Water-Based Pillow May Reduce Neck Pain

February 06, 1997

Like water beds designed to better support the whole body, a water-based pillow may help people with chronic neck pain to sleep better and lessen their discomfort, a Johns Hopkins study shows.

In the five-week study, 41 people with benign neck pain slept with their usual down or foam pillow for one week, a roll pillow for two weeks and a water-based pillow (Mediflow? Waterbase pillow +) for two weeks.

Results, published in the February issue of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, show the water-based pillow significantly improved quality of sleep and modestly reduced morning pain intensity and overall pain compared with the other pillow types. It did not significantly affect evening pain intensity, duration of sleep or the underlying medical problem. Twenty-two participants were satisfied with the water-based pillow, while seven were satisfied with the roll pillow and four with the standard pillow.

"Studies have found that 35 percent to 80 percent of the population suffer from benign cervical pain at some point in their lives," says Robert A. Lavin, M.D., lead author and an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. "Overall, the water-based pillow showed a significant advantage over the standard and roll pillows, so selecting the proper pillow may be a simple and effective way to relieve some of that pain and improve quality of life."

The water-based pillow may lessen neck pain and associated headaches and improve sleep and stress-coping skills by better supporting neck muscles and structures damaged by injury or disease, says Lavin. The improved support may result from the pillow reducing head movement during sleep, conforming to changing positions of the head and neck, and absorbing and redistributing the weight of the head and neck, he adds. The water-based pillow contains a pouch of water, adjustable for firmness, on the bottom under four inches of soft polyester fiber, and should be used on a flat bed.

The study participants included 20 men and 21 women, age 26 to 76, who had intermittent or constant neck pain from one month to 25 years, with 78 percent reporting pain for at least one year. Many had sought medical care, chiropractic treatment or physical therapy and were taking medication because the pain interfered with their normal sleep, activities or work.

The incidence of benign neck pain increases with age and is reported more frequently by women. It may radiate into the arms and often is accompanied by morning headaches. Cervical pain may be caused by muscle trauma or disease in the discs and joints. It can be worsened by emotional stress, sleep problems, physical activity and cold.

Other authors of the study, which was supported by an unrestricted grant from Mediflow, Inc., makers of the Mediflow? Waterbase pillow +, included Marco Pappagallo, M.D. and Keith V. Kuhlemeier, Ph.D.

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Johns Hopkins Medicine

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