. The right pillow won’t necessarily solve all of your sleep problems but choosing the right pillow can make your night and the next day a lot more comfortable.

In my office many people tell me about pain that began at some time during their sleep. While there are many reasons why this pain may begin, having the right pillow is a good first step toward a restful and comfortable sleep.

There are many options in the pillow world but we are going to choose 3 pillows today to focus on…. foam pillows, down pillows and water pillows. You may have heard of and found a friend in a plastic, gel or buckwheat pillow but by addressing foam, down and water pillows we hope you will gain an understanding of the critical factors that are needed to create a good pillow experience.

Foam pillows are your typical pillow. They are available in most stores that carry pillows and create a soft support that lifts your head off of the bed to allow room for your shoulders (if you are on your side) and room for your airway if you are on your back. These are found in many different styles of foam from basic foam to moldable foam. They are great for those without problems but the challenge with them is creating a truly customized fit.

Down pillows seem to be the cat-nip of the pillow world. They are what many people love but their necks hate. Down is fluffy and soft but doesn’t hold its shape and therefore quickly loses the support necessary for your shoulders and airway. This lack of support can create a strain on the neck that many people unknowingly suffer from, making them more susceptible to injury.

Water pillows are a pillow that marry water and foam to allow the support necessary for the shoulder and airway but also the adjustability required for the different body types we all have.

Rules for Pillows:

1. Adjustability – your pillow should be able to be modified over time to make a comfortable, custom fit.

2. Support – if you are a side sleeper you will need more support and therefore a thicker pillow than if you are a back sleeper.

3. Natural position – your pillow should create a situation where your head is still in proper balance with your body. You shouldn’t be reaching for your pillow and your pillow should also not be pushing you away.

4. Persistent pain needs professional help. Don’t throw your money away on a pillow collection, if you are having challenges get some assistance from a spinal care professional that you trust.

Remember if you have been through a number of pillows in your life and can’t find one that is comfortable it probably isn’t the pillow. The old, “it’s not you it’s me” concept works well here.

Don’t throw your money away, if you have tried more than 3 pillows in the last year and are still not comfortable, consult a professional. In our office 90% of people with neck pain report a significant improvement after just a handful of visits. Get an appropriate pillow by following our simple rules but if that doesn’t work chose a professional that you trust to help guide you.

Pillows that I recommend can be found at:

Chiroflow Water Pillow
The Perfect Pillow Co (buckwheat)