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TAKING CARE OF YOUR BACK: LYING IN BED

If you never need to give your back a thought when you wake up in the morning; if there is no stiffness or pain when you roll over, sit up, and get out of bed, then your bed is probably all right for you – no matter how it looks to other people.

But if you wake up with a feeling of stiffness which does not disperse until you have been moving around for a while, the cause may simply be your bed.

Mattress-A very soft or sagging mattress makes your vertebral column sag, and can stretch the ligaments that support it. This matters less if you change position frequently in your sleep, but if you tend to lie all night in one position, these ligaments may be strained.

A good bed should support the body evenly, and be easy to move about on. If you’re painfree, your mattress is probably OK.

If you decide to buy a new bed, choose one with firm support; avoid a base which is too soft or springy. Choose a reasonably firm mattress: buy one which has some ‘give’ but still provides support. Try before you buy.

You can make the base firmer by putting a board under the mattress, provided that the mattress itself is not disintegrating with age. The board should be as wide as the bed base and at least as long as the distance from your head to your buttocks. The test is ‘is my pain less with this change’.

Pillows-Arrange the pillows in the way that seems to you most comfortable. A pillow placed between the head and shoulders needs to support the neck rather than the head. There is seldom any need to buy special pillows, except you may prefer a featherdown pillow which ‘embraces’ the head and neck. Two pillows are sometimes better than one but they require positioning for your personal comfort.

Too many pillows, or too thick a pillow, can push the head up, stretching the neck; and while you are asleep, the neck is then apt to bend sideways or forwards and the spine to become flexed. The neck vertebrae should always be kept close to the continued line with the vertebrae of the chest and in the natural curve of the neck.

Lying on your back with the head resting on a ‘butterfly’ pillow supports the head and stops it lolling from side to side. You can make a butterfly pillow by taking a thin or loosely-filled pillow and shaking the filling down each end. You may find it necessary to place another pillow underneath.

For someone who needs lots of pillows at night because of a bad chest, it is best to organise the support so that the whole spine rests on an incline. You may be able to do it with pillows; or it may be possible to incline the whole bed by raising the legs at the head on to blocks. The aim is to keep the whole spine, trunk and head in line with each other.

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