Sleeping Positions That Can Help after Cervical Neck Surgery

Quality sleep plays a crucial role in a person’s overall health. However, it can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep after having cervical neck surgery. This difficulty comes from the trauma the body undergoes during surgery and the fact that even a minor strain can cause massive pain. Despite the challenges, your body needs to get sufficient rest and sleep during the recovery period. Luckily, this in-depth guide will take you through the best post-surgery sleep practices.

Choose the Right Pillows

The most important aspect to remember after surgery is spinal alignment. It would be best if you avoided certain body positions that knock off this alignment. While that sounds easy, it can prove quite tricky, especially once you find out that your favorite sleeping positions all involve some level of misalignment. The easiest way to ensure that your spine stays aligned is by using pillows. These relatively small sleeping aids can fill up space between your neck and the mattress that would otherwise mess up the cervical alignment.

By having a pillow beneath your neck, your head gets the support to be in a natural position, resulting in less strain. You can also use a pillow below your knees to take off the pressure from the rest of your body.

Types of Support Pillows

Support pillows come in two distinct types; orthopedic pillows and displacement pillows. The latter is particularly useful when one is experiencing pain but has not undergone surgery yet. The former are long-term sleeping aids designed to maintain spinal alignment. On the other hand, cervical pillows are designed to conform to the user’s neck shape and help minimize discomfort. This corrects their sleeping and resting posture and enhances neck and spinal healing.

Both cervical and support pillows can be used interchangeably after surgery. When choosing a pillow, there are several factors you need to keep in mind.

Best Pillow for a Back Sleeper

A back sleeper should get a pillow that conforms to their neck’s shape. This will allow you to sleep on your back without exerting too much pressure on the back of your neck. Besides neck support, such a pillow also provides sufficient support to the head. Water pillows and memory foam pillows are excellent options in this case.

Best Pillow for a Side Sleeper

Side sleepers should go for considerably firmer pillows than their stomach and back sleeper counterparts. The bulk of this firm pillow should rest under the neck and not the head, resulting in vastly improved spinal alignment. If you can, get a pillow with a gusset. Additionally, side sleepers might need to have a special pillow for placing between their legs for good alignment.

Best Pillow for a Stomach Sleeper

A stomach sleeper should have a considerably thin pillow. Typically, your body arches on the back when you are sleeping on your stomach. This makes it necessary for stomach sleepers to use thin pillows to avoid making the arch more pronounced. If you are a stomach sleeper, consider placing another pillow under your abdomen to further reduce the pressure exerted on your back.

Best Pillow for Travelling

While it’s not advisable to travel a lot after neck surgery, you might find yourself doing so under unavoidable circumstances. In this case, consider getting a horseshoe pillow to provide much-needed support when traveling. Ensure that your neck does not droop sideways, especially if you are experiencing post-surgical pain.

Back Sleepers

According to the John Hopkins Medicine Orthopedic Surgery Division [1], sleeping on your back is the best option for people coming out of surgery. When doing this, place a pillow beneath both knees to enhance spinal support. Not only does this make sleeping easier, but it also reduces the discomfort associated with surgery. When sleeping, try to keep your arms on the side. Doing this minimizes the pressure exerted on your shoulders and neck.

If you had an incision made near the cervical spine area, you might need to use a cervical pillow or cervical collar to minimize any unwanted movement. When not in bed, consider resting on a recliner or a surface that can accommodate a pillow placed under your lower back.

Side Sleepers

While side sleeping is not recommendable after surgery, it is still permitted. However, a side sleeper must use pillows to make sure that their spine is aligned. To start with, you will need to have a pillow between your knees. This helps provide much-needed cervical and lower back support. If you need to change sleeping positions, use the ‘log roll’ method such that your entire body is moving and not just the torso. The latter can result in a twisting motion, subjecting the spine to possible damage.

Side sleepers are advised to use firm pillows whose bulk lies underneath the neck, not the head. If you are to choose a particular side, the left side is apparently way better than the right for several reasons. [2] Sleeping on your left side [2] is said to minimize heartburn, improve circulation, and improve digestion. This is perhaps due to the asymmetry created by the placement of organs inside our bodies. All in all, a side sleeper should be able to enjoy a good night’s sleep by placing pillows at the required positions.

Stomach Sleepers

Sleeping on your stomach is another position that, while permitted, is not recommended. This is because stomach sleeping exerts too much pressure on your lower back unless, of course, you use pillows to correct the spinal alignment. If you must sleep on your stomach after cervical neck surgery, you will need to have two pillows to provide additional support. One pillow goes under your pelvic area, while the second (preferably a thinner one) goes under your chest. The latter lifts the neck slightly, resulting in less strain and pressure.

Whichever sleeping position you choose, the most important thing to keep in mind is your spinal alignment. While it may feel somewhat uncomfortable having to use extra pillows, remind yourself that they are absolutely necessary to achieve the desired alignment.

Getting in and Out of Bed

Getting in and out of bed often seems like a routine process until it isn’t. After having a cervical neck procedure, this seemingly easy task all of a sudden gets overly complicated. Here are some useful steps you can take to make the task easier.

Begin by Sitting on the Edge of the Bed

Since you wouldn’t want to risk injuring your neck by exerting unnecessary pressure on it, you should begin by sitting on the edge of the bed at a position about halfway down its length. While doing this, keep your back and neck straight and ensure your feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Lower Your Body Sideways

Using your elbow for support, lower yourself sideways, keeping your entire weight anchored on the elbow. You can also try and distribute the lower weight around the hips and feet to support your body. Once you are done, roll over using the ‘log roll’ method, resting on your back or side depending on your preferred sleeping position. Try and keep your spine and neck straight while taking these steps.

Getting out of Bed

To get out of bed:

  1. Position your arms on the side of the body and roll over using the ‘log roll’ method until you are at the edge of the bed.
  2. Support yourself using one elbow and position your feet on the ground while gradually lifting the upper body to a sitting position.
  3. Ensure that much of your weight is placed on your legs and not the back or hips.
  4. Keep in mind that you may require additional help getting in and out of bed, especially during the first few days after surgery.

Summary

Undergoing a cervical neck surgical procedure can pose several sleep-related challenges. New sleeping positions and unfamiliar sleeping aids can make this period even more complicated. However, with the right information and practices such as those discussed in the above guide, you will always have good spinal alignment, the most important factor in post-surgery recovery.

Citations

  1. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/orthopaedic-surgery/_documents/patient-information/patient-forms-guides/jhucervspinesurgeryguide.pdf
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sleep/sleep-effects-digestion#side-sleeping
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