position your pillows to reduce pain

A Variety of Ways to Position Your Pillows to Reduce Pain

by Sarah Clough16 Comments

Patients often report difficulty sleeping as a result of having pain when they lay down in bed. In response, therapists will commonly ask the patient what position they sleep in, how they position their pillow(s), and how many pillows they like to use.  Pillow positioning is a strategy that can be different for each individual.  Below are a few of the many examples of ways to position your pillows to reduce and prevent pain and improve your body alignment for a better night’s sleep!

 Pillow with a Towel Rolled Up at the Base:

Take a large beach towel, roll it up and place it in the base of your pillow.  The roll will provide a great place to rest the groove of your neck, keeping your spine in alignment.  This roll will work if you are lying on your back or if you lay on your side and often works very well for people with neck pain.

Avoid this chin to chest position

Avoid this chin to chest position.

Place rolled up towel at base of pillow

Place rolled up towel at base of pillow.

Place curve of your neck over towel roll.

Place curve of your neck over towel roll.

 

 

 

 

 

Pillows Positioned the Long Way:

Pillows Positioned The Long WaySometimes placing pillows the long way helps keep the body in a less painful position. This is a good way to be slightly propped up for those who may have respiratory issues.  Place the pillows all the way down under your shoulder blades and not just under your neck.

Pillows placed long ways with pillows under head, neck and shoulder blades.

Body Pillow for Sleeping Semi-Prone:

Body Pillow For Sleeping Semi-ProneBody pillows or lining up a row of pillows to hug is a great solution for many types of pain.  If you cannot lay directly on a shoulder, but you like to sleep on your side this may be a good strategy.  This strategy also works well for those who like to lay on their stomach, but cannot at the current time.  Place the body pillow next to you.  Roll over on top of it, but only half of the way, while draping your top leg and arm up over the top.

Pillow Placed Between the Knees:

Pillow Placed Between The KneesIf you are a side sleeper, a pillow placed between your knees is recommended.  When laying on your side, a downward slant naturally occurs from the side of the hip down to the knee.  This places stress through your hips, often resulting in pain.  Placing a pillow between the knees helps prevent the downward pull on the hip, lining the knee and ankle with the hip.  Positioning the pillow this way is also important after hip or knee surgery.  If you have to lay on one side versus the other, and are concerned you may roll over, place pillows behind you in this position.  When you try to roll over, the pillows will stop you and remind you to stay on that one side.

Pillows Placed Under the Knees:

Pillows Placed Under The KneesSome people who have back pain feel best laying on their stomach, some on their stomach with one leg bent up to the side, and some people feel best on their back with the legs elevated.  Placing pillows the long way under your knees and ankles can offload the spine, when laying on your back, providing good pain relief.  This is also a good position for those who are told they have to sleep on their back after a variety of surgeries.

Pillow Under the Arm/Shoulder:

Pillow Under The Arm/ShoulderAfter shoulder surgery, laying in bed can be difficult.  Laying on your back without pillow support allows the arm to fall backwards onto the bed, often an uncomfortable position.  Placing a pillow under your arm or behind your arm to support the shoulder may help quite a bit.

Creativity with your pillows can go a long way to help prevent and reduce pain of many parts of the body.  If you are having pain while in bed, ask your therapist what sleeping and pillow positions are best for you.  Post your favorite pillow position and share other creative ideas below!

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16 Comments

  1. Raksha Pathak

    Thanks for the great instructions with pictures. I have a left shoulder hemiplasty & have a difficult time sleeping. I have tried the pillow under arm position since my therapist at Athletico showed it to me a year ago. It has really helped & this is a great reminder.

  2. Dan

    I recently had a concussion and now find that I have head pain when sleeping. Sometimes it is in the rear of the head and sometimes on the side. Is there a good pillow position for me. I have been to a neurologist and have an MRI this Tuesday. Otherwise, I get tired quickly and too much stimulation (TV, etc) bothers my head.

  3. Sarah Clough

    Hi Dan!

    I reached out to a couple of our vestibular/concussion specialists for this question and this is what they suggest:

    As to the pillow position question, I would say whatever is most comfortable. Although laying on your side may take more pressure off the neck muscles, which may help.

    If the concussion is semi-recent (within the last 2 weeks or so), the “getting tired quickly” and the stimulation creating headaches is a normal response for a concussion. If you have trouble falling asleep, some people have found it helpful to take melatonin.

    Visually stimulating activities such as TV, reading, computer work, should be limited based on symptoms. They can be done up until about symptoms start to increase, but then they should be ceased, and allow the body to recover.

    If the concussion was 3+ weeks ago, there may be some residual problems. If this is the case, please reach out to us for a name of a good vestibular/concussion specialist near you.

    Thanks!

  4. Joyce Schill

    I have used pretty much all of these positions. My right hip causes me much pain to lay on. I recently discovered the pillow behind me allows me to lean back just enough to take the pressure off my hip to allow me to sleep on that side. Thanks.

  5. Annie lyons

    Have had 2 minor concussions in past 3 months have problem sleeping comfortably wake up with neck problem vad deans if brain gets overstimulated with stress tv etc get anxiety please give me names of vestibular concussion therapist in San Diego also what would be best position for be to sleep thanx

  6. Laura @ Sleep Products

    Reading this post, I realize that I’ve had a wrong pillow positioning for a long time. Thanks for your instructions.

  7. Teresa Byrne

    Hi,
    I started sleeping propped up because of acid reflux. I have mostly reduced the acid issues, by diet, natural remedies, etc but I have gotten used to sleeping on my back and I also find that it reduces my tossing and turning. The problem is that I wake up with a stiff neck. I will try the rolled towel but I was thinking of getting a wedge pillow. Do you have any insight into wedge pillows? thanks

  8. Rebekah sanchez

    Hi I got a concussion 2 weeks ago exactly. I hit the back of my head extremly hard which is the occipital lobe. This unfortunitly is the second time as well. This has been my hardest recovery, one of my only issues now is sleeping on my head. I take melatonin but I wake up everyday from my head and steck in PAIN. It hurts and feels crampy sleeping on my sides so I resort to sleeping on my stomach and will wake up switching my my head from left to right. Feels like im hurting my brain more when I lay with the back of my head on the bed or pillow.

  9. Thelma Duggan

    I had a hip replacement 3 weeks ago & found sleeping on the sofa – with lots of pillows plus arm – easier than my bed. However, since finding your info re pillows, last night was the 1st time I was able to sleep all through without back pain! Thank You x

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