5 Areas of Ergonomic Research: Neck Pillows

Image taken from My Pillow Pets website

It’s a 12 hour flight to Taiwan and your neck strains from chair’s upright position halfway through the flight. You reach for a neck pillow, wedge your neck into its curved shape, let out a sigh, and relax. These U-shaped pillows are commonly used in vehicles that do not provide support for the neck. They come in a variety of sizes, textures, and plumpness. Overall, the design of a neck pillow is successful relative to its intended use.

There are no safety risks involved with using a neck pillow, except for the slight chance that an inflatable version may blow up, proceeding to scare the people around you. It’s also possible to get too comfortable on the train and doze off, missing your intended destination. Aside from little careless issues, the neck pillow is relatively harmless.
Neck pillows are designed to maximize comfort when seated in vehicles such as cars, buses, and (most commonly) airplanes. It is unlawful to sleep lying down in vehicles on the move because it does not maximize the protective potential of seat-belts. The reason why people want to sleep lying down is because it allows them to use a pillow to support their neck. Neck pillows solve the problem of the lack neck support in vehicle seats, while still allowing seat-belts to function properly.
Since neck pillows are often packed for trips away from home, they are fairly compact and easy to tuck away in a bag or store in the car. Some versions of neck pillows are inflatable, making it even easier to carry around.
A problem that arises with using neck pillows is that there must always be a support for the head and back in order to use it properly. Buses don’t commonly have seatbelts or seat supports that go higher than the back, so neck pillows aren’t very helpful there. Consider what I have said about why people want to sleep lying down. A flat surface us full body support which is why we find it more comfortable. I suppose if you’re put in a situation where the setting has no head support, you could scooch your booty down until the bottom of the neck pillow rests on the top of the seat, creating an inflated platform for the back of your head to rest on; however, this puts pressure on the tailbone. If there is no head support OR back support, you’re out of luck if you want to use a neck pillow.

Neck pillows do not have to be aesthetically pleasing to serve their function, but there are still many different types sold on the market. Like clothing and accessories, neck pillows come in a variety of designs, materials, and even thickness. I’ve seen some that were made of yarn, others that are inflatable like pool toys, some filled with beans and others with stuffing, others made of foam…the list goes on and on. Children can be convinced to use them when they come in fun animal shapes. Travel-happy adults appreciate the portable convenience and compactness of certain designs.


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