Neck and Shoulder

The Therapeutic Neck Pillow

Did you ever consider that the pillow that you sleep with at night is actually therapy?   Well it is, and if you consider that the average human being sleeps about 26 years in their lifetime it is probably a good idea to pay attention to the pillow you use at night to get a good night’s rest.

Not to mention that the next day begins the night before.  Have you ever had a bad night’s rest?  How did your next day go?  You see why I say your day begins the night before?

I recognized these simple ideas and researched for the therapeutic neck pillow that made the most sense.  There is more to a pillow than you think, especially when you want to alleviate neck pain.


When it comes to your neck, it would take a minimum of 3 fixed shape pillows to actually support your head properly while sleeping.

A pillow that is “scalloped” and thin would be best when lying on your back.  This type of pillow gently “cups” the back of your head (called the occiput).

A pillow shaped in a cube would be best for lying on your side.  You want to “fill in” the space between your ear and the tip of your shoulder so your head does not “flop over” sideways.

Sleeping on your stomach (not recommended by most sleep experts) requires a long pillow that lifts one shoulder off the bed 45 degrees or so.  In this way you neck is not rotated 90 degrees (a position that your cervical spine, cervical spinal cord, trachea, and neck blood vessels find unfavorable).

The average human head weighs about 16 pounds and is balanced on your neck (like a bowling ball balanced on a cue stick) . Even lying down your head requires support from your neck.  Experimental studies have shown that neck muscles are still contracting when lying down.  This means it is hard to rest the neck even while sleeping.

Even if you used 3 differently shaped pillows to support your neck in the various sleeping positions, who is going to interchange them for you?  Is a person really going to wake up and change their pillow every time they change positions?  I think not.

So what we ideally need is a pillow that will satisfy the need to support our head in 3 different positions and doesn’t require us to wake up to do it. Let’s start with the pillows I don’t recommend.  Consider the “complicated” pillow…



Some manufacturers try to do too much in one pillow.  I saw a pillow not long ago that vibrated, could heat, could cool, could massage, and had different indentations for the different positions.  It just tried to do too much.  I try to keep things simple.

A pillow that tries to be too many things is probably not good for anything.  I would avoid this type of pillow for your neck.


There are plenty of beautiful supportive foam scalloped pillows on the market.  They are great if you are a back sleeper exclusively.  Most people change their position throughout the night…it’s a pressure reflex.

This type of pillow offers little support for sleeping on your side and abdomen.  You may wake up with a neck ache if you were sleeping on your side for any prolonged period during the night (you may not have even been aware of it).



Not long ago my wife and I stayed at an exclusive hotel in Philadelphia.  When we arrived in our luxury suite I was very disappointed with the pillows on the bed.  They were these huge, voluminous, feather pillows.

Those types of pillows are actually terrible for your neck. Your head and neck are put into an extreme flexion (bent forward) which can compromise the airway of a person with obstructive sleep apnea.  If you snore loudly you could have sleep apnea and not know it.

I remember telling my wife that this expensive room we have rented is less comfortable than our own therapeutic pillows and bed at home.  Since we live in Philadelphia, I suggested we go home…she refused to leave (I even had to pay extra for my night time dose of Grand Marnier).



Remember the ”water bed” craze of several decades ago (those were really terrible for your back by the way)? Well, there is a pillow equivalent.  The problem is that water does not keep its shape.  It cushions but does not support well.

That type of pillow also is “bouncy.”  It is like a car without shock absorbers…your head and neck tend to bounce up and down with movement during sleep.  This may result in a lack of rest for your neck muscles and activates your vestibular apparatus of your inner ear (that is what happens when you get “sea sick”).  You could wake up worse after a night with one of these types of pillows.



The therapeutic neck pillow should be one that is 3 pillows in one.  Also it should have a filling that is deformable but holds its form so it can be supportive.  There are any number of fillings that do this (buck wheat, foam pieces, etc.).

The proper pillow will be therapy for a person with a herniated disc in their neck, degenerative joint disease of their cervical spine, a strained neck muscle, etc. The type of sleep that occurs with the correct therapeutic pillow (what is called REM sleep…rapid eye movement sleep) is the most restful of all stages of sleep.


Who would have thought that something as simple as the pillow we sleep with could have such a profound effect on our neck health and our sleep pattern? Now you know the principles behind the therapeutic neck pillow. If you are experiencing chronic neck pain, simply by changing your pillow you may eliminate your neck pain.

I would also like to hear from you. Please leave comment.

Wishing you joy and healing.

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