A pillow for neck pain is a pillow designed specifically to promote proper alignment of the upper spine. By doing so it relieves pressure on the muscles and vertebrae of the neck and allows you a break from neck pain so you can sleep.
People come in all shapes and sizes, however, and may sleep on their back, their sides or their stomach. So these pillows feature different designs that accommodate different size individuals as well as the way they sleep.
We’ve scoured the marketplace to find the best pillows for neck pain currently available. We’re sure you will find one on our list that will suit your needs.
1. SleepRight Splintek Memory Foam Pillow
The Spintek from SleepRight provides outstanding neck support whether you sleep on your back or your side. The memory foam slowly molds itself to your head and as it does you can feel the stiffness and pain slip away. It’s available in 3 sizes so you’re sure to find one that will fit you.
What we like: We like the support the memory foam provides. We like that it can be used just as effectively by back sleepers and side sleepers. We like the hypoallergenic cover and that it tends to stay cool against the skin even on hot nights.
The pillow will work well with just about any person with any body type. It may also provide a bit of relief for those who snore. Although that’s bonus territory to be sure.
Flaws: There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The pillow is expensive. But it’s also effective and durable. So you need to decide how much a good night’s sleep is worth.
2. Xtreme Comforts Memory Foam Pillow
This is as close as you’ll find to a standard pillow on this list. But any resemblance is mostly cosmetic. Below the surface the Xtreme Comforts pillow is a supportive, responsive, cool way to alleviate neck pain. And it’s affordable to boot.
What we like: We like how effectively this pillow aligns the spine for side sleepers. We like the shredded memory foam that’s firm but has some feather-like qualities. The fact that it resists bacteria is also a plus.
The cover wicks moisture away and stays cool even on summer nights. We also found that support is just as good near the edges as it is near the center. And we like that.
Flaws: It’s allegedly machine washable but we wouldn’t risk it. Also, it’s not going to do much for stomach sleepers.
3. The Purple Pillow
Okay, it’s purple. We get it. But below the over the top color-oriented hard sell this pillow has your best interests at heart. It’s really comfortable, resists microbes, is skin-friendly and always returns to its original shape.
What we like: We like the sandwich style construction that provides different types of complementary support. That structure encourages airflow that helps keep you cool. The cover is machine washable and has some Spandex woven in to keep it taught.
The machine washable cover is also antimicrobial and easy on the skin. And if you don’t need so much neck support you can flip it over for a softer touch.
Flaws: You’re going to pay about 20 bucks for each and every laudable feature.
4. Mediflow Water Pillow
The market for waterbeds may be on life-support but don’t tell that to the Mediflow Water Pillow. It’s a certified winner when it comes to providing neck support. It’s the most versatile pillow on our list and the only one you can introduce heat to (via warm water) if your aching neck muscles need it.
What we like: There’s nothing like having near complete control over the firmness of your pillow. And that’s what you get with a water pillow. This is perhaps the only pillow out there that is a reasonable option for back, side and stomach sleepers.
We also like that you can put some warm water inside and enjoy a little extra muscle relaxation. And we are big fans of the 100% cotton pillow case.
Flaws: It’s expensive. In addition, there’s always a chance you may not close the valve completely and water may leak out onto your bed during the night.
5. Belly Sleep Gel Infused Memory Foam Pillow
There aren’t a lot of belly sleepers out there. But if you’re one the Belly Sleep Gel Infused Memory Foam Pillow is here for you. It’s the flattest pillow on our list and won’t appeal to side sleepers. But it provides modest but effective support and control for stomach sleepers of all ages.
What we like: The polyurethane foam is firm but forgiving and the case resists bacteria and stays cool and clean. Because it resists bacteria it also resists odors. We like that. We also like that it’s thin enough to actually help belly sleepers.
The fact that it’s machine washable is also a plus, as long as you remember to let it dry completely before using it again.
Flaws: Only a tiny portion of people sleep on their stomach so the pillow doesn’t have widespread appeal. Also, you can’t really flip it over because of the shape.
6. Epabo Contour Memory Foam Pillow
The Contour from Epabo has a simple look that belies its impressive pain relieving ability. If you sleep on your back or side (particularly your side), you’ll find it both comfortable and effective. Stomach sleepers may be tempted to give it a whirl but it’s a bit too thick for them. For everyone else though it’s spot on.
What we like: If you are a back or side sleeper the Epabo Contour is going to provide outstanding support. We like how comfortable it is in almost any position and we like how cool it keeps your head regardless of environmental conditions.
The memory foam is just right for back sleepers who may also enjoy a break from snoring as well. And the cover is one of the most agreeable around.
Flaws: In spite of what the marketing says this is not really an option for stomach sleepers. It’s a wee bit too thick.
7. Marnur Cervical Pillow
The Marnur and Epabo pillows have more than a passing resemblance to one another. But the Marnur is definitely for larger individuals. The extra padding is perfect for side sleepers with wide shoulders and back sleepers with big frames. And the neck ‘channel’ holds your spine still while you sleep to prevent aggravating any problems.
What we like: We like the way the pillow cradles the head when you sleep on your back. We like that it allows you to switch from back to side without compromising comfort. We like how cool the pillow is and that the case is machine washable.
We also like how large the pillow is and that it returns to its original shape every time no matter how large the head laying on it. And we really like how it cradles the neck.
Flaws: There’s no playing with your position when it comes to this pillow. You either lay the way the shape demands you do or you’re going to have a tough time.
8. Nature’s Guest Adjustable Cervical Pillow
Most of our testers were underwhelmed by the look of this pillow. But their resistance melted away after a few minutes of actual use. If you’re someone who tends to move a lot while you sleep this is a good choice. And with the 90 day money back guarantee you have nothing to lose by trying it out.
What we like: We like that you can change the amount of filler to achieve your preferred level of firmness. We like that you can shift around without the pillow losing effectiveness. And we like the way the cover feels against the skin.
Flaws: We’re not crazy about the fact that your head sometimes winds up sinking into the valley in the center. It’s also kind of expensive.
9. Hullo Buckwheat Pillow
The whole notion of a buckwheat-filled pillow seems pretty Twilight Zone-ish. But we have to admit it actually does a good job providing the support needed to help reduce neck pain. If you are environmentally oriented and are experiencing neck pain here’s an eco-friendly way to deal with it.
What we like: We appreciate that the makers of the Hullo pillow go the extra environmental mile with the buckwheat filler. The twill cover is also nice. The pillow does a decent job staying cool during the night. And it doesn’t attract or harbor microbes.
Flaws: The support is not as robust as you’ll find with less environmentally friendly fillers. So there’s a tradeoff. Though not an extreme one.
10. J-Pillow Travel Pillow
People with neck pain are like everyone else. They often want or need to travel. But just because you have a business trip or vacation coming up doesn’t mean you have to accept neck pain while you’re on the road or in the air. The J-Pillow Travel Pillow keeps things in line while you’re on the plane, on the train or in the auto. And for a remarkably reasonable price.
What we like: We like that it provides head, neck and chin support. That it’s designed with upright travel sleeping in mind and that it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The cover is agreeable on the skin and the stuff sack makes brining it along a practical option.
Flaws: If we had to nitpick we might say that it has a tendency to slip off the shoulder from time to time. That can lead to a rude awakening.
Who Needs a Pillow for Neck Pain?
Many people suffer neck pain that interferes with their ability to get a good night’s sleep. Some of them suffer from arthritis. Others hurt their back playing sports or working out at the gym. Whatever the cause of the back pain, however, the salient point is that it interferes with their ability to get all-important sleep so they can be their best. Anyone who experiences pain or stiffness in their upper back, shoulders or neck when they lay down can benefit from one of the pillows on the above list.
How We Ranked
There are a lot of things to consider when buying a pillow to deal with neck pain. The first thing is the amount of loft it provides. People who typically sleep on their back need a fair amount of loft. It helps keep their airways open and encourages proper breathing and spine alignment. So some of the pillows on our list cater to back sleepers.
The type and amount of fill is also important. Some pillows allow you to adjust the amount of fill. This can be helpful if the pain in your neck or upper back is not fixed in one position. Or if it changes in intensity from day to day. As is sometimes the case with muscle pulls and the like. Being able to adjust the loft and thereby adjust the position of your head can be very helpful. In addition, some people respond better to one type of fill than another. So we made sure to include pillows with a variety of different fill materials.
We also looked for pillows specifically designed to provide cervical support. Cervical support is particularly important for those whose back pain is the result of poor posture (1). The cervical support pillow will help train the spine to assume proper alignment. This, in turn, will help alleviate pain associated with slouching while you walk or sit. Finally, we want pillows that are well-made and durable and don’t require professional intervention to get them clean.
Pillows for neck pain can help reduce snoring. Snoring is the result of tissues in the airway interfering with one another and blocking airflow (2). When this happens that passing air causes the tissues to vibrate which creates the sound we hear as snoring. Some of the pillows on our list (such as the Marnur Cervical Pillow and the Mediflow Water Pillow) will help reduce snoring by raising your head and allowing for the free flow of air.
Pillows for neck pain can reduce stress. That’s because a lack of proper sleep has been shown to actually increase the level of stress people feel (3). The exact mechanism by which sleep deprivation increases stress levels is not yet fully understood. But there is sufficient evidence to conclude there is a definite link. If you have neck pain one of the best ways to get a good night’s sleep is to use one of the above-profiled pillows. So pillow-up and chill out.
Pillows for neck pain can prevent pain before it starts. The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is perfectly appropriate when it comes to pillows for neck pain. The best way to fix a problem after all is to prevent it from happening in the first place. In this case the same pillows that will alleviate your neck pain will enable you to sleep in a way that prevents future occurrences of pain. And if you’ve never experienced neck pain and you use one of these pillows there’s an excellent chance you never will.
Pillows for neck pain can also help relieve arthritis pain. People who suffer from arthritis – particularly rheumatoid arthritis (RA) – often have a very hard time getting to sleep. As if dealing with RA isn’t tough enough not being able to sleep properly just makes the situation that much worse (4). Most of the pillows on this list will help alleviate arthritis aches and pains so the sufferer can get a good night’s sleep.
Pillows for neck pain help older folks sleep better. Older people often have trouble getting to sleep (5). Sometimes it’s because of arthritis pain. Sometimes it’s related to a lack of physical activity or medications they’re taking or simple stress. And sometimes the insomnia is the result of an uncomfortable mattress, blankets that aren’t warm enough or poor quality pillows. The pillows on the above list, beyond their ability to help alleviate pain, are some of the best thought out, best made pillows on the market and can help anyone sleep better, neck pain or not.
Pillows for neck pain often hold up longer than standard pillows. As we just mentioned pillows for neck pain are typically some of the best made pillows you’ll find, period. This not only means they’ll help you sleep better, it also means they’re likely going to last longer than any standard feather pillow you can buy. Where a standard pillow will likely become flat and basically worthless in a couple of years a good pillow for neck pain should last several times that long.
Pillows for neck pain provide spinal support. And spinal support while you sleep is incredibly important to your overall health (6). This is especially true if you suffer from back problems or some type of spine disorder such as spinal stenosis (7). Not getting enough sleep will only serve to aggravate whatever spine-related back problem a person is having. That in turn makes sleeping difficulties even worse and sets off a spiral of dysfunction that becomes increasingly difficult to stop.
Pillows for neck pain can help improve your memory. What’s that? It’s true. During the day our brain is busy soaking up information and experiences. Some of these it is able to process immediately. Things that may be more mentally or emotionally taxing, however, are usually processed by the brain as we sleep. Sometimes by way of dreams (8) that help us sort things out and consolidate our memories. A lack of sleep can interfere with this process. Important information and feelings never get properly resolved and linger in our subconscious, interfering with our real-time short term memory. A good pillow for back pain that enables you to get a good night’s sleep then, will help keep your mind clear and enhance memory.
Pillows for neck pain can save you money on medical bills. Doctor visits aren’t getting any cheaper. And many times the cost of the office visit isn’t covered by insurance. That goes double for Medicare which, at best, typically only covers part of the cost of an office visit (9). By buying and using the right pillow you can alleviate your neck pain and fend off the need to keep spending money on expensive trips to the doctor.
Pillows for neck pain allow you to be more comfortable. This is, after all, the bottom line when it comes to pillows. If the pillow you use to reduce neck pain is not comfortable and does not make you more comfortable while you’re trying to sleep then it’s not doing its job. In which case you should start looking immediately for another. Because, as we’ve seen, good sleep is essential to physical, mental and emotional health.
Q: What causes neck pain?
A: There are a lot of things that might be the source of a person’s neck pain. Sometimes a strenuous workout can lead to a strained muscle in the neck, shoulder or upper back. Sometimes years of wear and tear can cause compression of the spine (10), a painful condition that requires extensive treatment.
Auto accidents are another common cause of neck pain. Many people suffer whiplash (11) that can take months to get over and which can severely impact the ability to get a good night’s sleep. Arthritis, of course, is another common cause of neck pain (12) and another common cause of fitful sleep. Other chronic diseases can also lead to intense neck pain and result in sleepless nights. Spinal meningitis (13) is one such disease.
Q: I use the right kind of pillow. Why does my neck still hurt?
A: Unfortunately, it is possible to sleep in the optimal position, on the best mattress money can buy and use a pillow specifically made to address your type of neck issue, and still suffer neck pain while you sleep. How can that be? Because the neck does not exist in a vacuum. There are things you may do or even consume during the day that follow you to bed at night. These can affect the amount of pain you experience. For instance, if you have neck pain but engage in vigorous exercise that may elevate pain levels to a point a pillow cannot address. Also, drinking too much alcohol and subjecting yourself to too much stress can also amplify the pain you’re experiencing.
Q: What is the best way to sleep if you have neck pain?
A: Most doctors believe that sleeping on your back is best for alleviating back pain. If you have the right pillow of course. Lying on your back allows your spine to assume it’s natural shape and takes pressure off individual joints. However, it is believed that less than 10% of people sleep on their backs (14). The overwhelming majority sleep on their side. And while side-sleeping is not considered best for back pain with the right pillow a pain free night of sleep is still possible. Stomach sleeping is the worst position for alleviating back pain. But some people are not able to sleep any other way. Fortunately, there are pillows available that can help them too.
Q: What type of pillow should a side sleeper use?
A: As we just mentioned most people sleep on their side. Pillow designers are well aware of this and do their utmost to design pillows that will enable side sleepers to obtain relief from their neck pain. If you’re a side sleeper with neck pain you’ll want to pay particular attention to how thick the pillow is. It’s ‘loft’ in other words. Also, the fill material is important. You want something that is firm but not hard. And you want the pillow to promote the natural alignment of your spine. Several of the pillows on our list will do a good job allowing side sleepers to achieve that alignment even if they move frequently during the night.
Q: What are pillows for neck pain made from?
A: The pillows on our list represent the state of the pillow maker’s art and are fashioned from an array of leading edge materials. These materials include memory foam, down, latex foam, polyester, microbeads, buckwheat (15) and various water-based materials. Most are not only comfortable and durable they’re also hypoallergenic, resistant to dust mites and other microscopic life forms as well as being easy to clean. One of the main reasons this type of pillow is often considerably more expensive than standard pillow is because they are fashioned from such high-end materials.
Q: Should I use a firm or soft pillow for neck pain?
A: This is one of the most common questions people with neck pain ask and it’s an important one. Because the firmness of your pillow will determine if it is effective in alleviating your particular type of neck pain. As a general rule, soft pillows are of little use when it comes to providing proper support. Most people need something relatively firm in order to hold the neck still while they sleep. Whether they sleep on their back, side or stomach. In rare instances a small individual may benefit to some limited degree by using a moderate to soft pillow. But they would be the exception. And the only reason they might get away with it is because they’re head is smaller and lighter and won’t compress the pillow too much.
Q: Will these pillows help with arthritis neck pain?
A: There are several pillows on our list that will help to alleviate arthritis neck pain. The right pillow for this particular job has to be a good match for the person’s natural sleep position. That’s because most folks with arthritis are a bit older. And trying to teach someone who’s slept on their side their whole life to now sleep on their back isn’t going to work. So the pillow has to work with their natural tendencies. For instance, if the person is a side sleeper the pillow should promote a nice straight spine from the upper back to the base of the skull. It should not tilt the head up or down.
Q: Is it good to sleep with the pillow under your shoulders?
A: No. You’d be hard pressed to find any health professional that thinks it’s a good idea to sleep with the pillow under your shoulders. Placing it (the pillow) in such a way is going to exacerbate any spinal curvature and intensify, rather than alleviate, any neck pain you are already feeling. If you are not experiencing neck pain there’s a good chance that sleeping with the pillow under your shoulders will create it sooner or later. This is mostly an issue for people who sleep on their back. But it’s not wise for anyone to sleep with the pillow extending down under their shoulders.
Q: Are water pillows a waste of time?
A: Not at all. The notion that they might be problematic likely springs from the early days of the waterbed craze some 50 years ago (16). At that time mattress manufacturers felt threatened by the new type of bed and spread the word that they were bad for your back. They’re not. But the myth persists and likely had a hand in the decline of waterbed sales in the past 20 years. When it comes to water pillows they provide almost unlimited adjustment possibilities. Add more water to firm them up. Drain water to ease up on the tension. You can even add warm water to provide some additional muscle relaxation.
Q: Is it better to sleep without a pillow?
A: It’s almost never a good idea to sleep without a pillow unless you’ve been doing it your whole life. About the only people with neck pain who might benefit from ditching the pillow are those who sleep on their stomach (17). That’s because if you put a pillow under your head while laying on your stomach it can twist your next backward in a very awkward way that will more than likely aggravate whatever it is that is causing your neck pain.
Q: How do I wash a pillow for neck pain?
A: The pillows on our list all come with their own care instructions, including specific recommendations about how to clean them. It is wise to follow these instructions to the letter in order to prevent damage to the fill that could undermine the pillow’s effectiveness. Most pillows should not be submerged in water. But if the maker of your pillow says it’s okay remember that it must be allowed to dry completely before being used again. We can’t emphasize this enough: don’t be in a hurry to put the pillow back in service. Give it whatever time it needs to dry through and through. And unless it says it can be submerged in water don’t submerge it in water. Ever.
Neck pain can stem from any number of sources. But whatever the cause the end result is almost always the same: difficulty sleeping. One of the most effective ways for dealing with neck pain is to pick up a pillow that is specially designed to help alleviate it. These pillows help align the neck properly while you sleep. In doing so they relieve pressure on the joints of the spine and muscles of the neck where the pain is originating.
All of the pillows on our list are well-designed, well-built and will provide effective relief from neck pain. Exactly which one is right for you will depend on the source of your pain. If you have any questions regarding which type of pillow will help relieve your neck pain talk it over with your doctor.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended pillow for neck pain, click here.