A cervical pillow is a travel or bed pillow designed to support a person’s head and neck and may be individually suited to a person’s orthopedic cervical support needs. The term cervical refers to the neck region. A cervical pillow corrects a person’s resting position so that his head and neck are at the optimal angles to the torso and the resting surface. This relieves cervical tension and enhances relaxation.
The angle and spacing between someone's head and the resting surface may vary depending on whether he is lying on his back or side, and to which side he is sleeping. These pillows generally rise where the neck will be and depress where the head is meant to rest.
Specific shapes of the pillows vary greatly. Some are cylindrical or hourglass. Others can be rectangular with a square, circular, or triangular depression for the head, which may differently benefit those who tend to sleep on their backs or on their sides. Many memory foam pillows are shaped with a wave, or S-shape, formation so that, in a supine position, the top of the head is lifted, the back of the head is depressed, and the neck portion of the pillow is lifted to support the curvature of the neck.
In the past, the pillow had to be specifically measured and designed to fit a specific individual’s needs. Because of this, cervical pillows were expensive and could not be mass-produced. In 1966, however, Thad B. McCarty invented a pillow that would conform to any given person’s cervical composition and could also be inexpensively mass-produced. This pillow was made from layered flexible foam rubber material and gently inclined on the sides and dipped in the center.
A person using the pillow would use the indented center of the pillow when laying in a supine position and then use the raised side portions of the pillow when laying on his side. In the original version of McCarty’s cervical pillow, a user would adjust the measurements of the pillow by inserting or removing layers in the pillow. Today, many pillows simply use semi-customized memory foam to adjust automatically or can be inflated to the proper level. You can still buy a pillow specially customized to your own neck if you want.
A cervical pillow has many ergonomic properties, or ways in which it minimizes discomfort. Through properly aligning the neck region of the spine, this pillow can aid in the healing of injuries and tension. Doctors often prescribe a cervical pillow to patients with fibromyalgia, whiplash or other neck injuries, shoulder bursitis, upper back pain, arthritis, neck tension, or other injuries that may be affected by cervical misalignment. Snoring can also be reduced through use of a cervical pillow which, as it aligns the cervical spine, also straightens the airway. The pillows can also improve sleep, thus reducing headaches and other ailments resulting from insufficient sleep.