eMedinewS Editorial

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Preventing neck pains

Prevention is worth a pound of cure. One cannot control age–related wear and tear, but one can work at minimizing the risk. One place to start is to look at how one sleeps.

Two sleeping positions are easiest on the neck: on the side or on the back. If you sleep on your back, choose a rounded pillow to support the natural curve of your neck, with a flatter pillow cushioning your head. This can be achieved by tucking a small neck roll into the pillowcase of a flatter, softer pillow, or by using a special pillow that has a built–in neck support with an indentation for the head to rest in. Here are some more tips for side–and back–sleepers:

  1. Try using a feather pillow, which easily conforms to the shape of the neck. But feather pillows collapse over time and so should be replaced every year or so.
  2. Another option is a traditionally shaped pillow with “memory foam” that conforms to the contour of your head and neck. Some cervical pillows are also made with memory foam. Manufacturers of memory–foam pillows claim they help foster proper spinal alignment.
  3. Avoid using too high or stiff pillows. These keep the neck flexed overnight and can result in morning pain and stiffness.
  4. If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.
  5. When you are riding in a plane, train, or car, or even just reclining to watch TV, a horseshoe–shaped pillow can support your neck and prevent your head from dropping to one side if you doze. If the pillow is too large behind the neck, however, it will force your head forward.

Sleeping on your stomach is tough on your spine, because the back is arched and your neck is turned to the side. Preferred sleeping positions are often set early in life and can be tough to change. We don’t often wake up in the same position in which we fell asleep. It’s worth trying to start sleeping on your back or side.

Beyond sleep position

Not just sleep position, but sleep itself, can play a role in musculoskeletal pain, including neck and shoulder pain. In a study in 2008, researchers compared musculoskeletal pain in more than 4000 healthy men and women, with and without sleeping problems. Sleeping problems included difficulty falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking early in the mornings, and non–restorative sleep. They found that people who reported moderate to severe problems in at least three of these four categories were significantly more likely to develop chronic musculoskeletal pain after one year than those who reported little or no problem with sleep. Sleep disturbances disrupt the muscle relaxation and healing that normally occur during sleep. (Source Harvard Newslwetter)

Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee and Chief Editor