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How to choose the best pillow for neck and shoulder pain

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to get eight hours of sleep per night. That’s generally the case, according to CDC guidance. However, quality sleep isn’t simply defined by numbers on a clock.

You want to wake up feeling refreshed. If you’re getting out of bed and feeling pain in your neck or shoulder, it may be time for a new pillow. You may also benefit from getting a new pillow if chronic shoulder or neck pains are making it hard for you to catch shut-eye in the first place. One study found that using a supportive pillow and regular physical activity relieved neck pain better than using hot or cold packs plus getting a massage.

Your best pillow for neck and shoulder pain will depend on various factors, including your go-to sleep position. Use these top tips to find the best pillow for neck support.

a woman sleeping towards the edge of the bed in a blue shirt
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Tips for choosing the best pillow for neck and shoulder pain

You may get recommendations from friends and family on the best pillow for shoulder support. As helpful as they may be, you’ll also want to think about a few personal preferences when picking out your cushion.

Consider filling

Feather pillows may feel luxurious, but people who use them are generally less satisfied with their quality of sleep, according to a 2011 study. Polyester and latex pillow users consistently gave their headrests high marks for comfort and sleep quality. Foam pillows rated high for comfort, but opinions on steep quality varied.

What’s your sleep position?

Arguably the most important thing to consider when you’re trying to figure out the best pillow for neck support is how you sleep. Opinions on the best sleep position differ (some say side, others swear by back, and many advise against stomach). However, it can be tough to retrain yourself to sleep in a different position. The best alternative is to find a pillow that gives you the support you need in the position you’ll inevitably take while in dreamland. Ideally, the pillow you choose should keep your head, neck, and spine in neutral alignment to alleviate aches and pains. Here’s what to look for based on your sleep position:

  • Back sleepers: Opt for a medium pillow that feels supportive of your neck.
  • Stomach sleepers: Stomach sleepers often need the most help mitigating neck strain. Your best bet is to find a thin pillow.
  • Side sleepers: You want something thick to ensure the head stays elevated and the neck and spine stay in natural alignment.
    two pillows on a made bed

What to do if the pillow doesn’t help

The right pillow can help alleviate neck and shoulder pain and allow you to wake up rejuvenated. However, it’s not always enough for some people. Here’s what to do if you’re still feeling achy in your upper body after switching your pillow.

  • Stretch. A few simple stretches can help improve your body’s alignment and posture, thereby reducing pain.
  • Think about posture throughout the day. You may spend more time at work than you do sleeping. If you’re constantly slouching at your desk, teach yourself to stop. Doing so may help you sleep better at night and feel healthier throughout the day.
  • See a chiropractor. Studies have shown chiropractic care is an effective way to reduce upper body aches.
  • See a doctor. If your neck and shoulder pain prevents you from enjoying your day-to-day activities or interfering with your work, call a doctor.

The right pillow combined with regular exercise can help relieve neck pain better than hot or cold packs plus massage. What is the right pillow? That depends. You’ll want to keep filling and your sleep position in mind when you choose one for yourself. For example, side sleepers do best with a thicker cushion, as it keeps the neck and spine in alignment. Choosing a place to rest your head is just the first step. Pillows tend to lose their supportive benefits as the filling wears, so you’ll want to change the pillow every one to two years. If you’re struggling with chronic neck or shoulder pain and the updated pillows aren’t helping, speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you find other ways to relieve pain, including seeing a chiropractor.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on and In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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