Manage Your Neck Pain With a Cervical Roll

A cervical roll is a small pillow that is placed inside your pillowcase to help support your neck while you sleep. The roll helps to keep your neck in a favorable position as you lie on your back or your side.

If you have neck pain or arm pain coming from your neck (cervical radiculopathy), then you understand how the pain can limit your ability to turn your head, look up or down, or complete basic functional tasks like washing your hair or reading a book.

There are many causes of neck pain, but sometimes the pain seems to come on suddenly with no warning. You may even wake up in the morning with neck pain after a seemingly restful night's sleep.

If you develop a sudden onset of acute neck pain, there are a few things you should do right away. Don't panic, start some gentle range of motion neck exercises, and maintain proper posture when sitting.

Maintaining proper posture is essential to managing your neck pain. Whether you are sitting, standing, or lying down, you must keep your neck and spine in the proper posture while your condition is healing.

woman rubbing sore neck at computer
Chad Springer / Image Source / Getty Images

The Anatomy of the Neck

Your neck, or cervical spine, is composed of 7 bones called vertebra that are stacked upon one another. Between each of the bones lies a small disc, which acts as a shock absorber.

When looking at your spine from the side, you should notice that there is a small forward curve in your neck. This curve, called a lordosis, is important to maintain at all times, especially if you are experiencing neck pain. Maintaining your cervical lordosis helps to keep pressure off of your spinal discs and joints which can, in turn, keep pressure off of the nerves that exit your spinal canal and travel down your arm or arms.

Proper Posture to Maintain Cervical Lordosis

When you sit in a chair, you can easily maintain the proper posture of your neck by using a small lumbar roll to support your low back. When your low back is in the correct position and supported by a small lumbar pillow, your neck will naturally be in the proper position with a forward curve in it.

When you are lying down, you must also maintain your cervical lordosis to keep your neck in the optimum position. This can be accomplished by using a cervical roll.

Where to Obtain a Cervical Roll

A search on the internet reveals many different merchants that offer cervical rolls. They are not too expensive and can be purchased for about $20 (US). Your local pharmacy may also sell cervical rolls.

A low cost and simple way to support your neck while you sleep is to make your own cervical roll using a bath towel. This option, while effective, may not offer the same amount of support and comfort as a true cervical roll.

Using a Cervical Roll During Sleep

Using a cervical roll to maintain neck alignment while sleeping is easy. Simply place your cervical roll in your pillowcase and move it to one end of your pillow. The roll should run the full length of your pillow.

Place your pillow on your bed with the cervical roll inside the case. The cervical roll should be in a place so that when you place your head on your pillow, the roll supports your neck.

When you are lying on your back, you should feel the cervical roll gently pressing up against the back of your neck and supporting it. If you roll to one side or the other, the cervical roll should still support your neck and fill in the area between your head and shoulder.

It is not recommended you sleep on your stomach if you are suffering from neck pain.

When you first use your cervical roll, you may notice some discomfort as you get accustomed to the roll. After a few nights, you should notice that the roll provides support to your neck with no added discomfort.

If your neck pain persists or worsens over time or is accompanied by arm weakness or numbness or tingling, you should visit your healthcare provider right away to make sure you get the proper treatment. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a physical therapist to help you manage your symptoms. Your PT can prescribe the correct exercises for you, can help you maintain proper posture, or may offer you other treatments, such as cervical traction, to help treat your pain.

If you have neck pain, you must keep your neck in the proper position while sleeping. Using a cervical roll in your pillowcase is a simple, low cost, and effective way to support your neck. It can be one of the components of your treatment that can help you quickly and safely eliminate your neck pain.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anderson BC. Office Orthopedics for Primary Care. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2006.

  2. CLEAR Scoliosis Institute. Understanding your spine: loss of cervical lordosis.

  3. Grondin DE, Triano JJ, Tran S, Soave D. The effect of a lumbar support pillow on lumbar posture and comfort during a prolonged seated task. Chiropr Man Therap. 2013;21(1):21. doi:10.1186/2045-709X-21-21

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. Say "good night" to neck pain.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.