Best Pillows for Neck PainWe get a commission from the mattress manufacturer
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Finding the best pillow for neck pain can be a real pain! There are so many different materials, shapes, sizes, and price points to choose from!
I intend to make things a little clearer for you here. Most of us will experience neck pain at some point in our lives, and for some it will be a recurring problem. Anyone who has woken up with a sore neck knows how painful and restrictive it can be.
The pain can ‘radiate’ down into the arms and back, or lead to migraines and headaches. This can cause difficulty with working, difficulty in sleeping, and reduced quality of life.
While it is not usually a long-lasting condition, neck pain can become more serious and result in a trip to the doctor; by using the right type of pillow you can help prevent neck pain from occurring and provide relief if you are suffering from it.
Below I cover the main considerations for choosing a pillow for neck pain, as well as some of the best candidates on the market.
What causes neck pain?
Neck pain can be caused by a variety of conditions, from skeletal abnormalities, injury or accident (such as whiplash in a car accident), to inflammation, bad posture, over exertion, or by sleeping awkwardly.
The most common reason for waking up with unexplained neck pain is due to a bad sleeping position or an unsuitable pillow.
Choosing the right, supportive pillow that provides the level of comfort you need will ensure not only that you stay free of neck pain, but that you get a good night’s sleep – which is important for good health in general.
The neck is the top of the spine and helps to protect the central nervous system, so anything that causes pain and stiffness here can affect other areas of the body.
What’s a good sleeping position?
When you sleep it’s important to keep your neck in good alignment line with your head and back, to prevent stiffness and pain. However, if you’re experiencing pain while sleeping, it could be a result of not only your pillow, but your sleeping position.
I found this excellent graphic published to LifeHacker with suggested sleeping positions for common types of pain.
People need to find what works best for them, but some general points here should help:
- Sleeping on your back generally makes it easy for your neck and spine to maintain a neutral position (though it may increases snoring!)
- Side-sleeping keeps your spine elongated and is good for general blood flow.
- The ‘fetal’ sleeping position is often favoured by pregnant women, but an extreme curved position may hamper effective breathing, and is not considered a good position for arthritic backs.
- Sleeping on your stomach is generally considered the least healthy position, because it makes it difficult for the spine to maintain a neutral position, and puts pressure on joints and muscles.
The right, supportive pillow can help you achieve a comfortable sleeping position that also helps you avoid waking up with neck pain or stiffness.
Pillow stuffing & materials
The pillow’s core materials are a major consideration when considering the best type, as this usually determines the level of support it provides.
Your options will include:
Memory Foam Pillows
Memory foam is a polyurethane material that is sensitive to pressure and temperature. It is a popular choice these days, as it provides optimum support for the neck. The pillow’s core remains firm, but it has the ability to ‘hug’ the contours of the head and neck for extra comfort.
High quality memory foam pillows may come at a higher price point than those using other materials. You will see several memory foam pillows featured in my Top 10, but I have purposely selected affordable options that maintain a great quality.
Memory foam was first designed in the mid-1960s for NASA airplane seats, because it is both highly energy absorbent and soft.
Feather and down is a traditional fill for pillows, providing a luxurious and plush feel. That’s why you often find the best feather and down pillows in top hotels.
Down is the extremely soft under-feathers of geese; while feathers are the stiffer but soft covering on the upper body.
You may find 100 percent feather or 100 percent down pillows; but often they are mixed. The feather provides firmness and support, while down’s softness brings a super-plush feel.
These pillows are flexible and easy to fluff up or pat down. They are light and durable, though allergy sufferers may want to steer clear – and some people object to occasional spiky feathers poking through the pillow case!
Latex has become a popular stuffing material for pillows and mattresses, because of its natural supportive qualities, complemented by its soft and flexible feel.
Latex is the milky-white resin extracted from the rubber tree; the natural rubbery liquid can be mixed with other substances and moulded into a pillow shape, or even shredded and used as filler that way.
For those looking for a natural solution to neck pain that remains supportive, breathable, and cool, latex may be a good option; but latex pillows are generally in a higher price bracket and some people find them heavier and higher than pillows with other fillers.
Synthetic Fibre Pillows
A range of synthetic fillings are available for pillows. These aim to mimic the support and comfort qualities provided by natural fibres, water, and the latest memory foam technologies.
By far the most common is polyester, which is often blended with cotton to add more breathable qualities to the pillow. Quite often you will see it in the form of ‘micro-beads’ or ‘pellets’, as these fillings are preferred by many for their supportive and therapeutic qualities.
Synthetic fibre pillows are versatile, usually lightweight, and often great value. They are generally well-tolerated by allergy sufferers and easy to care for. However, they may not last as long as other pillows, and may lose shape quickly.
Water-filled pillows work on the principal that the more a pillow can mould to the shape of the head and neck, the more comfortable and supportive it is.
The best examples of water-filled pillows have a plush layer on top to provide softness; and a pouch inside that is filled with water. This can be adjusted to the desired level for individual support and comfort preferences.
A smaller sleeper may use less water than a larger person, who would need more support for the shoulder and cervical area.
Fans of water-filled pillows love their cradling and cooling effects, but water is far less common than memory foam or other materials for stuffing pillows, so you have less choice.
Standard Foam Pillows
We will define ‘standard’ foam as any foam that is not the hi-tech memory foam described above.
While memory foam has taken much of the market share these pillows used to have, you can usually still find them as a cheaper alternative.
Like memory foam, they are made from synthetic chemicals, but do not have its body-hugging qualities. Usually these pillows are closer in feel to the chair and sofa foam cushion ‘pads’ that we have all sat on. They are supportive and usually much cheaper than latex, which is well known for its supportive qualities.
You may find some special cervical and orthopaedic pillows made out of standard foam, and these may be a good option if you regularly suffer from neck pain.
Which other factors should you consider?
As well as the materials the pillow is made from, there are other considerations for selecting your ideal pillow to avoid neck pain:
Gone are the days when pillows all looked the same…just the filling was different. Now, as well as the standard rectangular pillow, you have the option of square, circular, tubular, or pillows with recessed areas. You will see a couple of examples of this in my Top 10 below.
The classic pillow shape
The ever-popular classic pillows that we all know and love are rectangular. They are very versatile, suitable for all types of sleeper, and, as you have seen, they can be made of many different materials.
Providing the support your neck needs for a pain-free night’s sleep depends on finding the right stuffing material.
Contour pillows (‘cervical’ pillows)
These pillows are shaped to the natural contours of the head, neck, and shoulders, therefore providing extra support for people who suffer pain in those areas while sleeping.
Shapes vary, but they are usually lower in the center than at the sides, so the head sits in a defined ‘hollow’ to provide support for the neck. They are usually made from a supportive material, such as memory foam or latex.
Pillow size varies both in terms of the standard length/breadth dimensions, and also in thickness. The latter is especially important when considering neck pain, as overly thick pillows may put extra strain on neck muscles. Another consideration for some people might be matching the size of the pillows with the size of your bed.
Ease of care and cleaning
The best pillows can be with you for many years; so it is important that you are able to clean them easily and effectively. That means not only cleaning the covers and keeping them free of daily dust and grime, but periodically being able to clean the ‘body’ of the pillow. This may affect your choice of filling.
As well-chosen pillows are by your side for years, it should be easy to justify spending a few extra dollars on quality items that you use every night, and which last. That said, nobody wants to pay over the odds. There are some great value options out there and you don’t need to spend a fortune… none of my Top 10 are over $90, and most are much less than that.
Normal sleeping position
Consider your normal sleeping position (side/back/stomach/foetal). Most people have a ‘favourite’ position that they spend most of the night in. If you sleep on your stomach, for instance, a thick fluffy pillow is usually not the best choice, as it will put extra pressure on the spine and neck muscles.
The TOP 10 best pillows for neck pain
Before we get into the Top 10 best pillows for neck pain, let’s recap on the factors that the Sleep Sanctuary has considered in producing this selection.
These recommendations are based on the following factors:
- Level of support for the ‘average’ sleeper
- Level of comfort for the ‘average’ sleeper
- Ability to sleep cool – not too much heat retention
- Value for money
The prices you see in the table are based on those available on Amazon; the star ratings are also based on Amazon average ratings. I have only selected products that have received a good number (400+) of reviews; many have received thousands.
Coop Home Goods Adjustable Shredded Memory Foam Pillow
Price: $59.99 (price subject to change)
Adjustable pillow filled with a mix of shredded visco elastic memory foam; hypoallergenic, breathable, supportive, and dust mite resistant.Buy Now on Amazon
Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Kool-Flow Micro-Vented Covering
Price: $59.99 (price subject to change)
Combines shredded hypo-allergenic Biogreen® memory foam with other foams for a breathable and luxurious pillow without the weight.Buy Now on Amazon
Shredded Memory Foam With Kool-Flow Micro-Vented Bamboo Cover
Price: $49.97 (price subject to change)
Queen size shredded memory foam pillow with kool-flow micro-vented bamboo cover. Hypoallergenic and dust mite resistant.Buy Now on Amazon
Mediflow Original Waterbase Pillow
Price: $39.99 (price subject to change)
Luxurious feel with adjustable inner water chamber to set for desired thickness and extra comfort. Includes a polyester, hypoallergenic cover.Buy Now on Amazon
Tri-Core Cervical Pillow
Price: $35.00 (price subject to change)
Fibre-filled orthopaedic pillow with trapezoid-shaped center to cradle the head. Suitable for side sleepers as well as back sleepers. Three sizes for adults, children and teens.Buy Now on Amazon
Classic Brands Conforma Memory Foam Pillow
Price: $34.06 (price subject to change)
Pressure-relieving memory foam filled pillow for support, with a soft velour cover to add comfort. Ventilated with cooling sleep technology.Buy Now on Amazon
Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow
Price: $19.14 (price subject to change)
Therapeutic memory foam support pillow, with a contoured design and cooling comfort, suitable for side and back sleepers. Holds its shape.Buy Now on Amazon
Smarter Rest Memory Foam Pillow
Price: $38.99 (price subject to change)
An affordable, contoured memory foam pillow for back and neck pain. Provides firm support in almost any sleep position.Buy Now on Amazon
My Pillow Classic Series Bed Pillow
Price: $49.95 (price subject to change)
Adjustable pillow with patented polyester interlocking fill. Open cell construction of fibres allows breathable and cool sleep.Buy Now on Amazon
Arc4life Cervical Linear Traction Neck Pillow
Price: $87.99 (price subject to change)
Contoured, breathable, polyester fibre-filled pillow with a V-shaped, recessed center. Sculpted sides for support in any sleeping position.Buy Now on Amazon
The ten pillows detailed above represent the most supportive, most comfortable, and best value pillows for neck pain on the market at present.
Be wary of trying to save a few dollars on inferior pillows that boast many benefits, but fail to live up to expectations. Those above have been used and reviewed by hundreds and thousands of sleepers, and consistently come out on top.
Consider your pillow an investment in your rest and wellbeing; the right pillow will help you get to sleep, stay asleep, and wake up free of aches and pains. And it will be with you for years.
Hope I’ve helped you get a good night’s rest…