Tag Archives: Neck Pain

Pillow talk: How to choose the best pillow

Now that Dr. Kangarloo has educated you on the most optimal sleeping positions, I thought it would be great to follow up with some advice on how to choose the best pillow.


Picking a pillow can be a daunting task and that is because we are all made/shaped differently. It always surprises me why there is such a huge selection of pillows available but so little about how to choose the right one. Most people tend to choose which feels the most comfortable or what seems to be something that sounds fancy but that is the wrong approach.


When narrowing down your choices, think about your main sleeping position. It is recommended that your pillow support the natural curvature/alignment of your spine to offer the best comfort and support (too thick will flex your neck up/forward and too thin will extend your neck/tilt back). You want the goldilocks setting, jjjjust right!


These generalizations can be made:

Face down: Thin pillow, soft fill

Face up (or all positions): Medium pillow, mid to firm fill

Side Sleeper: Thick pillow, firm fill


Natural fill: Usually feather and/or down. These pillows need to be reshaped after use but offer great comfort and a luxurious feel. Hotels typically use natural fill pillows for their plushness and versatility. Tend to be more expensive than most pillows due to their sourcing and cost of materials. Another con is that due to the natural materials these pillows wear out the fastest as the natural material can break down over time. These however, are my choice as the most comfortable and versatile pillow. Also best for pillow fights; feathers everywhere! Good for all sleep types, depending on the amount of fill.


Synthetic: These pillows attempt to create a natural fill feel for far more value. They can range from a fluffy teddy bear stuffing type of fill to a more gel-like feel. The firmer synthetic pillows tend to be more of the gel type material so they are plush but do not need to be readjusted/fluffed as much as a natural fill pillow. They do have a more artificial feel than natural, which I find hard to explain (they almost push back more than they surround, if that makes sense). Good for all sleep types, depending on the amount of fill. Easily the most cost effective, available and popular of all pillow types.


Memory foam: This material does not need to be adjusted at all. It is designed to rebound back on its own after use. These pillows are not plush and offer more of a firm support. Probably the best pillow if you sleep a certain way all the time and you can find the right fit. Typically I do not suggest the pre-contoured ones as these pillows are contoured the same for everyone; so how do you know the contoured the pillow company decided is the one that fits your neck.  Accordingly, choose a gentle contour if this is your preferred material.  I do not recommend these pillows at all for children, as the contoured pillow design is more shaped for the adult neck. Usually best for side and back sleepers. Ideally a good idea but not practical in my opinion. Can also be expensive and gimmicky.


Water: Water pillows offer support/firmness of memory foam and the versatility of a natural/synthetic fill. The reason is because water is not only soft but moveable; based on the position you are in, the water will move into the areas that allow your head to rest while moving into and bolstering the areas your head is not. It also offers the most customization of all the pillows as you choose how much water to put in based on your comfort and main sleeping style. These pillows get heavy due to the high amount of water you add and a lot of people worry about swishy sounds of water or leaks but those concerns are minimal/rare. Do not use these for pillow fights as they will definitely give you a concussion. Good for all sleep types as you are in control with the amount of fill.


Other: This includes beads, seeds/organic material (ie. buckwheat) and other. Typically these tend to fall more into a synthetic (cost effective and plush) or memory foam (firm/supportive) type category. These pillows are more gimmicky and tend to be featured on TV infomercials and at trade shows. From my experience, less people tend to find success with pillows like this. Usually best for side and back sleepers.


Personally, I have had the most success with a natural fill pillow as the comfort and luxury they provide is greater than the other pillow types. I also sleep in all of the sleeping positions so I go with a medium fill as it is the most versatile for all sleepers. I found my ideal pillow by sleeping on it at a hotel one day and liking it so much that I followed up with the hotel so I could track it down. I have found good pillows to be incredibly hard to find so if you find one make sure you get it!


However, I do recommend water pillows often, as people who tell me that they can never find a comfortable pillow tend to do very well with a water pillow. Ideally, water pillows offer the best in terms of customization, as they are the only pillow I am aware of that you can change/modify based on your specific size and shape. We also sell these at CCST (and they make an excellent Xmas gift, nudge nudge).


From a full disclosure standpoint, I have never tried a water pillow myself, as I like the pillow I currently have and thus it is not worth messing with that. I have tried synthetic, memory foam, bead and buckwheat pillows and personally did not like them (synthetic is not bad and I can comfortably sleep on one, but I prefer the plush feel of a natural fill).


Pillows are definitely something you should invest in (all bedding as far as I am concerned) as you use it more than practically any other product! Treat yourself and understand you get what you pay for; a cheap pillow will likely have cheaper results.  In terms of cost, I have found that a good pillow will range between $60-120. The main drawback is it is very hard to find something that is worth investing in without wasting your money, but when you find a winner, oh boy the sleep will be glorious!


Hopefully this gives you some tips on how to make a better decision.  Good pillow talk!


Written by Dr. Alim Kara BSc, DC

Pokemon Induced Neck Pain (PINP)

The Pokemon catch phrase is “Gotta catch em all” but I don’t believe that includes neck pain! Pokemon Go is a fun game designed to get you outdoors and moving but there are some important factors you must consider to ensure your long-term health and safety.


The main injury associated with excessive cell phone use is neck pain. Most of us have a sore neck from time-to-time due activities that involve things like prolonged computer use, studying and sitting with our head in a flexed forward position. The problem with Pokemon (and all other cell phone activities that involve you looking down at your screen for long periods of time) is the amount of pressure this posture creates on our necks.


A 2014 study showed that when your head is flexed forward 45 degrees (a common posture for people looking down at their phones) that this exerts 50 pounds of pressure on your neck! This increases to 60 pounds with 60 degrees of neck flexion!


Our design as humans can tolerate this stress and pressure but when you consider the cumulative effect of this trauma over months and years it will result in neck pain. One to two hours a day of looking down at your phone would equal 1250-hours/year, which shocking equates to 300,000 pounds of neck pressure over a four-year period.


Considering that it is our children that commonly play Pokemon Go and they already sit a lot, use the computer for school and their usual cell phone habits (outside of any games they play) already exceeds one to two hours a day, adding Pokemon Go to your routine can cause some significant strain to your neck!


Here are some suggestions to still play but mitigate your risks for neck pain while playing Pokemon Go:

  1. Know your Poke Stops:
    • Plan ahead by knowing where you have to go, don’t constantly look at your phone until you arrive at your stop.
  2. Look up more:
    • Looking down isn’t bad, but looking down for long stretches of time can be. Make sure you look up more, rotate your head from side to side just to give your neck muscles and joint a little stretch.
  3. Be smart about the time you spend on your phone:
    • The best way to not strain your neck, is to not strain your neck. Activities that involve prolonged sitting, computer or cell phone use will all stress/strain your neck.  Consider how much time you spend doing each and plan accordingly. So basically try to be mindful and make modifications in you find you are spending a lot of time doing these activities.
  4. See a practitioner for hands-on therapy and preventative advice:
    • Reducing the strain that is caused in your neck by getting hands-on therapy, coupled with exercise/stretch advice will help significantly.  Check out Dr. Kangarloo’s past blog post on neck pain exercises for some things you can start today.


Moral of the story: Be smart, don’t PINP your neck!


Written by Dr. Alim Kara BSc, DC

Neck Pain Solutions

Regularly we have patients coming to the clinic complaining of neck pain. Most commonly these patients are reporting discomfort after sitting for long hours at their desk or pain worsening throughout the day. I am not saying all neck pain is the same but a generalized tight and stiff neck is commonly caused by bad sitting habits and poor neck posture.

This poor head and neck posture increases the stress on your muscles, ligaments and joints,  causing the postural deconditioning model- which Dr. Kara talked about here.  This deconditioning can lead to neck pain, headaches and jaw pain.

So what can you do to stop the de-conditioning?

Try these two simple exercises which only take a couple minutes. I always say to do these exercises once an hour every hour. Sneak them in before you head to lunch, at every red light, once you have sent off an email or after you have liked a picture from our instagram. Yes once an hour every hour seems like a lot but that is only ~12 times in your day and should only take you 24 minutes. Ultimately you would benefit doing these exercises 3 times a day but 12 would be even better!

The Chin Tuck: A very “attractive” exercise, creating the double chin effect. 

This exercise helps decrease forward head posture by strengthening your neck muscles. You can do this exercise standing, sitting or even laying down on a mat on the floor.

Chin Tuck exercise Calgary Chiropractor

When doing this exercise seated or standing:

  1. Start with your shoulders rolled back and gently pulled down.
  2. Look straight ahead, and move your chin straight back. (Make sure you chin is not flexed forward or tilted backwards)
  3. Hold for 5 seconds and release for 1 second.
  4. Repeat 10 times

You are all done and that only took 1 minute! I perform these at red lights, while pushing my head into the headrest for some resistance. Notice after performing the exercise in the car that you may need to adjust your mirror as you will be sitting taller. If you plan on doing this laying on the floor, place a small towel behind your head so you have something to push your head back into.

Wall Angels:

This exercise helps open your shoulders back and strengthen your shoulder blades. This exercise can be performed standing against a wall or laying on the floor.

Wall Angels Exercise Calgary Chiropractor

  1. Stand with your back against the wall.
  2. Place your feet a few inches from the wall and have a slight bend in your knees. Your head, spine and glutes should be flush against the wall.
  3. Bring your arms up in a “Goal Post” position on the wall, your elbows bent with your upper arms parallel to the floor, and back of the hands touching the wall.
  4. Hold this position for 2 seconds
  5. Slowly straighten your elbows while sliding your hands up the wall to form a letter “Y”. Pay attention not to shrug your shoulders to your ears.
  6. Hold for 2 seconds
  7. Repeat 10 times

Again that only took 1 minute. Good work

You are on your way to better neck health and posture. If you need any help with these exercises just ask me.

Written by Dr. Shereen Kangarloo BSc, DC

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