Thursday, February 7, 2013

Assuming a Neutral Position

Today, I would like to discuss assuming a neutral position.  You might think that I am going to get political here, but I'm not.

Think of an automobile in neutral.  When the gear shift is in neutral, no gears are engaged.  As I understand it, the gears are totally detached from the operation of the vehicle.  In a neutral position, the gears are not doing any work to move the car forward or backward.  You might say that the gears are "resting."

Our muscles also benefit from time in a "neutral" position.

When you rest, are you really resting?

There is a relationship between the "neutral" position and achieving actual rest.  If muscles are partially engaged, they will not be resting.  The continual fatigue of these muscles will lead to trigger points that are very hard to get rid of.

Try an experiment, when you lie down to go to sleep, focus on each area of your body.  Note if it feels rested or if it still feels tense.  What happens if you consciously encourage that part of your body to rest?  Does it feel comfortable?  Or does it feel like it cannot disengage?

You may need to arrange pillows to help support areas that seem unable to release.  For example, if you are a side sleeper, a pillow between your legs can be just the ticket for your hips and legs.  Make sure that it is long enough to support knees and ankles.  Experiment with pillow height until you find one that can hold your legs in "neutral."

You can put a pillow behind your back and in front of your body to help support those muscles.  A pillow to hug is also a good option to help your arm and shoulder muscles to assume a more neutral position.

It is also important to make sure that your neck is parallel to the bed.

Side sleeper.  Both neck and head are parallel to bed.  This is a good neutral position. 
Proper support for the head can be tricky to achieve and it is a very individual thing.  In my case, my neck area, where I need higher support, is fairly short, and my head area, where I need lower support is longer.  If the pillow is too big, the poofiness sometimes lifts my head too high and takes my neck out of the neutral position.

Side sleeper.  The pillow is too big.  The head is being forced up by the top of the pillow.  This is not a neutral position.
The same thing can happen if the pillow is too low.

Side sleeper.  Started out with good support for neck, but the pillow is too low and the weight of the head takes it out of neutral.
I find that I need to use two different pillows to achieve the correct balance for me.

When you consider that headaches are often caused by trigger points in the neck muscles, you can understand the importance of getting the right balance here.  It is definitely worth the investment if you can find a pillow or pillows that enable your body to rest in a neutral position.

If you sleep on your back, try a fairly low pillow between your legs to slightly elevate the insides of the knees, and a low, comfortable pillow under your neck for support.  Make sure the pillow is not under your shoulders.  They need to rest, too.  If your shoulders are lifted up all night, this is hard on the pectoral (chest) muscles because it keeps them shortened all night, and on the various shoulder and back muscles because it keeps them stretched all night.  You want them to be in neutral. (Sometimes a lightweight, rolled-up towel is just right for under the neck.)

If you sleep on your stomach, I understand this is the hardest on your neck muscles.  It is impossible to put the neck in a truly neutral position because your neck will be turned to one side or the other, stretching one side of the neck and shortening the other side.  If you must sleep on your stomach, use as low a pillow as possible.  You might also try sleeping on your side with a couple of pillows arranged to support your stomach.  That way you can get the feel of sleeping on your stomach without actually being on your stomach. 

As you experiment with each position, notice the difference.  I am often surprised at how much tension is in my body when I am supposedly resting.  No wonder I have awakened many times feeling like I have not rested at all!

When it is time for bed, taking the time to arrange things so your body will be properly supported and in a genuine "neutral" position is a wonderful gift to give yourself.    Be sure to be awake enough when you are going to bed to do this.  If you just crash into bed exhausted (and I know many of you do), you may end up stuck with whatever position you landed in, and it may not be a good one.

1 comment:

  1. I can only sleep on my side, but had terrible knee and back pain. I tried a pillow between my knees, but the big one woke me up when I tried to turn over, and I lost the small pillow when I turned over.
    So, I developed Sleepy Kneez, an ultra comfortable knee pillow that stays put all night, and doesn't negatively impact the knee cap. Now, I sleep like a baby!