Buyer's Guide: Selecting the Right Support Cushion
A proper support cushion or therapeutic pillow can make all the difference while sleeping or sitting for long periods. But with so many options on the market today, it can be hard to find one that you know will provide the right kind of support and comfort for you.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to know, from how support cushions can help you to the differences between each type so that you can make the best possible choice.
How Support Cushions Can Help
Support cushions provide comfort and also offer a variety of advantages that can be beneficial for your health.
Sitting or lying down for extended periods can worsen your posture over time. This is because staying in one position for too long can compress your hips, spine, and tailbone, causing you to slouch or lean forward.
The right support cushion can help improve your posture by encouraging you to sit correctly and firmly supporting at-risk areas, such as your back and neck. This not only relieves temporary pain, but can help prevent future joint, spine, and muscle issues.
Support cushions also redistribute pressure so that your weight is not placed on high-pressure areas for extended periods. This helps improve your posture by preventing the compression of your hips, spine, and tailbone. Still, it can also help improve circulation and prevent pressure sores and other painful side effects of staying in one position for too long.
Improve Sleep Quality
The position you sleep in can affect your sleep quality and may even cause you to wake up with back, shoulder, or neck pain. The right support pillow can help keep your body in a neutral position to reduce pain and help you sleep better.
If you sleep on your side...
This is the most common way to sleep, but sleeping on your side can cause lower back and hip pain. Placing a support pillow between your knees can prevent this by aligning and easing pressure on your hips and spine.
If you sleep on your back...
While considered the best way to sleep according to sleep.org, sleeping on your back can also cause lower back pain (and make snoring more severe). Placing a pillow under your knees can neutralize your spine in this position to eliminate back pain.
If you sleep on your stomach...
This is considered the worst sleep position, as it can cause back and neck pain and hinder your breathing. But if you struggle sleeping in any other position, placing a support cushion underneath the abdomen and hips can help align the spine. Additionally, propping your forehead up with a small pillow can allow you to breathe while sleeping facedown. This eliminates the strain on your neck and shoulders caused by turning your head to one side.
Types of Support Cushions
What They're Used for, Ailments They Help with, How to Use Them, and more
Knee pillows have an ergonomic design that allows them to sit comfortably between the knees while lying down. The two curved sides secure the pillow between your legs so that it stays in place, even if you turn in your sleep.
Having this support between your knees helps align your spine while you sleep. This improves your lying posture and reduces stress on your body, preventing back, hip, and leg pain.
Knee pillows help those:
- With back pain
- With hip pain
- With leg pain
- With foot pain
- Sleeping during and post-pregnancy
How to Use a Knee Pillow
Most often, knee pillows are placed between the knees or legs. The curved sides of the pillow will be the sides in contact with your body. With the pillow in this position, it bears the weight of your thigh and relieves pressure from the hips, legs, and back. Knee pillows can also be used to relieve pressure on the foot by placing them between the ankles instead.
Within a week of using a knee pillow, you should be able to see a significant improvement in your sleep quality and feel noticeable pain relief.
Coccyx cushions feature an ergonomic cutout at the back of the pillow, which reduces pressure on the tailbone and spine. This support helps alleviate pain in those areas of the body while seated. The cushion also elevates your hips, which may help to improve your posture.
Coccyx cushions may help those with:
- Tailbone pain
- Prostate disorders
- Pilonidal cysts
- Degenerative bone disease
- Back surgery recovery
- Chronic and inflammatory pain
- Pregnancy-related back and pelvic pain
How to Use a Coccyx Seat Cushion
Place the cushion on a chair of a comfortable height and with a supportive back. Be sure the cushion's cutout is facing the rear end of the seat and the cushion is placed directly on the chair without any other cushions beneath it.
Having other cushions beneath your coccyx cushion can cause pressure to be distributed unevenly, which can be harmful to your back. If the seat you are placing it on is padded, such as a couch, consider supporting the cushion with a rigid board beneath it. Since this cushion elevates your legs, you might also consider using it with a footstool to keep your body comfortable.
You will find the best results if you use a coccyx cushion consistently. Because a single cushion may not be suitable for all situations, such as on your car seat and office seat, you may have to purchase more than one to use as often as possible.
Lumbar Support Cushions
Lumbar support cushions have an ergonomic design that helps maintain the natural curve of the spine while seated. This firm support of the back relieves pressure to prevent muscle tightness and fatigue and promote proper posture and circulation. These cushions are typically lightweight, allowing you to bring them anywhere you may need the support.
Lumbar support cushions may help those:
With back pain
With poor posture
With lumbar disc problems
Who work a sedentary job, such as an office worker or truck driver
Who spend long periods in a wheelchair
- With back pain
- With poor posture
- With lumbar disc problems
- Who work a sedentary job, such as an office worker or truck driver
- Who spend long periods in a wheelchair
How to Use a Lumbar Support Cushion
To get the best results from a lumbar cushion, place it vertically across the back of your chair in a position where it will be up against your lower back. When seated, it should be below the curve of your back so that your spine is adequately supported.
You should notice pain relief and posture improvement as soon as you start using the cushion. You may have to experiment with adjusting it to find the right position for you. If your cushion is equipped with a strap, be sure to secure it to the chair so that it's always in the best position.
A single lumbar support cushion may not be suitable for all situations. For instance, a smaller cushion may work for an office chair but not for a car seat. If you plan on using one consistently, you may need to purchase multiple pillows.
Invalid cushions or donut seat cushions are typically round with an opening in the middle, creating a donut-like shape. This design provides comfortable support and helps evenly distribute your weight to relieve pressure while sitting. Additionally, they are often inflatable so that you can inflate or deflate to your comfort level.
Invalid cushions may help those:
- With hemorrhoids
- With coccyx injuries
- Recovering from surgery
- Who spend long periods in a wheelchair
How to Use an Invalid Cushion
To use an invalid cushion, place the cushion on a seat, with the back of the pillow against the seat's backrest. Invalid cushions are best used on chairs with a supportive back. When sitting, place yourself on the cushion so that your tailbone is situated above the hole in the cushion. To relieve the most pressure while seated, lean slightly forward.
Semi Roll Cushions
Semi roll cushions, sometimes referred to as half-moon cushions, have a semi-circular shape. They have one flat side that allows it to be sturdily placed beneath you while sleeping. These versatile cushions can be used to support the head, neck, shoulders, back, knees, legs, or ankles to improve your sleep posture and minimize discomfort. They can also be used as lumbar support cushions while seated.
Semi roll cushions may help those with:
- Pain associated with sleeping on their backs
- Pain associated with sleeping on their sides
- Lower back pain
- Chronic pain
How to Use a Semi Roll Cushion
There are many ways to use a semi roll cushion! Consider which part of your body needs support and when. If you need lumbar support while sitting down, place the cushion against your chair's backrest so that it supports right below the curve of your back. If you don't feel relief while it is placed there, you may need to adjust it further above or below that position.
If you need support while sleeping, there are various ways the cushion can offer assistance, depending on how you sleep. If you sleep on your side, you likely need the support between your knees.
If you sleep on your back, you may need support anywhere from your neck to your ankles. Placing the pillow under your knees often helps the most while sleeping on your back, but you should experiment with its placement to see what works best for you. You may find that you need more than one cushion to support different areas of the body throughout the night.
Bed Wedge Pillows
Bed wedge pillows have an ergonomic slope design that offers support at an angle rather than a neutral position. With these pillows, you can recline slightly for optimum comfort while sitting in bed. They can also support your neck and shoulders on an incline while you sleep, which can reduce issues such as sleep apnea and acid reflux.
You might also consider placing a bed wedge pillow beneath your knees. This can reduce pressure on your lower back and promote proper circulation to relieve sore muscles and swollen feet.
Bed wedge pillows may help those with:
- Sleep apnea or other respiratory issues
- Acid reflux
- Neck or shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Lower back pain
- Poor circulation in the legs
How to Use a Bed Wedge Pillow
If sitting with your bed wedge pillow, place the long, flat side against the wall or headboard of your bed, with the wide end of the slope on the mattress. This lets you comfortably recline against it while reading, watching TV, or relaxing.
If lying with your bed wedge pillow, place the long, flat side on the mattress with the wide end of the slope against the wall or headboard. You can choose where you lie your head on the pillow, whether you want to sleep at a small incline or higher up on the pillow. Experiment to see what feels best.
If using the bed wedge pillow under your knees, place it on the bed with the wide end of the slope facing you. Place your lower legs on the cushion, with your knees bent over the top of the slope.
Cervical support pillows have a cylindrical design that helps promote proper spinal alignment while sleeping. They are often used to support the natural curve of the neck and keep it from resting at uncomfortable angles. This support can also help relieve muscle tension in the shoulders and increase blood flow to the brain. Like semi roll cushions, though, cervical pillows are very versatile and can be used to support the back, knees, or ankles.
Cervical pillows may help those with:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Disc herniation
- TMJ disorders
- Post-surgical pain
How to Use a Cervical Pillow
When using a cervical support pillow for neck pain, you should lie with it under your neck, so it's supporting the curve of the spine. You may find it helpful to place it inside your pillowcase so your head can rest on your usual pillow with the cervical pillow securely beneath it.
You should notice a difference as soon as you start using it, but it may take time to get used to it. If you find that it's too uncomfortable at first, take it out from underneath you. Try using it again the next day and keep it under your neck for longer than the day before. Continue this process, extending the time you use it each day until you get used to it.
Neck Rest Pillows
Neck rest pillows, or travel pillows, have a U-shaped design that wraps around the neck to support the neck and shoulders. This can reduce pain and stiffness and relieve pressure in those areas. Most often, neck rest pillows are used while traveling, as they're portable and can help you get comfortable while trying to sleep in a plane or car.
Neck rest pillows may help those:
- Sleeping while traveling
- With neck pain
- With shoulder pain
How to Use a Neck Rest Pillow
Although you commonly see neck rest pillows being used with the gap in the front, it is most useful to place the pillow around your neck with the gap behind you, at least while sleeping. This better supports your chin and reduces neck strain as you rest your head from side to side while seated.
What to Consider Before Buying a Support Cushion
Once you've determined which type of support cushion is best for you, there are a few other factors to consider before making a purchase.
Depending on the cushion you need, its dimensions may play a role in your final purchase. Mostly, this applies to cushions for seats, such as coccyx cushions and lumbar support cushions. Measure the chair you'll use it most on and find a pillow with measurements that will fit it. If you're planning on using it on a car seat, you will want to find one that won't be too bulky and easy to install in a vehicle.
You might also consider purchasing a sleep cushion in a size you think will be most comfortable or will benefit you most. For instance, if you're buying a cervical roll, you might find a smaller roll to be more comfortable or a larger roll to offer more support.
Buying a cushion made with the right materials can make all the difference. Like anything, each type of material has its advantages and disadvantages.
Foam cushions are a great inexpensive choice. Depending on the firmness of the foam, they can offer firm support or pressure relief. However, regular polyurethane foam is not as durable as memory foam. It does not provide the conforming, ergonomic support of memory foam.
Memory foam cushions offer ergonomic support that conforms well to anyone's body for personalized pressure relief. This material comfortably cradles the body part it supports and can protect you from moving out of a proper sleep position. However, these cushions can be more expensive and become warmer than the standard foam.
Some seat cushions have a layer of gel atop a foam base. This provides optimum pressure relief, as the gel shifts with you to relieve pain in high-pressure areas. Gel cushions can also help regulate body temperature, making you cooler and more comfortable.
Fiberfill cushions are inexpensive and maintain their shape over time. They're also easy to clean and maintain. This material can be soft, comfortable, and breathable. Still, it typically doesn't offer the same amount of comfort and support as foam.
Inflatable cushions are easily portable, and the amount of support they provide can be adjusted to your liking. However, you have to inflate them yourself, and their effectiveness relies on them being inflated to an appropriately supportive level. Additionally, these cushions are less stable than cushions made of other materials.
Depending on your preferences, you may want a cushion with a removable cover. This makes it easier to maintain the pillow, as you can simply slip the cover off and wash it. If your ideal cushion doesn't come with a removable cover, you can always slip a standard pillowcase.
If you have any further questions about finding the right support cushion for you, consult with your doctor, or feel free to speak with a Carex representative.
About the Author
Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.
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