Cervical disc herniation: How high or low should your pillow be?

Our modern lifestyle puts us at a great risk for cervical disc herniation. As the amount of time people spend on their smartphones, computer screens, or watching TV increase, so do the number of people complaining of pain in the backs of their necks. Cervical disc herniation is a result of our maintaining our necks in the same and inappropriate posture for too long. Therefore, correcting one’s posture is key to treating this disease. Because we spend almost a third of our day sleeping, it is particularly important to keep our necks in the most comfortable posture possible while we sleep. For this purpose, it is critical to select pillows of the right size and height.

Preventing cervical disc herniation

First, let’s understand exactly how cervical disc herniation occurs. The spine in the neck is supposed to slouch slightly forward in a C-shaped curve. In medicine, this is called cervical lordosis. The spine in the neck is curved in order to protect the brain against various possible shocks by acting as a shock-absorbing spring.

If you maintain your neck cast down or extending forward for protracted periods of time on a repeated basis, your spine will lose this natural curve, with only one side or the other of your neck being forced to sustain the pressure exerted on your upper body. This not only undermines your posture in the long run, but it also makes it increasingly difficult for you to shake away that nagging sense of pain and fatigue in your neck and shoulders. Choosing pillows of the right shape and height can help you solve this problem.


Finding pillows of the right height

To relieve your neck of the pain and fatigue sufficiently while you sleep, it is important that your pillow be neither too high nor too low. A pillow of an inappropriate height can, in fact, accelerate the degeneration of the bones, muscles, and sinews in the upper body. A recent study even demonstrated that pillows that are too low when people lie on them on their sides make their heads fall below the center of the spine, exerting pressure on the veins in people’s heads and necks. This, in turn, increases their risk of glaucoma.

In order to avoid these risks, it is critical that you find a pillow of the right size for you. In principle, when you rest your head on your pillow facing straight upward, the pillow should be at least 2 to 3 inches high from the surface of the bed. If the pillow is too stiff and too high, it will make your neck crane forward, which is the worst position as far as cervical disc herniation is concerned. In other words, your pillow should be of the height that can sustain your head slightly above the level of your body so that the spine of your neck would retain its natural curve even while you are asleep.


When you lie on your side, your pillow should be able to maintain a proper height between your head and the surface of your bed, corresponding to the length of your shoulder. In order for your neck and the rest of your spine to remain level when you are lying on your side, your pillow should be at least 4 to 6 inches high from the surface of your bed. Lying on your side can relieve pressure from your neck and may be helpful toward mitigating neck pain. However, a pillow of an inappropriate height or thickness can significantly increase strain on your neck.

Not only cervical disc herniation, but all diseases associated with the cervical vertebrae and the lumbar vertebra, such as lumbar disc herniation, result from bad postures repeated and maintained for too long. Intervertebral discs lie between vertebrae to keep the spine flexible and moving. Bad posture causes these discs to become herniated, i.e., escape their original intervertebral positions.

In addition to selecting pillows of the right shapes and sizes, it is also important to stretch your neck every now and then in order to relieve it of pain and strain. Master these small tips to prevent cervical disc herniation and enjoy a pain-free life!