Acid Reflux Pillows – Can A Bed Wedge Pillow Stop Heartburn?

Bed wedge pillows are one of the most popular heartburn remedies, but do they really work? In this article, you will find the truth about bed wedge pillows, whether they work, and what the possible side effects can be.


Acid Reflux Pillows – How They Work

The idea behind bed wedge pillows is quite simple. Acid reflux occurs when liquid flows backwards from the stomach and into the esophagus. When we are standing upright, the esophagus is above the stomach, and as such gravity helps keep the stomach’s contents in the stomach.

When we lay down, that changes; the stomach are at about the same elevation, and as such it is much easier for fluid to flow out of the stomach and into the esophagus, leading to reflux. This is why many people suffer reflux exclusively at night.

A wedge pillow is literally a wedged-shape pillow that is designed to put your torso on an incline in order to allow gravity to help keep stomach fluid in the stomach. By putting the torso on an incline, reflux’s ability to travel up the esophagus is very limited, much like a ball is not very likely to roll uphill; even if it is kicked, it will roll back down the hill fairly quickly.


Bed Wedge Pillows – Are They Comfortable and Effective?

The comfort and effectiveness of your wedge pillow depends of course on which brand you buy. The most comfortable pillows are made with memory foam, though your mileage may vary. Different people have different opinions on what is comfortable, of course.

A fair warning: men with broad shoulders or well-developed backs may find sleeping on your side with a bed wedge pillow to be quite uncomfortable. Broad shoulders alone make it uncomfortable to sleep on your side, and the pillow does exemplify that. It is more comfortable to use one to sleep on your back.

Are they effective? Simply put, yes, they are effective. Any true wedge-shaped pillow will be effective at reducing reflux in most individuals. Make sure the pillow is wedge-shaped and actually puts your torso on an incline; if a pillow claims to be made for heartburn but only elevates your neck, it is not going to work!


Potential Negative Effects of Acid Reflux Pillows

As someone has a background in kinesiology (the study of human movement), one thing that worries me about these wedge-shaped pillows is the possible long-term side effects on the spine, hip flexors, and posture.

Here is the problem: wedge pillows are not a hard (they are pillows after all), so when you lay on them your spine remains slightly curved. The spine flexes laterally if you lay on your side, flexes slightly forward if you lay on your back, and extends if you lay on your stomach.

Spending long periods of time in flexion is one of the main risk factors for developing a herniated disc, and spending long periods of time in extension may lead to facet joint pain (1).

Even if the spine was evenly propped up and supported, the hips would remain flexed throughout the night. We sit all day (hips flexed) and rarely go into full hip extension; taking this away at night could lead to improper function of the hip musculature, which could degenerate into dysfunction and pain down the road.

The bottom line is that for many people, sleep is the only time they spend an extended period of time in a neutral position with good posture. A bed wedge pillow may this away over time.

Of course, no studies have ever been conducted linking bed wedge pillows with acid reflux, but really, who would conduct such a study? Since this sort of degeneration and pain would build up over the course of years, it would take an extremely long study to truly investigate, and the funds for which no unbiased third-party would put up.


Bed Wedge Pillows for Acid Reflux – The Simple Solution

Fortunately, there is a simple (and free) work-around: put your bed on an incline. You can take textbooks, stacks of magazines, or preferably a few wooden blocks, and place them under the two bedposts at the head of your bed. This would put the actual bed itself on an incline. Just make sure the bed is raised evenly on both sides.

An incline of 4″-6″ is plenty and can go a long way to reducing heartburn. This incline is also so slight that you and your partner will not be able to tell the difference. Many people will actually find this incline more comfortable than a completely flat bed and eliminates the need for a thick pillow (thick pillows that prop up the neck can lead to neck pain).


Acid Reflux Pillows – When To Use One

With all that said, bed wedge pillows do have a function. Most people who suffer from serious reflux can actually make use of these pillows, so they are convenient to have in a few particular instances:

Travel. You are not going to take your boards with you and elevate the hotel bed; a bed wedge pillow can be great to take on the road with you

Lounging around the house. A bed wedge pillow can be great to lay on the couch with as you watch TV to prevent heartburn.

If your partner objects to raising the bed or your bed cannot be raised. Perhaps your bed-frame is not able to be raised. If you cannot raise your bed, a reflux pillow may be better than no incline at all.


Bed Wedge Pillows and Acid Reflux Conclusion

For reasons outlined in this article, I do not recommend using an acid reflux pillow on a daily basis simply because these wedge pillows may lead to back pain and tight hips over time. Why trade one problem (reflux) for another (back pain) when you can reduce reflux without side effects just by raising your bed?

While wedge pillows are inferior to putting your bed on an incline, bed wedge pillows are great for occasional use, travel and for use around the house.

References

1. McGill, Stuart. Low back disorders: evidence-based prevention and rehabilitation. 2007. Human Kinetics, Champaign, Illinois.

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