First of all, a neck pillow is a pillow with built in support for the neck. A couple of names used synonymously with neck pillows are: support pillows or contour pillows. Sometimes the term orthopedic pillow or chiropractic pillow is used as well.
That being said, all Neck Pillows are built to give you support to keep your spine in alignment. Some may be shaped like a regular pillow (rectangle), some are square, or perhaps oddly shaped if you will. The shape or design of the pillow shouldn’t make a huge difference; it may be more of a personal preference. All neck pillows should have some kind of neck support, meaning they will hold your spine in a neutral position. It should allow for a curvature in the neck when back sleeping and keep your spine straight when on your side.
They may often have different designs too. Maybe a wave-like design, or it can have a pocket where your head sits. Material is also another variable. I’ve seen, experimented with, and have reviewed pillows of all different materials. Fiber filled pillows, water based pillows, foam pillows, buckwheat pillows, etc… I tend to like fiber filled pillows that are standard firmness, not too hard and not too soft. This allows for good support and a comfortable night’s sleep. Also, synthetic fibers are often hypoallergenic and don’t hold dust mites like a feather pillow may. I tend to find memory foam to be slightly too hard for many, and I don’t want to play around and have to adjust my pillow like you sometimes have to with a water based pillow. But again, you may need to try some different options to see what you like best.
Before choosing your neck pillow you often want to research what that particular pillow helps with the most. Some can be designed more for relieving specific conditions like headaches or snoring, some may be more for muscle tension relief, some may help with all of the above. A good pillow will describe what it’s best for and how to use it effectively.
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Next, you should consider your typical sleeping position. Are you predominately a back sleeper, or a side sleeper? The best neck pillows hold the proper neck curvature while on your back and keep your spine level while on your side. This is why your doctor- Orthopedist or chiropractor often recommends neck pillows to patients and hence the term chiropractic pillow or orthopedic pillow was born.
Now, if you have seen your doctor, he may have shown you x-rays of your neck. This can also help you choose your neck pillow. If you have discovered there is loss of your normal cervical lordosis, in other words the normal “C” curve, you definitely want to improve that and get a pillow which will help improve alignment. When on your back the neck pillow should support and improve the curvature. While side sleeping your pillow should keep your spine straight, or in other words, keep the spine level.
You should also consider your size and body frame when buying the best neck pillow for yourself. If you are smaller or taller than average a standard neck pillow may not be right for you. The reason is that your neck may not fit the pillow adequately causing you to either not get the best support or even forcing your neck into incorrect posture. If you are too small for a standard size pillow or have a very short neck the cervical roll may push your head forward. This simply causes head flexion and may straighten your curvature when sleeping on your back versus putting the smooth curvature into the neck.
One last important note- I find that some people choose a pillow because it looks good on the bed and matches the bed size. I recommend that the pillow you sleep with fits your neck first, the bed second. An example of this is a person with a king size bed wanting a large neck pillow. If you are average, medium height you will most likely want to choose a neck pillow that’s standard, medium size.