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An orthopaedic pillow is a pillow designed to correct body positioning in bed or while lying on any other surface. Its design conforms to orthopaedic guidelines to ensure the right placement and support of one or more specific parts of the body to provide safe and healthy rest to the sleeper.
Pillows have been traditionally made of foam and fiber, but other types now exist, such as pillows made of memory foam, a heat sensitive material that can acquire the shape of the body lying upon it. It may or may not recover its original shape immediately when the body is removed from the pillow.
Orthopaedic pillows are regarded as therapeutic pillows based on claims that they can help relieve various conditions including sleep apnoea, snoring, insomnia, breathing difficulty, blood circulation problems, acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease, lower back pain, sciatica pain, neck pain, whiplash, rotator cuff injury, amongst others.
There are many types of orthopaedic pillows for almost every part of the human body, as well as orthopaedic beds, mattresses, top mattresses, supports and cushions for different orthopaedic problems. Some of them have multi-purpose and multi-position designs for different physical ailments and sleep disorders.
Types of orthopedic pillows
- Cervical pillow or contour pillow: A sleep pillow with a curved design that adapts to head, neck and shoulder contour for back sleepers and side sleepers. May relieve neck pain, frozen shoulder, stiff neck and headaches, and may help breathing to reduce snoring and sleep apnoea symptoms.
- Neck pillow or travel pillow: Pillow shaped like a horseshoe to fit around the neck, mostly used by travelers to keep their necks straight while sleeping sitting up on board planes or other vehicles.
- Wedge pillow: triangle-shaped pillow that gives a slope for placing the body in a diagonal position. It can be used in an upright or downright position. This pillow is multipurpose; however they are mainly used to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) during sleep.
- Lumbar pillow: Half-moon shaped pillow used at the lower back to comfort and relief lumbar pain and keep a correct sitting-down position. Likewise, they are used underneath knees for leg elevation and as a neck support for relax and massage.
- Knee pillow: Also known as contour leg pillow. Hourglass shaped pillow that when placed between the legs allows the lower body to keep a straight side-sleeping position. Some leg wedge pillows can be unfolded and turned into leg spacers to boost blood circulation in the legs.
- Body pillow: Long curved pillow for total body support that cradles head, neck, shoulders, back, lower back, legs and knees. Replaces other pillows and supports side sleepers.
- Buckwheat pillow: A bed pillow filled with buckwheat hulls. Buckwheat pillows have a moldable shape, so they can be adjusted to the shape of the head, neck and shoulders.
- Spinal support pillow: Orthopaedic back pillow used for cervical support while sleeping.
Orthopedic pillows and sleep positions
The most common sleep positions people adopt in bed are:
The most common of the three. According to the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service two out of three people sleep on their sides. This position is considered the most suitable because it reduces the incidences of snoring, sleep apnoea and obstructive sleep apnoea, it helps release breathing airways and it is the most helpful position for pregnant women to reduce the pressure of their wombs. It is twice as common in women as in men.
The inconvenience of this position is that most of the body’s pressure relies over arms and shoulders which produce neck stiffness and frozen shoulder. This can be solved with a side sleeper pillow that allows the correct placement of neck, arms and shoulders.
Unlike side sleeping, this position may favour episodes of snoring and sinusitis, as well as back pain. This position requires a soft but firm support for three critical curves of the body: Behind the neck, in the middle of the back and lower back. For this, an orthopedic pillow with neck contour and a wedge under knees can allow the back sleeper to lie with safety and comfort.
More common in infants and small children than in adults, this sleep position is considered harmful for the neck (neck strain, neck pain and stiffness) and responsible of the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies as small children, according to a study[when?] by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.