Background: Pillows are intended to support the head and neck in a neutral position to minimize biomechanical stresses on cervical structures whilst sleeping. Biomechanical stresses are associated with waking cervical symptoms. This paper adds to the scant body of research investigating whether different pillow types produce different types and frequencies of waking symptoms in asymptomatic subjects.
Methods: A random-allocation block-design blinded field trial was conducted in a large South Australian regional town. Subjects were side-sleepers using one pillow only, and not receiving treatment for cervicothoracic problems. Waking cervical stiffness, headache and scapular/arm pain were recorded daily. Five experimental pillows (polyester, foam regular, foam contour, feather, and latex) were each trialed for a week. Subjects' 'own' pillow was the control (a baseline week, and a washout week between each experimental pillow trial week). Subjects reported waking symptoms related to known factors (other than the pillow), and subjects could 'drop out' of any trial pillow week.
Results: Disturbed sleep unrelated to the pillow was common. Waking symptoms occurring at least once in the baseline week were reported by approximately 20% of the subjects on their 'own' pillow. The feather trial pillow performed least well, producing the highest frequency of waking symptoms, while the latex pillow performed best. The greatest number of 'drop outs' occurred on the feather pillow. The foam contour pillow performed no better than the foam regular pillow.
Conclusion: 'Own' pillows did not guarantee symptom-free waking, and thus were a questionable control. The trial pillows had different waking symptom profiles. Latex pillows can be recommended over any other type for control of waking headache and scapular/arm pain.
Keywords: arm pain; cervical stiffness; headache; pillow type.