Most of us have suffered from neck pain at some point in our lives. From a cricked neck or pinched nerve that gives us a few days of niggling discomfort to a more serious injury which results in months or even years of trouble, neck pain can be, well, a real pain in the neck.
Whether you’re suffering from neck pain now or simply want to do what you can to prevent injury in the future, here are our five top tips to help you support your delicate neck.
Five ways to support your neck
One of the things we see time and time again, when carrying our research and speaking to customers is the damage that the wrong sleeping position can do to your neck. So knowing that sleep might just be the source of that crick in the neck that’s been giving you gip, here are our top five tips for keeping your neck lithe and healthy, free from knots and safe from torticollis which, now we’ve read about it, we’re a little bit afraid of.
1: Choose a mattress for spinal support
Slumberland Natural Solutions 2000 Mattress
Do you put off buying a new mattress until the very last minute? We know mattresses are underappreciated sometimes especially when you feel like you’ve been sleeping just fine on your current one. But did you know that according to the Sleep Foundation, your mattress needs replacing every six to eight years [i]? And that’s not all, there are plenty of other signs that your mattress could need replacing :
- It’s sagging or damaged
- It’s noisy. Mattresses with springs can start squeaking with age
- You’re waking up with stiff or sore muscles (hello again neck pain!)
- You’re not sleeping well – your mattress may be the problem if you find you miraculously get a great night’s sleep at a hotel or friend’s house
- Your asthma or allergies begin playing up unexpectedly
And of course, how long your mattress lasts can depend on a number of things, from what it’s made from, to how well you maintain it .
We believe choosing the right mattress can make a difference when it comes to back and neck pain . A review of 24 sleep studies points to a medium-firm mattress as the best choice for good spinal alignment [ii]. Meanwhile, providing reliable pressure relief, memory foam and latex mattresses can be a good bet for protecting that spine [iii].
Remember though that the mattress that’s right for one person may not provide the correct level of support for another. That’s just one of the reasons that at Bensons for Beds we encourage you to try out our sleepPRO system . sleepPRO uses ground-breaking technology to help you find the perfect mattress. And with our minimum five year guarantee on every mattress, you’ve got peace of mind that your investment is covered if something goes wrong.
2: Pick a pillow that supports your neck
When you last bought a pillow how much research did you do? Go on, we won’t judge…
We’re willing to bet that the answer is very little. You probably gave said pillow a bit of a squeeze through the packet, said to yourself ‘that’ll do’ and lobbed it in the trolley. Sounds about right? We thought so.
Most of us don’t realise just how important the right pillow can be, especially for neck health. Those few little vertebrae are keeping a whopping 11lb of head weight in position all day and, without the right pillow, all night too. That job can take its toll on your poor old neck.
A pillow might cause neck pain because it’s too flat. This can happen over time – experts recommend replacing your pillow every one to two years [iv]. Equally, propping your head up on a plush stack of overstuffed pillows can cause problems too. When sleeping, your spine would dearly love to be in a ‘neutral’ position. And that doesn’t mean perfectly straight. Neutral spine alignment includes:
- a slight forward (kyphotic) curve at the shoulders
- a smidgen of a backwards (lordotic) curve in the lower back
- another lordotic curve in the neck
When your head is raised too high on a pillow, this doesn’t necessarily accommodate that small backwards curve it needs for neutral. And that, our dear aching friends, could be why you’re waking with that unexplained (until now) neck strain.
The best pillow for neck pain and headaches (these often go hand in hand) is one that assures neutral alignment in the neck. Many people swear by the support and pressure relief offered by a latex or memory foam pillow.
If pain is a serious, ongoing issue you should seek medical advice. However, investing in a pillow for neck and shoulder pain could also prove worthwhile. An orthopaedic neck pillow is usually made of latex or foam, shaped to gently guide your spine into that all important neutral position. Neck pain pillows do tend to be a little on the pricier side so do your research before you buy and choose the one that offers support for your own sleeping position. Which brings us to…
3: Adjust your sleeping position
The position you sleep in can have a real effect on the quality of sleep you get and the health of your neck [v]. We know it’s a tough habit to change. You’ve probably been assuming the same old position every night since childhood. However, it’s possible that you’re doing more harm than good, no matter how comfy you think you are.
Sleeping on your front
Few of us sleep on our stomachs, however those that do could be causing untold problems for their poor, put upon bods. Not only can front sleeping put pressure on your lower back, sleeping with your head turned to one side may also lead to neck pain.
Sleeping on your back
Back sleeping can help the spine to maintain that all important alignment it needs to keep pain at bay. However, back sleepers will often choose a pillow that raises their head too high in an attempt to combat the snoring, or even sleep apnoea, that’s common among those who are most comfortable in this position. A slimmer or specially shaped orthopaedic pillow can aid a good night’s sleep without morning pain.
Sleeping on your side
Go and check your pillow. That’s right, we’re giving you permission for a quick lie down. Is your head comfortably centred or is one ear leaning into a shoulder? If it’s the latter it could be time for a new pillow.
The best pillow for side sleepers is plumper than those recommended for back or front sleepers, with a 4-6” loft [vi]. This helps to keep a side sleeper’s neck in line with the rest of their body. A pillow like the iGel Side Sleeper Deep Pillow is ideal, providing support in order to reduce pressure and strain on the neck.
4: Work for reduced neck pain
It’s not just sleeping all wrong that’s causing problems. Your job could be causing problems for your neck too, especially if you use a computer for long hours. Unfortunately for most of us our natural inclination when we work at a computer, no matter how good our whizzy ergonomic chair, is to hunch forwards. This puts pressure on your spine and, in particular, your neck.
It’s not always easy to change your habits, especially when you’ve got a deadline to meet but here are a few simple changes that could help:
- Raise (or lower) your computer screen so that your eyes rest on the top third of the screen
- Raise (or lower) your chair so that feet sit flat on the floor
- Move your notebook. Repeatedly turning the head to one side can cause strain. Something as simple as repositioning a notebook or screen that you regularly turn to look at could even things out
- Set an alarm to remind you to regularly get up and move around. When sitting back down, recheck your posture
- Ask for support. If you’re an employee your workplace is responsible for your health and safety and should supply the equipment and training you need to maintain a healthy posture [vii]
5: Take care of your neck through exercise
Don’t click away just yet! We’re not suggesting a five mile jog or a thrice weekly boxercise. Exercises to help you maintain flexibility in your back, neck and shoulders can be as simple as stretching while you watch TV. The following are accessible for almost everyone, no matter your age or fitness level:
Sitting up tall with shoulders down, simply turn your head to the left as far as you can without discomfort. Hold for five seconds. Return to the centre and repeat, turning to the right this time. Repeat three times per side.
A good stretch
Still sitting upright, hold your left shoulder with your right hand. Tilt your head to the right while looking straight ahead and holding your left shoulder down. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. Three times per side.
Do look down
This time, bend your head forward to look at your belly button until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Return to the centre and repeat three times.
Whether you choose a class, tune into a YouTube video or download an app, yoga can offer targeted exercise for neck and spinal pain. The gentle full body workout that yoga provides may also improve your overall flexibility and fitness levels, making it easier to recover from strains and pains.
[ii] Effect of different mattress designs on promoting sleep quality, pain reduction, and spinal alignment in adults with or without back pain; systematic review of controlled trials - PubMed (nih.gov)