Chiropractic Pillows: Pillow Talk Courtesy of Guest Author Dr. George Russell

Thanks to my col­league George Rus­sell, DC for today’s arti­cle.

Pillow Talk

therapeutic pillows

Dr. George Rus­sell answers your ques­tions about your most inti­mate bed­room com­pan­ion: Your Pil­low.

Dear Dr. Rus­sell,

I am a 53-year old sin­gle man who enjoys sip­ping tawny Port while watch­ing Fri­day Night Lights. I also enjoy sleep­ing on my back. Is it the Port, the lim­it­ed range of FNL actors, or sleep­ing on my back that caus­es neck pain, headaches, and lost nights of sleep? Should I get one of those shaped pil­lows that have a lit­tle curve for your neck? 

– Tawny Tim in Texas

Dear Tim,

Fear not-I’m not going to tell you to give up your favorite spir­it or TV series.  The prob­lem is, indeed, your sleep­ing posi­tion. How­ev­er, the chances of find­ing a pil­low with a shaped edge that sup­ports your neck are slim.  There’s no stan­dard neck size, and so most spe­cial neck pil­lows don’t work.  One nice alter­na­tive is a small buck­wheat pil­low.

Buck­wheat pil­lows are nifty because they con­form to your shape and retain that shape.  So you can adjust the pil­low to give your­self the neck sup­port that’s right for you.  Mem­o­ry foam pil­lows do the same thing, but they tend to get hot, espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer.  Mem­o­ry foam pil­lows are also rel­a­tive­ly thin so if you turn to sleep on your side, they may not give enough sup­port.

regular pillow

Reg­u­lar Pil­low


buckwheat pillow

Buck­wheat Pil­low


Dear Dr. Rus­sell,

I love my sis­ter-in-law, but she has like twen­ty-six annoy­ing habits.  Like, you know, about the pil­lows and stuff.  She’s all, “your pil­lows are giv­ing Rod­ney head for­ward pos­ture”, and I’m all “they are not”.  What can I do to stop her con­stant nag­ging?  

– Angry Ann at Union Square

Dear Ann,

Per­haps there is a heav­en, where we won’t use pil­lows, and where we are per­mit­ted to smite sis­ters-in-law with impuni­ty.  But until then, there are good rea­sons to use pil­lows, and there are ways to use them that don’t cre­ate pos­ture prob­lems.

When the chin is high­er than the fore­head, the neck is arched.  This wakes up the ner­vous sys­tem.  When the chin is slight­ly low­er than the fore­head, the neck is in a lit­tle bit of a for­ward bend, which is qui­et­ing to the ner­vous sys­tem.  Since it’s not relax­ing to sleep with a pro­trud­ing chin, it’s bet­ter to sup­port the head than not to.  The truth is that the site of neck mis­align­ment is most often not the source.

Just because you have head-for­ward pos­ture doesn’t mean your head and neck are the prob­lem.  In oth­er words, head-for­ward pos­ture may be the result of align­ment issues in many oth­er parts of the body.  If you and your hus­band want to work on cor­rect­ing head-for­ward pos­ture, you should con­sid­er see­ing your local chi­ro­prac­tor.  I also know of some bed­bug-rid­den hotels with min­i­mal pil­low sup­plies for your sis­ter-in-law the next time she comes to NYC.



This is your Aun­ty Ruby.  Remem­ber when you used to run into my bed­room with that recur­ring night­mare of a fur­ry beach ball with teeth?  Well, then you prob­a­bly remem­ber that I’m a side-sleep­er.  Late­ly my neck is crimped on the low­er side, plus my low­er back is sore.  Now that you’re a big­wig doc­tor in the Big Apple, could you give your old aun­ty some advice?   

– Aunt Ruby

Dear Aunt Ruby:

As a side-sleep­er, you should use pil­lows high and firm enough that your neck is par­al­lel with the bed.  Because I recall your being broad-shoul­dered, you are going to need a pret­ty firm pil­low to get enough sup­port.  A pil­low between the knees will help with low back pain, because it keeps your pelvis and hips neu­tral.  Oh, and I still have a recur­ring night­mare, only now it fea­tures a hairy suit­case with legs.


hey doc-some­times i sleep face-up and some­times i sleep face-down, go fig­ure, I guess I go both ways, ha ha.  some­times my low­er back hurts. any­who, i’m about to buy a new mat­tress.  what kind should I go for? 

– Casu­al Chaz in Chelsea

Dear Chaz:

If you find that your low­er back hurts when you sleep face-up (on your back), stretch your psoas before bed.  (Call your local chi­ro­prac­tor to show you some psoas stretch­es.) You could also tuck a pil­low or two under your knees, thighs or calves to help length­en your low­er back. A firm mat­tress, or a mem­o­ry foam mat­tress, is rec­om­mend­ed for most peo­ple.  I don’t rec­om­mend sleep­ing face down and because in this posi­tion your neck and back are twist­ed, and one knee tends to bend way up, which real­ly screws with the low­er back. If you must sleep face down, tuck a pil­low under the shoul­der you’re turned away from, and lodge a pil­low or two under the side of the pelvis that’s lift­ed.  Final­ly, if you sleep face-down more than you do face-up, that’s the only time when a soft mat­tress will be bet­ter for your back.


Dear Dr. Rus­sell:

Late­ly I’ve liked my body pil­low more than my hus­band.  Should I stop all con­tact with my body pil­low or divorce my hus­band?

– Hold­ing on in Hell’s Kitchen.

Dear Hold­ing:

You must stop com­par­ing your feel­ings for your body pil­low with those for humans. My guess is that you love to sleep on your side and that your hus­band isn’t crazy about hav­ing you cling to him as a Koala bear hugs a tree.  Give your hus­band his space.  Yield to the body pil­low.  Body pil­lows sup­port the top shoul­der and the sacroil­i­ac joints of the low back. There is also a body pil­low made to curve under your head. Enjoy the cozy fire with your hus­band, but after the lovin’, reach for the pil­low with­out guilt.


body pillow

Body Pil­low



About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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