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  • James Park, PT, DPT

Do You Wake Up With Neck and Back Pain or Stiffness?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

A common question that we hear from people who wake up with these issues at their neck and back is "what is the best mattress and pillow to sleep on to avoid feeling like this?" While these may not be the main source of their symptoms, they can be contributing factors. With the massive influx of different types of materials and styles of mattresses and pillows, you can find yourself being very confused as to which is the best for you. Ultimately, it is a matter of personal preference but here are some guidelines to follow:

1) Stay away from mattresses that have a sewn-in topper - Among the variety of mattress styles, there are a number of mattress that have integrated cushioned tops, such as "Euro Top" or "Pillow Top." These may appear to be extremely comfortable at first, but tend to wear out and flatten out faster than the lifespan of the mattress. What results is an uncomfortable layer that you're stuck with until you change mattress.

2) Be wary of memory foam-type mattresses - This has become an increasingly popular option given the lower cost and "improved" support for the body. The biggest issue that continues to plague these types of mattresses are the heat retention and temperature sensitivity of the material. Typically, memory foam will be more supportive when temperatures are cool, however the material heats up from your body heat, it becomes more pliable and soft. There are newer materials with gel integration to help with heat dissipation, but that performance varies greatly across manufacturers.

3) Don't use side-sleeper pillows - Many people enjoy sleeping on their side, and using a pillow designed for side-sleepers would seem logical. However, these pillows tend to be extremely thick and firm, often causing the neck to be side-bent away from the mattress. The height of the pillow should take up the space between your ear and shoulder with the weight of your head and should not compress so much (commonly in down and feather pillows) where your neck actually side-bends towards the mattress.

4) Avoid sleeping on your stomach - There are some people who can't escape sleeping on their stomach, but this position typically creates nagging aches and pains at the neck, back and shoulders. The head is held in a fully rotated position towards one side which often becomes very uncomfortable and painful when maintained for an extended period of time.

If you find yourself making these changes but continuing to experience neck and back stiffness, then there is a different source of your symptoms. A common reason is that your body is not moving well or the way that you are moving is causing strain on your neck and back. To better understand where the true source of your neck and back pain is, you need to see someone who understands you and your body's movement, understands pain and injuries, and how to recover from them. If this is you, then start with a free phone call to talk with a physical therapist to answer your questions. Click here to schedule your free phone call!

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