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What Are Lumbar Pillows?

By Lou Paun
Updated May 23, 2024
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Lumbar pillows are one kind of orthopedic pillow that has therapeutic value when used consistently. A lumbar pillow supports and protects the lumbar area of the spine, more commonly called the lower back. It’s a good tool for relieving lower back pain.

Because the lumbar area has a distinct curve, sitting upright for long periods can cause noticeable strain. Fatigue and lower back pain are common results. Pain and numbness in the legs can also be a consequence of lumbar strain.

Most chairs do not provide enough support for the lower back, and some provide no support at all. Lumbar pillows are placed in the small of the back between the chair and the back, supporting the natural curve of the spine. Anyone who has to sit for long periods of time will probably benefit from this support. Office workers, drivers, and travelers are particularly likely to benefit from the use of these pillows.

The most basic lumbar pillows are simple rectangles, usually about twelve inches by five inches(30.48 x 12.7 cm). They are usually around two inches (5 cm) thick. The stuffing is always a dense material that won’t compact readily. Most pillows have removable washable covers. Some have an elastic band to hold them in place.

There are other popular shapes for lumbar pillows. A full roll pillow is actually a cylinder. This shape of pillow usually has to be held in place with an elastic band. A half roll pillow has a flat side that is placed against the chair and a round side that supports the sitter’s back. Some pillows are wider and rounder at the bottom and thinner and flatter at the top. All of these shapes provide support for the lower back, and users generally have their personal favorites.

A dense foam, firm enough to give support but not hard enough to cause discomfort, is the most common filling for lumbar pillows. Some are filled with memory foam, which “remembers” the contours of the user. Grains are also used to fill pillows, and buckwheat hulls are popular.

Some lumbar support pillows have fillings that may provide additional benefits. Magnets are often included in lumbar pillows for this reason. Rice-filled pillows can be warmed in a microwave or cooled in a refrigerator to provide heat and cold therapy.

Like other orthopedic pillows, lumbar pillows do not usually provide immediate relief. A trial period of about a week is needed before the results can be evaluated.

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Discussion Comments

By honeybees — On Jun 24, 2011

After waking up with back pain for several months, I decided to try a wedge pillow between my knees when I sleep. I am a side sleeper anyway, and this has worked well for me.

This is a memory foam pillow that easily conforms to the shape of my body and provides the right amount of support to keep my back from aching through the night. I was glad that such a simple solution made such a big difference.

By SarahSon — On Jun 21, 2011

I love my lumbar pillows and use them every day. I have several that I have made and filled with rice for heat therapy. I use them for my back and my neck. Because I get a lot of neck strain after a long day of typing, I use this as a neck pillow every night.

I love putting the bag in the microwave for a few minutes and the rice in the bag stays warm for a long time which provides relief for my neck. This is much better than using something like a hot water bottle.

If you prefer to use cold therapy, it can also be placed in the freezer for a few minutes and used that way also.

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