The Pillow Queen

The Pillow Queen

“Do you really need that many pillows?” I don’t know how many times my husband has asked me that. In spite of being very supportive and compassionate, my husband continues to be baffled by this aspect of my rheumatoid arthritis, how RA complicates the simple process of lying down.

After all, shouldn’t lying down in and of itself be relaxing and restful? When we’re tired or hurting we lie down, and that should put us at some ease. However, when joints are aching and muscles are tight, lying down can actually be painful. My husband will lie down on the floor so our small children can climb on him like a human jungle gym, he will lie down in the grass on a sunny day and feel very relaxed, he can lie down for a nap on the couch in complete comfort. However, rheumatoid arthritis is a game changer when it comes to finding comfort. If I lie down on the floor or the ground, I will be stiff if I’m there for only a couple of minutes, and if I’m there longer one of my hips might lock up on me and pain will stab my sacroiliac joints, not to mention the discomfort of the cold that creeps into my joints from those low surfaces. As for napping on the couch, the only way that is comfortable is if I use my safety net of multiple pillows, in which case I might as well head to the bedroom for a siesta. Ironically, rest is supposed to be restorative, yet for those of us with RA, even lying down can be taxing on our joints.

How I use my pillows

Enter my pillows. In order to get comfortable enough for some quality rest, I require an assortment of pillows of varying sizes and thicknesses. On a good day, I have a three-pillow minimum: one for my head, another for under my arm, and a third for between my knees and ankles. The need for a pillow for my head is obvious, but for someone with RA the choice of pillow may be more important than for some other people. If I sleep on a pillow that is too thick, too hard, or too thin, my neck and shoulders will hurt the next day. I’m a side-sleeper when my arthritis allows (sometimes my hips, knees and ankles are too achy to sleep on my side, in which case I lie on my back, a position in which I don’t fall asleep as quickly), and I need a pillow under my arm to rest my elbow and wrist on. If I don’t have this pillow, a discomfort will quickly arise in my shoulder, then travel down to my elbow, and if I sleep without support for my arm all night, even my wrist will ache in the morning. The final pillow is for between my knees and ankles. My hips immediately feel uncomfortable if I try to lie on my side without a pillow, and the top knee and ankle will protest if I stay in that position for longer than an hour. If I am lying on my back, I need the third pillow under my knees. Any attempt to lie on my back with my legs out flat quickly sends sharp pains to my hips and sacroiliac joints.

If I’m in a flare, I require even more pillows. I sometimes need two pillows under my knees in order to rest an aching hip, knee or ankle. If I’m able to sleep on my side, as is my preference, I need a pillow behind my back to support my hips. Therefore, in order to be prepared for however I might be feeling each night, our bed looks like something from a pillow commercial.

When my body hurts, all I want to do is rest. Yet, RA is so ruthless that even rest does not come easy. Luckily, now that I have established the exact type of pillow that best supports each of my trouble spots, it’s far easier for me to get comfortable enough to relax. So yes, honey, I really do need that many pillows.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (13)
  • taraswanner5
    7 months ago

    What pillow did you end up buying and do you still recommend it?

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hey taraswanner5, I’m not sure if this question was directed to me or to one of the other comments in the thread. I have several different pillows that I prefer for different places (one for my head, one for between my knees, one for under my arm). For me, it’s not the brand so much that matters but the thickness and density that works best for each of those spots, and unfortunately this has just required a lot of trial and error to find the ones that work best for me. Wishing you good luck on your pillow search and, more importantly, good rest, Tamara

  • thight
    3 years ago

    I haven’t been given an actual diagnosis of RA yet, but my Dr recently did blood work after I told him that Something was Wrong…. I told him I had been having really bad pain and swelling in my hands, fingers and wrists, my thumbs were excruciating at times, it had started affecting my shoulders too, my legs and feet were also swelling and it hurt to get up and start to walk… I felt and looked like I was at least 90… the pain in my feet seemed to be getting worse, my hips.. oh my.. yeah those were waking me up at night.. AND I too have been using extra pillows for quite a while… my ANA levels came back high so he has referred me to a rheumatologist. I found this website after he mentioned the testing for RA and I asked if it could be hereditary because my Nanny (what I called my grandmother) had been diagnosed with it a while back… I have been trying to read thru everything on here every since. I even had pillows in my chair at work… I’ve been getting up at 430 or 5 so I could make it to work by 8 for the past year or 2… my job is 15 miles away and it takes 30 to 45 mins to get there… I had an auto accident in August of last year and it affected my neck and lower back… I did the whole therapy/chiropractor thing for 2 months but told my PCP that I didn’t think I was healing like I should… he referred me to a neurosurgeon at the end of Oct 2015 but due to the fact that my boss had already been giving me unbearable amounts of grief over being on light duty/hours and kept telling me he thought my therapy was making me worse, and then forcing me to start coming in at 8 again instead of 9 like I had been..(I knew his thinking behind this was that I would then be able to work more than the 5 hours per day the Dr’s had said I could work). I put it off over and over again… until March of this year when I couldn’t even hold my own head up or use my right arm/hand and couldn’t go to work at all. I was sent for an MRI and found out I had 4 herniated discs in my neck and a couple in my lower back along with stenosis,radiopathy and several other big words.. I also had a mild degree of adult onset scoliosis in low lumbar area. I had a myelogram after that and they chose the worst 3 out of 4 discs to replace.. I had a 3 level cervical disc replacement and fusion May 20th of this year and have been off work since March 10th… I’m not sure if the symptoms that made my Dr run inflammatory symptoms have gotten worse since my spinal surgery or I just had my mind convinced that everything was all related to the neck/back issues I had been dealing with… I have started a list of my own symptoms because of this fantastic website… things I never thought about or realized.. I think I just always assumed that all of my aches, pain and fatigue were part of the aging process. Now I’m thinking I was wrong… Have others noticed that their symptoms came on with a vengence after a major surgery? Or that they seemed to anyway… I still don’t know if I actually have RA but it would sure seem like I do after learning so much from everyone here… if it’s not… I just might lose it.. I cannot imagine having to live like this forever, being in pain every single day, trying to sweep and mop and then having to pay for it for the next several days… any activity like that causes severe pain and swelling in my hands, wrists, legs and feet for at least the entire next day, it has taken up to 4 days for it to get better… typing.. yep! I pay for that too, luckily i have found a dictation app for my phone… it heps. But to have to continue like this and not be able to do anything to make it any better… I’d most likely go Bat Sh!t Crazy.. I truly appreciate everything everyone does for this website… it gives so much help and hope to allot of us!!! I call this my journey thru the unknown… So Thank You from the bottom of my heart… T

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi T, Thanks so much for reaching out and sharing your story! Man, you have really had a rough run. I do hope that the rheumatologist leads to some answers and some helpful treatments. Here’s an article about what to expect at your first rheumatologist visit: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/what-to-expect-at-your-first-rheumatologist-appointment/. Here’s an overview (that you may have already read in your exploration of our site) about RA treatment: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/treatment/.

    As far as your question, my onset did not follow surgery, but it was during a very stressful time in my life. I’ve found that stress has an enormous impact on my disease activity, and what you went through sounds incredibly stressful! Perhaps some others from our online community will share whether they experienced an onset of RA after surgery. In addition, you can copy and paste this comment to our forums: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/forums/ or if you are a Facebook user you can post to our Facebook page.

    Please continue to reach out to us any time you have questions, concerns, or experiences you want to share. Getting diagnosed with RA can be a scary experience, but you are not alone. Know that we understand how difficult this is, and we are here for you!

    Wishing you answers and relief,
    Tamara

  • Catherine Wester
    3 years ago

    I am the same I love having lots of pillows. When I had my hip surgery I had to use extra pillows. And now with RA it’s worse but so worth when I can wake up feeling better.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Catherine! Whatever it takes for a good night’s sleep, right? I’m so glad you’re in our online community!

  • Nanci Burns
    3 years ago

    I solved my sleep problems by getting a hospital bed with a memory foam mattress. No springs means no pressure points, & I can adjust the bed to elevate my legs when they are swollen, & elevate my upper body when I have trouble breathing.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the tip, Nanci!

  • Betty
    3 years ago

    I have a king size bed full of Pillows! you are not alone! 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Betty!

  • Lauren
    4 years ago

    That is me, my boyfriend always says he has no room in my bed because of all the pillows. I have two full body pillows and normal size ones that get put all around me. It is the only way I can get to sleep.

  • Kellie
    4 years ago

    Yes! Very necessary, especially that one between the knees. I use a full size pillow so that if I am on my side it keeps my ankles from touching too!

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing, Kellie!

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