The Best Pillow for Neck Pain

If you experience neck pain – especially when you sleep or first thing in the morning – then changing your sleep position or finding the best pillow for neck pain might be something you need to look into.

Aside from finding the best mattress or pillow to sleep on, the best sleeping position to avoid neck pain is on your side or your back.

That said, sleep position isn’t the only thing that will solve your crick in the neck.

In addition to sleep position, a high-quality pillow that supports your neck while you sleep can help.

As far as the best pillows for neck pain are concerned, I personally recommend one that is matched to your body size.

This means that there really isn't “the best pillow” for everyone, but there's certainly the best pillow for you!

Generally speaking, a more rounded pillow that supports the natural curvature of your neck is what we should be paying attention to.

But it's more complicated than that.

Is the best pillow for neck pain one made of made of memory foam, latex or feathers?

Rather than basing this on opinion, what does the research say about it?

What Research Says About Best Pillows for Neck Pain

Searching “Pillow for Neck Pain” in Pubmed brings up 32 results in total. That's not a lot! 

But after spending some time researching various search terms, I've come to the conclusion that there's really not a lot of science behind pillow design.

That said, there are a few studies that we can reference when it comes to identifying the optimal pillow for neck pain.

First, we should appreciate the fact that pillow design such as height, content or materials and shape have a dramatic impact on sleep quality, muscle activation and pain [1]

One particular randomized, comparative study investigated the effect of different pillow shapes and material on the cervical curve, temperature and comfort [2].

Comparing feather pillows, memory foam and orthopedic pillows, researchers found that the shape and content of a pillow definitely impacts the cervical curve, with the orthopedic pillow being the optimal pillow for sleep quality.

An orthopedic pillow is defined as one that offers the best dimensions based on measurements of your shoulders and neck.

Other studies have investigated the effects of pillow height on the biomechanics of the head and neck [3, 4, 5]

These papers found that pillow height affects comfort and sleeping quality, and was identified as one of the critical factors influencing spinal alignment.

However, a pillow that is ergonomically or bio-mechanically better does not necessarily feel better.

People may often choose a pillow based on their immediate perception and comfort, which could be misleading and may lead to choosing an inappropriate pillow size that induces or worsens neck pain [, , ].

People generally rank higher comfort for softer pillows [], but in fact, a firm pillow that may initially seem less comfortable is better when it comes to stabilizing the spine and reducing undesirable spine misalignment and pain [, ].

Taking into account all the research that exists for pillow design (excluding studies with a commercial and private interest), it appears that the height and curvature have the greatest impact.

In Summary, and according to research, the pillow you choose should:

  • have a particular shape (usually curved to support the neck)
  • be made of materials that are dense enough to support your head in the side lying or back laying positions
  • is of an appropriate height depending on the position you sleep in

Best Pillow For Neck Pain Side Sleeper

If you're trying to find the best pillow for side sleepers with neck and shoulder pain, you should pay attention to the pillow height and shape.

Side sleeping is the most common sleep position and generally considered the healthiest.

In fact, sleeping in the side position, compared to sleeping on your back or stomach, helps remove brain waste and keeps your cerebrospinal fluid clean. This means that side sleeping is the best for your body (not just your neck and spine).

Additionally, side sleeping opens up airways and improves circulation in your breathing passages; which is actually better for anyone suffering from acid reflux and sleep apnea.

However, comfortable side sleeping depends on your mattress and bedding system to provide adequate support for your body.

In terms of pillow selection, it's important to find a pillow that offers a fuller shape (thicker and probably taller) and keeps the neck and spine properly aligned.

If you're a slide sleeper, I'd stay away from feather pillows or pillows made of soft material.

It may seem alright when you first lay down on them, but over time your head will being to sink into the pillow and this could cause neck pain and muscle strain.

In Summary, if you're a side sleeper, make sure that your pillow

  • Is thicker and fills the gap between your shoulder and your head
  • Made of more dense like material (foam, heavier padding)

Best Pillow for Back Sleepers With Neck Pain

The most important quality of a good pillow for back sleepers is the thickness or height.

Stay away from pillows that are too fluffy or cause your head to be artificially raised.

A proper pillow for back sleeping will keep your head in a neutral position (the hole of your ear should be even with your shoulder) and the neck will be properly supported.

In this case, a feather pillow might be a good place to start since you can bunch the pillow underneath your neck and it won't raise your head.

In Summary, back sleepers should find a pillow that:

  • Is softer and thinner behind the head
  • Thicker or properly supports the neck

Best Pillow for Stomach Sleepers

I would never recommend stomach sleeping.

This position wrecks your neck and puts your body in a compromised position.

But if you do sleep on your stomach, then finding a position that doesn’t stress the neck should be a priority.

Most pillows offer thick cushioning and push the head into an unnatural upward position. This means you should avoid tall pillows when sleeping on your stomach.

The ideal pillow for a stomach sleeper is to find a pillow that is thicker on one side and slants down (thinner towards the bottom) towards your chin.

In Summary, a pillow with a slightly inclined surface to create proper spine alignment while laying face down is the best you can do here.

Best Doctor Recommended Pillow for Neck Pain

Let me be 100% honest here, there's no such thing as “The Best Pillow” that I could ever recommend across the board.

I believe that the first thing to do is to optimize your sleeping habits in general.

When it comes to the best pillows for neck pain, everyone is unique in shape and size and being placed into a small, average, or large category doesn’t cut it.

Research shows that proper cervical support comes down to pillow thickness, shape and content.

So assuring proper cervical and shoulder support for each shape and size should be as tailored as possible to an individual’s dimensions. By measuring , you'll get the best possible rest and for muscles to be at their most relaxed.

It is important that the pillow is not too high and not too low. An appropriate pillow, one that is the correct height and shape, will adapt to the contours of a person’s neck, is comfortably soft and gives great support.

Pillowise pillows match the right pillow to every patient with a simple 3-step measuring system & patented algorithmMeasuring makes the difference!

The Pillowise Approach

My office started carrying Pillowise because they offer pillows based on measurements obtained from your body. This helps to identify the best possible pillow for your body.

An appropriate pillow, one that is the correct height and shape, will adapt to the contours of your neck, is comfortably soft and gives great support.

So to determine your perfect pillow match, you need to get measured.

Fitting the pillow involves three distinct measurements along with a series of questions about your sleep habits and environment.

Many ergonomic pillows come in different sizes but these types of specific measurements, along with the questions, are unique to Pillowise.

Most custom pillow products offer a few sizes while Pillowise has six!

The Pillowise system yields the perfect pillow fitted to your dimensions, with optimal support to the cervical spine and head.