Bolsters and pillows for joints comfort

Supporting your joints with the right pillows is more important than you might think.  With good support as you sleep or rest on the couch, you can help retrain your body to be in better alignment.  You can also reinforce any training you are doing throughout the week.  Bolstering means to support or to strengthen.  A pillow that is not correct for your head and neck alignment can cause pain and discomfort down the road.  It can also lead to headaches.  This is so simply avoided by taking the time to find the right fit for you.

Bolstering can really help relieve your knees, lower back,  hip, neck  and shoulder joints.  The correct  pillow between your legs/knees aligns your hip and keeps them from knocking together.  They also allow your bones, muscles and ligaments to decompress because they are able to let go and feel supported.

It is soothing and comforting to use pillows this way.  For example. many of us hyper-extend our knees.  In this case, it’s great  to place a pillow under them while laying in a face up position watching t.v. or using a  a laptop computer as it helps decompress your tendons, ligaments and muscles.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

The cylindrical-shaped pillows are great for both your neck and knees. However, make sure that the size is not too large since you don’t want your head to be pushed too far forward.

Tempur-Pedic memory foam pillows are designed to cradle your head and make space for your shoulders to keep you in good alignment as you sleep.  This way your shoulder does not creep  up into your ears while you are sleeping.  Experiment with different ones till you find the brand that works best for you.  Be aware that some of them are expensive but they can keep you in comfort for over three years.  Generic brands can work well, but tend to wear out faster.  Both cylindrical and Tempur-Pedic type pillows are available at local medical supply stores and on the Web.

For neck and shoulders, use Tempur-Pedic contour pillows (memory foam).  For lower back, use wedge-shaped pillows by placing them under the knees.  Cylindrical-shaped pillows are used for either knees or neck.

Often I will place a heating pad directly on my Tempur-Pedic contoured pillow because the heat is then pressing just on the right spots  to to relieve my tense neck and shoulders.  Keeping these area as relaxed can prevent headaches and other aches and pains.  Be aware  that your pillow will probably not last as long doing this because it does wear down its firmness.  Do not use a heating pad if you have high blood pressure or any other condition where it is advised not to use heat.  Do not fall asleep with it on, and do not use for more than ten minutes as it can actually begin to tighten your muscles if placed on too long.

There is an emotionally supportive and restorative benefit to relaxing and feeling held by the pillows.  It is a great way to decompress and meditate at the end of the day.  Place your pillows strategically under your joints  to let them feel held and they will repay you in the long run.  Helping to relax your body will help you feel centered and connected with more focus and energy for your mind.

spasmHave you ever twisted your back or neck suddenly causing a severe pain and then not been able to move?  “Throwing your back out”  is a common term often used.  When we have a sudden pain in a  muscle,  joint, or nerve resulting from a sudden twist or strain, the muscles around that injury often spasm or contract to protect the area. This results in a decreased range of motion and often a complete immobilization of the area.  It is common for soft tissue to impinge nerves.  The impinged nerves and lack of mobility oftentimes creates more pain and is then evolved into what is known as the Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle.  This occurrence often happens with areas surrounding a herniated disk or inflamed nerve condition such as sciatica or carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome.

The Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle is what happens when we have an injury then subsequently feel “stuck” and finally, more pain.  That spasmodic reaction is the bodies response to the shock of the injury.  Our bodies have natural defense mechanisms in place so we do not cause further injury to these areas.  Think of this spasm or immobilization as a “Natural splint’  such as one would have placed near a bone that had been broken.  The splint is placed near the injury to restrict its movement so it can heal properly.

The tensing of the muscles around the area to immobilize it is very useful up to a point.  In chronic issues, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork are very useful in helping to “break” the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle.  As mentioned above this reaction (of contracting and immobilizing the injury) is generally very purposeful, but when it continues for a prolonged period and becomes a chronic condition it is best to seek help.  Consult your Doctor as to what the prescribed treatment should be (physical therapy, massage therapy etc).

There are so many reasons why this occurs:  incorrect sleep positions, lifting a heavy object, or a repetitive motion injury are just a few examples.  The more we can train our muscles to be toned and physically aligned the safer from injury we can become.  Usually we injure ourselves when we are rushing or tired.  This often happens with elderly people as their brains can still think quicker than their bodies’ reactions and reflexes.  New parents may find it challenging to keep up good body mechanics as they are chasing after a toddler (or two) going in every direction.  So if at all possible try to slow down and be mindful of your body mechanics to avoid injury and the dreaded “Pain-Spasm-Pain” cycle.

People often wonder why they have neck pain and shoulder pain.  Here’s one explanation on neck pain and shoulder pain I hope will be useful.  Imagine an animal in nature that senses danger.  Instantly, its fight or flight response mechanism kicks in.  It will bring its shoulders up to its ears to protect its neck.  Very often the neck is the first place attacked because it is vulnerable and will incapacitate the victim.  We are animals and our systems work in a similar way.  For example, a car horn goes off and we’re startled-we flinch and raise our shoulders.  Notice how our shoulders creep up when we are under stress.  One of the muscles which connects the shoulder to the neck is the Levator Scapula muscle (which translates from Latin into “elevate the scapula”-the triangular bone of the shoulder). This muscle, along with the upper trapezius muscle are activated to elevate the shoulders.  Activated meaning tensed in order to use.  We are activating it constantly, even during lower levels of stress.  Add to that a heavy bag or purse,  a phone clutched between your shoulder and ear, and you will eventually create neck pain and shoulder pain.

So, what do we do?  Knowledge is power.  Now we know a possible reason for our neck pain and shoulder pain.  Acknowledge it and say to yourself,  “take my shoulders out of my ears, it won’t help me with this situation.”  Then take a deep breath-which always helps. This will become second nature the more you do it and you will find that this new position feels so much better than the old one.  The old one will feel strange the more you are conscious of your alignment.  It will become a habit the more often you catch yourself raising your shoulders, but you have to be strict with yourself in the beginning by catching or correcting yourself in the wrong alignment-awareness is key.

Here are a few tips to really support your new improved position and most importantly alleviate a good deal of neck pain and shoulder pain:

Get a good headset for your phone-you know you’ve been meaning to anyway!

Make sure your purse or bag has relatively thick straps that don’t cut into your shoulders which can be a main cause of neck pain and shoulder pain.

Doing “Lat pull downs” at the gym with light weight will help support this new position.  If an exercise causes excess neck pain or shoulder pain-stop and contact your doctor or a licensed physical therapist.

Sleep with the right pillow.  “Right” is one that helps keep you in good alignment as you sleep. The contoured pillows (usually made of memory foam) are excellent.  Experiment with different ones to find the right fit.

Try to mobilize the shoulder gently throughout the day to break up tension.  Light shrugging (elevation) and depression of them will go a long way.  If you feel this causes excess neck pain or shoulder pain consult your doctor.

I hope this makes you feel better and in less pain.  It can help your breathing, headaches, and mood to keep your shoulders and neck less stressed and out of that fight or flight response that daily living can put them in.  We can learn a lot from our animals.  Watch them stretch and decompress themselves-naturally.  Sometimes just watching them can relax you!