Your Pillow and Your Spine

Do you have mysterious neck or low back pain? 

So much of what we do when we start an exercise program  is simply UN-doing the unnatural shapes and tensions our bodies need to adapt to in order to fit into our “modern”  and “more comfortable” lives.

The body is so amazingly engineered and designed for movement.

Yet sometimes the things that are supposed to be “helpful” and “comfortable” are actually causing pain in the long run.

Everyone talks about “tech neck”, since we are all looking at our phones so much now. And of course this creates many problems for the spine.  But even before smartphones there were some other well meaning products out there that were contributing to this problem.

Take for instance, pillows.

I love fluffy, cozy pillows. But if your bedtime pillow is not the right thickness, you can be creating problems for your neck depending on how you sleep.

I realized this when after a neck injury a few years ago I found it painful to sleep on my back with a pillow. The small amount of flexion in my neck from the pillow was very uncomfortable.   The pillow I had was too thick, and actually was making my pain worse. That was when I decided to ditch my pillow and sleep flat on my back with no pillow (however do like a bolster under my knees: more about that in a second….)

But this is a very personal preference. I don’t mean to say all pillows are bad, because in some cases, some sort of support under your head is actually needed.

The point of having a pillow is to support your neck in order to maintain the length of your spine.

That is why sometimes we use thin pillows or folded towels during Pilates. I like to use a folded towel under the head because you can fold it to whatever thickness you want to keep the neck long and as parallel to the floor (or bed or massage table) as possible.

People with a tight neck, kyphosis (rounded upper back/forward head posture) may need a thicker support under the head for sleeping.

The key is to find the right thickness for your neck and shoulders.

If you have low back pain you may also benefit from putting a bolster or pillow under the knees, because this allows the spine to release and lengthen.  Remember your spine restores itself when you are sleeping, so this is important! When I began doing this I felt such a difference in my spine in the morning.  No aches or stiffness at all.

If you are a side sleeper, your neck would be best supported by a pillow that fills the space between your head and the mattress without much side-bending of the neck.

**Another spine hack for side sleepers:  put  a pillow or folded bath towel between your knees.  This keeps the pelvis level and aligned and keeps your spine feeling great when you wake up! **

I hope this helps you to think about your pillow situation and how you can improve it to keep your spine healthy.  You only get one spine!

Be well,


The Basic Intro to Pilates and ELDOA

A quick and easy to access video bundle of 3 short workouts that includes the fundamental basics of Pilates and ELDOA.


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Hi, I’m Danielle O’Connell

Pilates Teacher, ELDOA Trainer and Health Coach.

I’m here to help integrate body, mind and soul through Pilates practice while helping instructors & students get better results in their daily practice. 

I truly believe that healthy movement is an important part of both physical and mental wellness, and that Pilates and ELDOA work amazingly well to help you achieve freedom in your body and a sense of wellbeing.

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Intro to Pilates and ELDOA

The Basic Intro to Pilates and ELDOA is a workout bundle for anyone who wants a short go-to guided set of exercises to restore the spine, strengthen the core and mobilize and stretch the muscles and joints safely.
A quick, easy to access video bundle of 3 short workouts that includes the fundamental basics of Pilates and ELDOA. You can do them safely at home and on-the-go any time you need.

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