Best Pillow for Neck Pain
Neck pain is one of the most important issues people consider when they think about the sleep they are getting. While we’ve talked at length about how to ensure your mattress provides the support your body needs, but getting the right pillow is also vitally important. We’ve got some of our favorite pillows listed below, but we’ll try to give you a better understanding of neck pain, the role that pillows play in neck pain, and help you come to grips with pillow and mattress firmness. We’ll also go over the qualities that you should look for in a pillow for neck pain, and finally cover different pillow materials.
We’d like to note that we aren’t doctors or medical professionals of any kind. This guide should function as a general reference rather than being treated as specific medical advice. You should always seek the advice of a qualified health professional for any health issues you encounter.
Memory Foam or Natural Latex
Noodled foam, adjustable, moldable
Shredded foam, adjustable, alignment optimized
Coop Home Goods
Cross cut foam, adjustable, moldable
Soft, medium loft, moldable, traditional
Solid core foam, medium loft, contoured mold
I <3 My Pillow
Memory foam, varying feels / lofts, balanced
Firm, supportive, adjustable, healthy
Understanding Neck Pain
Neck pain is very unpleasant and can result in a number of other health issues and complications. Your neck houses your spinal column, which acts as the message delivery system from your brain to the rest of you. That means that problems with your neck can influence other parts of your body. Therefore, addressing neck pain issues can be a good first step to resolving or minimizing other problems like hip and knee pain, headaches, lower back pain, and more.
The fact that your neck and spine connect to so many other parts of your body, the condition of your neck while you sleep can have lasting effects on those other parts. Compensating for neck pain causes you to put stress on other parts of your body, as you twist into misaligned positions in an effort alleviate the pressure on your neck. This type of pain is known as compensation pain.
Referral pain is another type of pain you can develop as a result of neck pain. This type of pain occurs when the pain runs from one part of your body to another. For example, a pain that runs from your neck, down to your shoulder, and to your fingertips.
Because these types of pain involve your spine, they can be very difficult and expensive to treat. To make matters worse, attempting to put off treatment for these conditions can result in other problems from compensation pain, as you adjust your body to avoid causing the referral pain.
It’s easy to see how this situation can quickly turn into an escalating cycle of pain for some sleepers. That’s why it’s so important to make sure the pillow you choose gives your head and neck the appropriate level of support.
Different sleepers require different angles and types of support to help keep their bodies in the appropriate alignment. Side sleepers require extra support around their hips and midsection, while stomach sleepers need support along their upper torso to ensure their spine isn’t arching too much. Having the right mattress and the right pillow can go a long way in preventing complications from bad alignments.
The Pillow’s Role in Neck Pain
Pillows play an incredibly important role when it comes to maintaining your body’s natural alignment. Your pillow has more influence over the alignment of your bed than any other element of your mattress. Your pillow affects the angle of your neck, pressure points, how still you stay while you sleep, and a series of other factors.
Many people use poor quality pillows or buy pillows based on the size, appearance, or price if the pillow. However, fewer people consider the role of their pillow in how they sleep. Oftentimes people will try to mix and match different pillows when they lay down. This can produce inconsistent results, which risks aggravating your spine and neck.
Pillow and Mattress Firmness
We’ve gone over before how support and firmness are different, but, when it comes to neck pain, it deserves repeating. The firmness of a pillow or mattress describes the initial “pushback” feel that you get when you lay down. Support is the ability of a pillow or mattress to keep your body in the appropriate alignment.
There are lots of people out there who think that the solution to neck or back pain is that your pillow or mattress is too soft. However, that is something of a red herring. In the past soft pillows and mattresses couldn’t provide the necessary support that some people require. However, the advancements in material sciences, particularly the development of advanced foams, means that now it is entirely possible to get a soft mattress or pillow that still gives support. These qualities arise out of the viscoelastic properties of modern foams. The more pressure you put on these materials, the more they will push back. The result is that your body gets the most support where it most needs it, as the areas that require support push against the pillow and mattress more strongly than areas that don’t require as much support.
Best Pillow Qualities for Neck Pain
It’s important to keep in mind that different sleepers will benefit more from different pillows. This means that it can be challenging to determine what the best pillow is for you. However, there are a few qualities that you can look for when you’re pillow shopping that can give you a better idea of whether a pillow will be a good option or not.
Neck and back pain specialists have said that pillows should have internal fillings that can be added, removed, or shifted provide an individual with the correct posture. In the world of pillows, this property is known as being adjustable.
Adjustable pillows are filled with shredded material that can be removed, added, or redistributed to get the right level of neck support. The shredded filling can be made from memory foam, gel, gel-infused memory foam, latex, poly foam, or poly fiber fill. Each of these materials will have a different density and different properties.
For example, shredded memory foam will be viscoelastic and will respond with proportional pushback based on how much pressure your body is applying to it. This makes them a good choice for side sleepers, who need pressure relief in very specific places on their body because of how they sleep.
Moreover, the fact that you can add or remove filling to these types of pillows means that you can add or subtract loft, allowing you to achieve the best neck angle. Achieving the best neck angle with a single pillow is the best-case scenario, as it will provide the support you need night after night.
In terms of what loft is best for what kind of sleeper, back and side sleepers will get the best support from a pillow with a medium to high loft. Stomach sleepers, on the other hand, will benefit most from a pillow with lower loft.
In addition to being adjustable, the best pillows for neck pain are also contoured. Your head and neck are shaped by a series of curved lines. A contoured pillow also has curves designed to match your face, head, and neck, and so it can provide the appropriate level of support. Contoured pillows are made from a single piece of foam, and are designed and shaped to have the best chance to offer the neck support that will help alleviate neck pain. A contoured pillow is also a good alternative for those who are looking for more support but don’t like the feeling of shredded pillow stuffing.
The fact that a contoured pillow is made from a single piece of material instead of being shredded material means that you cannot adjust the loft of the pillow. This creates some risk that the contour of your pillow won’t offer the support that’s best for your particular body, which can lead to a bit of a hassle or expense buying and returning different pillows trying to find the right contour. If you really don’t like shredded stuffing, then this is still a better option than using a pillow that doesn’t provide the support that you need.
Individuals who sleep on their backs will want a pillow with a moderate contour toward the back, and a sharper contour toward the front of the pillow where your neck and spine rest.
Side sleepers will want the most contour they can get. Pillows with heighted contour from the ear to the base of the neck are your best option.
Stomach sleepers need very little, if any contour, and will benefit most from low loft pillows that help keep your spine straight while laying down.
Just because you need a certain amount of support from your pillow doesn’t mean that you should give up on comfort. When it comes to selecting the best pillow for you, there are a wide range of options for materials to help make sure you sleep soundly and comfortably while remaining well supported.
Shredded foam is one of the most popular options. The foam can be of many different types, including memory foam and poly foams. It allows you to add density, firmness, or loft so you can sleep in the best possible position.
There are also all-natural options, like pillows filled with goose down or buckwheat. These materials also allow for adjustable designs while creating a feel that’s different to foam and other textile-based fillings.
Another option for either adjustable or contoured pillows is latex. Latex has many unique qualities that make it an excellent material for mattress construction as well as pillows, including good responsiveness and support, with a gentle hug and contour. The result is a truly flexible material that can fill the needs you have so you can sleep soundly at night.