Best Pillows for Back Pain – Our Picks and Buyer’s Guide

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Quick Summary

Millions of adults in the U.S. experience frequent back pain that compromises their overall sleep quality, leaving them tired and unfocused the next day. Choosing the right pillow can be highly beneficial for those with chronic back pain, as some pillow materials conform closely to the sleeper’s head, neck, and shoulders in order to improve spinal alignment and alleviate pressure points. Sleeping with a pillow between one’s legs can reduce back pain, as well. By the same token, choosing the wrong pillow can worsen the symptoms of back pain.

Pillow shoppers face several considerations when choosing and comparing models. One important factor is loft, or pillow thickness; sleepers should take their weight, sleep position, head size, and shoulder width into account when deciding how thick or thin their pillow should be. Other key variables include temperature neutrality, shape retention, moldability, and price-point.

This guide will discuss some strategies for choosing a pillow that will alleviate back pain. Below you will find our picks for the best pillows for back pain sold today. Our choices are based on verified customer and owner experiences, as well as intensive product research and analysis.

Best Pillows for Back Pain

Editor’s Pick – Malouf Z Zoned Gel Dough

Best Value Pillow – Coop Home Goods Eden

Best Luxury Pillow – Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Symphony

Best Cooling Pillow – Nest Bedding Easy Breather

Best Pillow for Side Sleepers – Leesa Hybrid

Best Pillow for Back Sleepers – Bear Pillow

How We Decided

 

70 mattresses considered –– 100 hours of research –– 4 sleep experts consulted

The Best Pillows for Back Pain – Tuck's Top 6 Picks

Malouf Z Zoned Gel Dough – Editor's Pick

Highlights
  • ‘Medium Soft’
  • 5-year warranty
  • Sleeps cool for most
  • Multiple loft options
  • Great shape retention and long lifespan

Our editor’s pick is the Zoned Gel Dough pillow, which is part of Malouf’s Z pillow collection. This model is constructed from soft, aerated memory foam that conforms closely to the sleeper’s head and neck and reduces pain and pressure points in their most sensitive areas. The ventilation holes promote air circulation, allowing the pillow to sleep cooler than many other foam models; the cover made from polyester and bamboo-rayon also helps regulate temperature.

Durability is another key strength of the Zoned Gel Dough; the expected lifespan exceeds three years, which is longer than most competing models. Another advantage is wide selection. The pillow is available in low, medium, and high loft options to accommodate sleepers with different preferences. The pillow offers great shape recovery, as well, and never requires fluffing or primping.

Malouf offers free pillow shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. The Zoned Gel Dough is backed by a five-year warranty.

Good for:

  • Side and back sleepers
  • Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
  • Hot sleepers
  • Those who prefer denser foam pillows

Check Price | Read Our Full Malouf Zoned Dough Pillow Review

Coop Home Goods Eden – Best Value Pillow

Highlights
  • ‘Medium Soft’ firmness
  • 100-night sleep trial
  • 5-year warranty
  • Adjustable loft
  • Great shape retention

The Eden from Coop Home Goods is filled with shredded, gel-infused memory foam. The material offers close conforming and improved spinal alignment but also sleeps cooler than solid memory foam. The bamboo-rayon cover helps with temperature neutrality, as well. Additionally, the Eden’s loft is fully adjustable. Owners simply add or remove shredded foam fill to increase or decrease the loft, which can be helpful for those with thickness preferences that shift from night to night.

The Eden has an expected lifespan of three years or longer, which exceeds that of most other shredded foam models. The pillow is also easy to clean; a removable polyester liner allows owners to wash the cover in a machine without damaging the foam. The Eden is highly moldable, making it suitable for those who sleep with a pillow between their legs, but its shape retention is better than average.

The Eden has a price-point that is much lower than that of the average shredded memory foam pillow. Coop Home Goods will ship the pillow for free to all 50 states; the Eden is backed by a 100-night sleep trial and a five-year warranty, both of which are longer than average.

Good for:

  • Side and back sleepers
  • Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
  • Neck and shoulder pain sufferers
  • Sleepers with shifting loft preferences

Check Price | Read Our Full Coop Home Goods Eden Pillow Review

Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Symphony Pillow – Best Luxury Pillow

Highlights
  • ‘Soft’
  • 5-year warranty
  • Medium loft (5″)
  • Flippable with even and arched surfaces
  • Exceptional durability and shape retention

Our Best Luxury Pillow is the TEMPUR-Symphony from Tempur-Pedic, a single-piece memory foam pillow with a flippable design. One side is flat and even, and conforms very closely; the other side is arched in order to provide added support to the head and heck. This design is especially useful for sleepers with back pain, as it allows them to switch between two surfaces that offer different levels of ergonomic support and improved spinal alignment.

The memory foam used in the TEMPUR-Symphony is exceptionally durable and the lifespan of the pillow is much longer than average. The pillow also retains its shape well and will fully recover after each use, but it is moldable enough for those who cuddle with a pillow while they sleep or sleep with one between their legs to reduce back pain symptoms.

The TEMPUR-Symphony has an above-average price-point, making it a good pick for shoppers with bigger budgets. Tempur-Pedic offers free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S., as well as a five-year warranty.

Good for:

  • Every type of sleeper (side, back, stomach, combination)
  • Sleepers in the light and average weight groups
  • Neck and shoulder pain sufferers
  • Those who prefer a flippable, dual-sided design

Check Price | Read Our Full Tempur-Pedic TEMPUR-Symphony Pillow Review

Nest Bedding Easy Breather – Best Cooling Pillow

Highlights
  • ‘Medium’ firmness
  • 100-night sleep trial
  • 2-year warranty
  • Adjustable loft
  • Sleeps cool and alleviates pressure well

The Easy Breather from Nest Bedding is another shredded memory foam model. It hugs the sleeper’s head and neck closely without sagging to improve spinal alignment and reduce aches and pains. The pillow also absorbs minimal body heat and sleeps very cool, due to good air circulation through the interior and the breathable Tencel® lyocell cover.

The Easy Breather offers fully adjustable loft, making it suitable to sleepers with varying thickness preferences. It is also very moldable and scrunchy, which is ideal for pillow snugglers and those who sleep with a pillow between their legs. Because it is ‘Medium’ in terms of firmness, the Easy Breather will be ideal for those in the light weight group (less than 130 pounds) and average weight group (130 to 230 pounds), as well as heavier individuals who prefer softer pillows.

The Easy Breather qualifies for free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. Nest Bedding offers a 100-night sleep trial and a two-year warranty with the pillow.

Good for:

  • Side and back sleepers
  • Sleepers in the light and average weight groups
  • Those who cuddle with pillows when they sleep
  • Sleepers with shifting loft preferences

Check Price | Read Our Full Nest Easy Breather Pillow Review

Leesa Hybrid Pillow – Best Pillow for Side Sleepers

Highlights
  • Flippable with dual firmness (‘Medium Soft,’ ‘Medium Firm’)
  • 100-night sleep trial
  • 3-year warranty
  • Adjustable loft
  • Innovative, multi-textured design

The Leesa Hybrid is a flippable pillow that offers two distinct sleeping experiences. One side is quilted and padded with down alternative fibers, which offer close conforming and targeted pressure relief, while the other side is flat and features a gel insert that sleeps very cool. Sleepers with back pain can use the quilted side when their symptoms flare up and the gel-insert side when experiencing minimal pain.

Both sides have different firmness settings, as well; the quilted side is ‘Medium Soft’ and the gel-insert side is ‘Medium Firm.’ These are two of the most popular firmness settings among side sleepers. The quilted side also offers adjustable loft for those whose thickness preferences change from night to night.

Leesa offers free pillow shipping to all 50 states. The Leesa Hybrid is backed by a 100-night sleep trial and a three-year warranty.

Good for:

  • Every type of sleeper (side, back, stomach, combination)
  • Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
  • Those with shifting loft preferences
  • Neck and shoulder pain sufferers

Check Price | Read Our Full Leesa Hybrid Pillow Review

Bear Pillow – Best Pillow for Back Sleepers

Highlights
  • ‘Medium’
  • 100-night sleep trial
  • 2-year warranty
  • Medium loft (5″)
  • Conforms closely to alleviate pressure

The Bear Pillow is constructed from a single piece of aerated polyfoam and a polyester cover with mesh end caps. The pillow sleeps very cool compared to other all-foam pillows. It also offers close conforming and pressure relief in the neck, shoulders, and other sensitive areas. The Bear Pillow is ‘Medium’ in terms of firmness, which is one of the most popular firmness settings among back sleepers – particularly those in the light and average weight groups. It is suitable for side and stomach sleepers, as well.

Additionally, the Bear Pillow is very moldable and scrunchy, but also retains a full shape due to its dense foam construction. And unlike many other all-foam pillows, the Bear Pillow produces minimal off-gassing odor; this is partially due to the mesh end caps, which promote good air circulation and help push out unpleasant smells.

The Bear Pillow qualifies for free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. The pillow is backed by a 100-night sleep trial and a two-year warranty.

Good for:

  • Every type of sleeper (side, back, stomach, combination)
  • Sleepers in the light and average weight groups
  • Those who tend to sleep hot
  • People who prefer to snuggle with pillows while they sleep

Check Price | Read Our Full Bear Pillow Review

Best Pillows for Back Pain Buyer's Guide

Back pain is, unfortunately, quite common among adults and children. Causes of back pain may include anything from muscle strains and arthritis to skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis. The right pillow can mitigate some of the pressure and discomfort associated with back pain — and by the same token, choosing the wrong pillow can have the opposite effect. Sleepers with back pain should consider factors like pillow size, shape, loft (thickness), and material composition when deciding which pillow will best meet their needs.

This guide explores the causes and symptoms of conditions that can lead to back pain, as well as tips for pillow buyers and our picks for the best pillows for back pain.

|Causes and Symptoms of Back Pain|

According to the Mayo Clinic, common sources of back pain include the following conditions:

  • Strained muscles and/or ligaments: Many people strain their back muscles or spinal ligaments through strenuous activities like heavy or improper lifting, as well as awkward movements. Individuals who are in poor physical shape are more susceptible to muscle and ligament strain, as well.
  • Bulging or ruptured disks: The disks are fibrous, ring-shaped pads that cushion each vertebra in the spine. Bulging or ruptured disks may press against nerves in the lower back, which can cause shooting pains. However, this condition may not lead to any back pain whatsoever.
  • Arthritis: Arthritis is a condition affecting joints, and the condition known as ‘osteoarthritis’ specifically targets joints in the lower back. Arthritis can also cause the spinal column to become narrower, which may lead to a condition known as spinal stenosis that commonly exacerbates back pain symptoms.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis causes pores to form in bones, making them brittle and more susceptible to deterioration. If osteoporosis spreads to spinal vertebrae, then people usually experience some level of back pain.
  • Skeletal irregularities: The most common skeletal irregularity that causes back pain is scoliosis, a degenerative condition that causes the spine to be C-shaped or S-shaped. Scoliosis patients often experience back pain, especially if their curvature is more pronounced.

Symptoms of chronic back pain may include the following:

  • Chronic muscle aches
  • Shooting or stabbing pains
  • Pain that travels down one or both legs
  • Limited range of motion and reduced flexibility

Back pain may not necessitate medical care, but the Mayo Clinic urges patients to meet with their physician if they experience the following symptoms:

  • Bowel or bladder issues
  • A fever
  • Above-average pain that occurs due to physical trauma, such as a fall

|Pillow Positioning Options for People with Back Pain|

Individuals who experience back pain can adjust or reposition their pillows in order to alleviate their discomfort. According to Healthline, the following methods may be suitable for different sleepers:

  • Side sleeping with a pillow between the knees. You should ensure your body makes contact with the mattress between your shoulder and buttocks. The pillow should be placed in a position where it won’t slip out; this will help the hips and pelvis align with the spine, which can reduce pain and discomfort. If a gap forms between your side and the mattress, then a smaller pillow may be used to fill that space.
  • Fetal position with both knees tucked. To achieve this position, lie down on your back and then roll onto one side with both knees bent and tucked toward your chest. Bend your upper body toward the knees; this will help expand the spine and alleviate pressure on the disks. Be sure to rotate to the other side if you begin to experience discomfort.
  • Stomach sleeping with a pillow beneath the pelvis. Although stomach sleeping can exacerbate back pain symptoms, a pillow placed under the pelvis can relieve stress on the neck and back disks. Some sleepers in this position are more comfortable without a pillow beneath their head.
  • Back sleeping with a pillow beneath the knees. Lay flat on your back and place a pillow beneath both knees. This helps straighten out the spine and alleviates pressure points between the neck and hips. If you find this is insufficient, consider placing a rolled-up towel under your lower back.

|Understanding Pillow Size, Shape, and Loft|

There are six standard sizes for pillows, as well as smaller specialty sizes normally associated with specific pillow types (such as orthopedic memory foam pillows). The following table breaks down the width and length dimensions of these seven sizes, as well as suitable pillowcase measurements.

Pillow SizeDimensionsPillow Case Size and DimensionsNotes
Small20W” x 12L”Specialty sizesNormally found with orthopedic/cervical pillows (see below)
Standard20W” x 26L”Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L)The most common pillow size, as well as the most compact and usually the least expensive
Super Standard20W” x 28L”Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L)Slightly longer than the Standard, but uses Standard-size pillowcases
Queen20W” x 30L”Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L)
Queen (20-22W” x 30-34L”)
The second most common pillow size, and suitable for most people who toss and turn
King20W” x 36L”King (20-21W” x 36-41″L)Good for people who toss and turn, and also makes good headrests and backrests
Euro26W” x 26L”
24W” x 24L”
22W” x 22L”
20W” x 20L”
18W” x 18L”
16W” x 16L”
Euro (dimensions vary)The only standard pillow size that is square-shaped, and not normally used for primary sleeping pillows
Body Pillow54W” x 20L”
48W” x 20L”
Body pillow (dimensions vary)The longest pillow size, mostly suitable for side sleepers and pregnant women

Pillow shape is also important for people with back pain. Although a wide selection of pillow shapes are available, pillows generally fall into one of these two categories:

  • Even: These pillows have an even, non-contoured surface. They may not be as suitable for sleepers with back pain, but pillows made from certain materials (such as shredded memory foam or feathers) conform beneath the head and neck for targeted pain and pressure relief.
  • Curved: Also known as cervical or orthopedic pillows, curved pillows are usually made from foam and have a contoured surface. The neck is raised with the area for the head dips down, which can provide better support for people with neck pain — but some sleepers claim that these pillows are more comfortable when they are placed upside down on the mattress.

Lastly, let’s discuss pillow loft, a term that refers to how thick a pillow is when not bearing weight. Specific loft measurements vary by model, but there are three general loft categories:

  • Low-loft: Less than three inches thick.
  • Medium-loft: Three to five inches thick.
  • High-loft: More than five inches thick.

The loft will help determine how supportive and comfortable the pillow feels, and whether it is suitable for people with back pain. However, there are several factors to take into account when selecting a pillow based on loft. These include:

Sleep position: Choosing the right pillow based on loft depends on whether the sleeper prefers the back, side, or stomach position.

  • Back-sleepers are usually most comfortable with medium-loft pillows because they find the right balance between thickness and softness.
  • Side-sleepers often prefer medium- or high-loft pillows because this position can cause large gaps to form between their head/neck and the pillow.
  • Stomach-sleepers tend to prefer low-loft pillows because higher-loft models elevate the neck too much, causing the spine to become uneven; this can lead to aches and pains throughout the body. Some stomach sleepers find that not using a pillow at all is most comfortable.

Pillow position: People who sleep with a pillow completely beneath often prefer medium-loft pillows because there is less space. For those who sleep with a pillow partially beneath their head, then a medium- or high-loft pillow may be needed to fill the larger gap.

Mattress type: Certain mattresses, such as all-foam and latex models, are designed to sink deeply beneath the sleeper’s body. A low-loft pillow may be most suitable for these mattresses because there is less space between the neck and the mattress surface. Other mattresses, such as innersprings and hybrids, are less responsive and will not sink as much. A medium- or high-loft pillow can help fill the extra space and provide more support.

Body weight: People with above-average weights (more than 230 pounds) may sink deeper into their mattress than lighter individuals, and thus prefer a low- or medium-loft pillow that won’t elevate their heads too much. People with below-average weights (less than 130 pounds) may prefer medium- or high-loft pillows because they don’t sink as much.

Head size: People with larger-than-average heads are more likely to feel comfortable on a high-loft pillow that won’t sink too deeply. Low- or medium-loft pillows may be the best option for those with small or average-size heads

Shoulder width: People with wider shoulder spans experience larger gaps between their head/neck and their pillow, and may need a higher-loft pillow to compensate for the space. Those with narrower shoulders usually feel more comfortable with low- or medium-loft pillows.

It’s important to note that many pillows offer adjustable loft. The owner simply unzips the pillow cover and adds or removes the fill material to increase or decrease the loft. Adjustable-loft pillows may be the best option for people whose loft preferences tend to vary from night to night.

|Best Pillow Materials for People with Back Pain|

Pillows come in a wide selection of fill materials, each with unique benefits and drawbacks for sleepers with back pain. The table below lists pros, cons, and back pain ratings for the seven most common pillow materials.

Pillow MaterialDescriptionProsConsNeck Pain Rating
BuckwheatThe pillows are filled with five to 10 pounds of buckwheat hulls, or outer shellsAdjustable loft
Sleeps cool
Good support

 

High price
Too firm for some
Heavy and difficult to move
Good
Buckwheat pillows offer adjustable loft and sleep fairly cool, but many people with back pain find they are too firm
DownThe pillows contain the soft inner plumage of ducks or geese, and may also be padded with outer feathersAdjustable loft
Lightweight
Sleeps cool
High price
Flatten easily
Too soft for some
Fair
Most down pillows are not suitable for sleepers with back pain because they are excessively soft and will lose their shape quickly
Down AlternativeThe pillows are filled with polyester fibers that mimic the softness of real down

 

Adjustable loft
Lightweight
Low price

 

Short lifespan
Flatten easily
Too soft for some
Poor
Most sleepers with back pain do not feel comfortable on down alternative pillows because they are too soft and will become flat rather quickly
FeatherPillows are filled with outer feathers of ducks or geese (as opposed to down, or inner plumage)Adjustable loft
Lightweight
Long lifespan
High cost
Flatten easily

 

Very Good
Feather pillows tend to be firmer than down pillows, making them more suitable for people with back pain
LatexPillows contain solid latex, a substance extracted from the sap of rubber treesClose conforming
Long lifespan
Retain full shape without flattening
Non-adjustable loft
High cost
Dense and heavy
Good
Latex pillows offer even support, but the loft is not adjustable
Memory FoamPillows may contain shredded or solid pieces of memory foam, which softens when it comes into contact with body heatClose conforming
Adjustable loft if shredded
Lightweight
High cost
Sleeps hot

 

Very Good
Memory foam pillows conform closely and alleviate a high amount of pressure; most orthopedic pillows are made from memory foam
PolyesterPillows contain shredded polyfoam, which has a similar feel to memory foam, or interlocking polyester fibers that give the pillow a fuller shapeLow cost
Adjustable loft when shredded
Short lifespan
Flattens easily
Sleeps hot

 

Good
Memory foam pillows provide more pain and pressure relief, but polyfoam pillows can be a low-cost alternative for people with back pain

Additionally, some pillows contain interior water chambers that can be filled or drained to adjust the loft. The chambers are usually padded with foam to make the pillow more comfortable. Many sleepers with back pain claim that water chamber pillows alleviate pain and pressure to a noticeable extent.

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