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Shoulder pain can stem from a variety of issues: tendinitis, bursitis, a rotator cuff injury, even something as innocent as a too-rigorous workout. For many of us, sore shoulders become a more common experience as we age.
Regardless of what’s causing your shoulder pain, your pillow can either help or exacerbate the issue. The right pillow can keep your spine aligned, reduce the pressure on your already aching shoulder, and cradle your neck and head to prevent further discomfort.
We’re living in a sleep renaissance. Fortunately, that means you have your pick of pillows to choose from, many of which are constructed specifically to alleviate shoulder pain and promote restful sleep.
Unfortunately, that also means you have a ton of options to wade through. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work for you — compiling the best pillows for shoulder pain based on verified customer reviews and the comprehensive product research you’ve come to expect from Tuck. Below, we walk you through everything you need to know to choose the best pillow for your shoulder pain.
Our Editor’s Pick is the Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex pillow. Available in a medium firmness, with two loft options, and queen and king sizes, this is an excellent pillow option for anyone with shoulder pain, regardless of your body type or sleeping position.
As a latex pillow, the Brooklyn Bedding pillow conforms to fill in the space around your head, neck, and shoulders — supporting proper spinal alignment and relieving pressure from your shoulder. The high-quality Talalay latex also enables this pillow to maintain its shape throughout the night, so you experience solid support all night long.
Plus, all Brooklyn Bedding pillows, including the Talalay Latex pillow, come with antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, and moisture-wicking covers, making these pillows a favorite among hot sleepers as well as those with allergies and asthma. Hot sleepers particularly appreciate the pillow’s construction: the organic cotton cover is naturally breathable, as is the Talalay latex interior, a type of latex that offers enhanced airflow.
As a latex pillow, you won’t be able to adjust the loft, so it’s important to measure your shoulder width before going with this pillow. Although, you can also safely try it out risk-free under their 30-night sleep trial. The Brooklyn Bedding Talalay Latex pillow ships free throughout the contiguous U.S. and is backed by a three-year warranty.
Thanks to its “Smart Fluff” interior, made from lightweight puff balls of poly fiber, the Purple Plush Pillow feels like a traditional down pillow, but with the stronger support that sleepers with shoulder pain require (and with less of a tendency to lose shape during the night). The pillow also features a moisture-wicking Lyocell and Nylon combination cover, so it sleeps cool.
The Purple Plush Pillow also boasts an adjustable loft, without the need to remove or add any filler. Like an expandable suitcase, you simply zip and unzip from either of the two sides to adjust the loft. You can open up the pillow for a softer, higher loft, or compress the filler for a firmer pillow. Ultimately, you can adjust the filler to achieve three different firmness levels. This makes the pillow a lot more flexible, as you can adjust the filler to accommodate your shoulder pain for different sleep positions.
The Purple Plush Pillow features an innovative design that provides good support to sleepers with shoulder pain, along with a generous 100-night sleep trial, free shipping, and a 1-year warranty — earning it our Best Value pick. It’s also about half the price of comparable models. Additionally, it is machine washable and easy to clean.
A suitably high loft, combined with memory foam fill, makes the Coop Home Goods Eden the best pillow for side sleepers with shoulder pain. Specifically, the memory foam fill is made of shredded, cooling gel-infused memory foam, so the loft is easily adjustable (just unzip and add or remove filler to find just the right amount of firmness to match your shoulder width). The Eden pillow even ships with an extra half-pound bag of fill so you can adjust the loft right out of the gate. Together, the cooling hypoallergenic filler and the cover made from a blend of bamboo-derived rayon and polyester promote the Eden pillow’s overall breathability, providing for a cool sleep surface.
The filler is soft yet sturdy, the ideal combination for a durable, long-lasting pillow that can mold easily, but won’t lose its shape while you sleep. Memory foam provides that contour and support that relieves pressure points in the neck and shoulder, helping you sleep comfortably and stay fully aligned.
The Eden pillow promises to last three years (longer than the average pillow), with the added benefit of being easily washable, so you can actually achieve that milestone. You simply remove the cover to wash. Coop Home Goods ships free to all 50 states, comes with a 100-night sleep trial, and is backed by a five-year warranty.
The Parachute Down Alternative pillow is our favorite pick for back sleepers who love the feel of a traditional, fluffy down pillow. The 100 percent microfiber down alternative fill of the Parachute pillow will fool you into thinking you’re sleeping on real down, yet it’s completely hypoallergenic so you can sleep and breathe easy. The pillow also features a 100 percent sateen cotton shell for a luxurious sleep experience.
This pillow is ideal for relieving shoulder pain among back sleepers of any weight, as you can purchase it in three different firmness levels according to your head size and shoulder span. Overall, each of the three firmness levels is on the softer side, but that’s what makes the Parachute Down Alternative the best pillow for back sleepers with shoulder pain. We recommend the medium density in particular, as most back sleepers find this to be the most supportive, independent of weight or body size.
You can also wash the Parachute Down Alternative pillow, although it requires more specific care than other pillows. You can take it to the dry cleaners, or wash it in cool water on a delicate cycle and tumble dry on a low setting. The Parachute Down Alternative pillow comes in both standard and king sizes, with a 3-year warranty and a 60-night sleep trial.
The Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow comes in two sizes (standard and king) and three firmness levels (Plush, Mid-Plush,and Firm). We recommend the Plush as the best pillow for stomach sleepers with shoulder pain. This extra soft pillow was designed for stomach sleepers, inviting you to luxuriously sink your head into the pillow so your spine and neck stay aligned, reducing any pressure on your shoulders.
A standout feature of the Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow is its construction. This pillow is made from 100 percent hypoallergenic and vegan-friendly materials, including premium-grade microfiber fill with double-stitched edges for durability and a 400-thread count cotton cover. This creates a down-like sleep experience that will support sleepers with shoulder pain for a long time.
Brooklinen offers the longest sleep trial of any of the pillows on our list, up to 365 days, along with a lifetime warranty. Brooklinen recommends only dry cleaning the pillow. Their pillows are treated with Ultra Fresh antimicrobial, staving off bacterial growth and extending the pillow’s longevity.
Shoulder pain is a common experience for many people, affecting their day-to-day comfort and their ability to sleep well at night. Seventy percent of people will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives.
With the right pillow, you can relieve your shoulder pain and sleep more deeply. The best pillow for shoulder pain involves finding the right loft, size, and materials for your body, sleep position, and mattress. Below we review how different types of shoulder pain can impact your sleep comfort, and share tips for finding the best pillow to match your needs and sleep style.
Shoulder pain occurs whenever the group of muscles, tendons, joints, and bones that make up the shoulder and socket become inflamed or irritated. Shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of issues. Some two million people incur a rotator cuff injury each year, such as a muscle tear or bursitis (where the fluid-filled, cushiony sacs between the bones become compressed or inflamed). This type of shoulder pain may occur due to injury or everyday wear-and-tear.
As people age, chronic shoulder issues become more common. Older adults, particularly older women, may develop adhesive capsulitis, or “frozen shoulder,” where the tissues in the shoulder joint stiffen up and cause pain. Even conditions like osteoarthritis aren’t reserved for knees and hips — they can also occur in the shoulder joint if the cartilage erodes.
When it comes to sleep, chronic pain of any kind creates a vicious cycle. When you’re in pain, it’s challenging to find a position where you can relax sufficiently to fall asleep. You may find yourself tossing and turning, scrunching up your pillow and trying out different positions to get comfortable. All of this takes up time that eats into your sleeping hours and causes frustration.
Problematically, short sleep itself is one of the most consistent predictors of chronic pain. Sleep isn’t just a time to rest and watch your dreams — it’s an essential part of good health. While you doze off, your body works to heal and repair itself. Without sufficient sleep, your body doesn’t have time to repair the inflammation creating your shoulder pain. When you skimp on sleep, your emotional health suffers, too, so it becomes harder to cope with the emotional distress of living with chronic shoulder pain.
Worse, when you do fall asleep, the sleep you get may not be as restorative as it could be — particularly if you are sleeping in such a way that worsens your shoulder pain. For your body to be able to perform its important repair work, you need to keep your spine aligned while you sleep, all the way from your pelvis to your neck. Sleeping on your side or your back are the best sleeping positions for keeping the spine in alignment, but you need to have the right pillow. Otherwise, you may wrench your neck and head out of alignment, causing more pressure on your shoulder.
Your pillow should provide comfort, not pain. In the following sections we discuss ways you can improve your sleep and lessen your shoulder pain.
A doctor or physical therapist can recommend specific exercises, medications, and diet modifications to reduce your shoulder pain. In the meantime, there are many behavioral changes you can make, and minor exercises you can work into your everyday routine, in order to relieve your shoulder pain.
1. Avoid sleeping on the side experiencing pain. If the pain is isolated to one of your shoulders, avoid sleeping on that side. Sleep on your back or the other side instead.
2. Regularly stretch your neck and shoulders throughout the week. Harvard University recommends a seated shoulder stretch, triceps stretch, and chest stretch, all performed while seated upright in a chair. You may also want to consult a doctor to ensure you’re performing these correctly, so as to avoid worsening the pain or tightness in your shoulder.
3. Watch how you hold your phone or books when lying in bed. It’s best to avoid using electronics in bed, period, as the harsh blue light wakes up your brain and delays sleep. But, if you like to read or use your phone in bed, be careful of how you’re positioning yourself and whether you’re placing further stress on your shoulder, or straining it into an uncomfortable position.
4. Reevaluate your exercise routine. It’s possible you are doing something during the day that puts undue strain on your shoulder, such as heavy lifting or throwing your shoulder too hard during exercise. Could you rely on other muscle groups more, or perform the task in a less intense, slower way? Be careful before lifting weights or reaching for something high or out of the way. Generally avoid sudden movements.
5. Improve your posture. People with poor posture can be more prone to experience shoulder pain. If you find yourself slouching, remind yourself to sit upright. Use pillows or bolsters to help you sit well during the day. Walk with your shoulders back and aligned.
As you’ve probably discovered for yourself, certain pillow positions will provide more relief than others. Here are recommended pillow positioning options for individuals with shoulder pain:
You may have noticed we didn’t recommend any stomach sleeping positions above. Stomach sleeping is widely considered to be the unhealthiest sleeping position, simply because it causes your neck to twist to the side (and out of alignment with your spine), while your stomach and hips sink deeper into the mattress than the rest of your body (causing more misalignment further down the spine).
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, prop pillows up around yourself to help train yourself to a new sleep position (either on your back or your side). You could also try sleeping on the stomach with a thin pillow beneath your pelvis, or perhaps without a head pillow at all, to aim for better spinal alignment.
Now, let’s review the mechanics and design of pillows. Bed pillows come in seven standard sizes: small, standard, super standard, queen, king, euro, and body pillow. The table below reviews the dimensions for each of these, as well as the recommended pillow case sizes.
|Pillow Size||Dimensions||Pillow Case Size and Dimensions||Notes|
|Small||20W” x 12L”||Specialty sizes||Normally found with orthopedic/cervical pillows (see below)|
|Standard||20W” x 26L”||Standard (20-21W” x 30-32L")||The most common pillow size, as well as the most compact and usually the least expensive|
|Super Standard||20W” x 28L”||Standard (20-21W” x 30-32L")||Slightly longer than the Standard, but uses Standard-size pillowcases|
|Queen||20W” x 30L”||Standard (20-21W” x 30-32L") Queen (20-22W” x 30-34L”)||The second most common pillow size, and suitable for most people who toss and turn|
|King||20W” x 36L”||King (20-21W” x 36-41L")||Good for people who toss and turn, and also makes good headrests and backrests|
|Euro||26W” 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 Pillow||54W” x 20L” 48W” x 20L”||Body pillow (dimensions vary)||The longest pillow size, mostly suitable for side sleepers and pregnant women|
Independent of size, pillows typically come in one of two shapes: even or curved. The pillow shape refers to its surface design.
An even pillow lies flat. It will contour to your head and neck to a more or lesser extent, depending on the materials, but it generally has a flat appearance.
Curved pillows, on the other hand, are almost always made from foam, so they can be shaped into a contoured surface. Typically, these appear to have two levels: a higher section that fills in the space beneath the neck and the mattress surface, with a lower area for the head; or a raised surface with a divot for the head in the middle. Many people with shoulder pain experience pain in their shoulder, that’s really radiating from their neck. Using a curved pillow can provide relief for these folks. It can also be a helpful tool for training your body to stay in a specific sleep position.
Pillow loft describes how thick a pillow is when there’s no weight on it. Loft will be noted in inch measurements, and falls into one of these three categories:
Some pillows are advertised as having adjustable loft. This simply means that you can modify the loft of the pillow by unzipping the cover and adding or remove the fill material to achieve the ideal loft.
Here’s where things get a bit more complex. The right pillow loft for you depends on several factors, including your sleep position, mattress type, shoulder width, head size, and more. Let’s dig in.
Generally, you’ll want to consider pillow loft in relation to your sleep position.
The best loft for your pillow also depends on where you’ll be placing the pillow. The lofts we described above apply to head pillows. You may choose to use a more creative pillow set up, such as one of the ideas we outlined in the Pillow Positioning section above.
In that case, we recommend selecting the other pillows based on a) what feels comfortable and b) keeps your spine as straight as possible. Feel free to try different pillows in the store to work this out! If you order your pillows online, just take note of the site’s return policy. Many offer sleep trials lasting 30 nights or longer. If not, you can try out the pillow setup with the plastic wrapping still on.
When it comes to better sleep with shoulder pain, your pillow is just one part of the equation. The other, arguably more noticeable part, is your mattress. You’ll want to choose a pillow, based on how it works in conjunction with your mattress, not in isolation.
If you sleep on a memory foam bed, your mattress is constructed to be highly responsive and contour to your body, allowing you to sink more deeply into the surface. In order to prevent stretching the neck muscles and causing more pain in your shoulder, you’ll need a lower-loft pillow than usual to keep your spine straight on these mattresses. On the flip side of things, if you sleep on a less responsive mattress type, such as an innerspring mattress, your body will lie more above the surface, so you’ll need a higher-loft pillow to fill in the gaps as necessary.
Your body weight also affects how deeply you sink into the mattress. If you’re below average weight (130 pounds or less), your body is more likely to “float” above the mattress surface, so you’ll need a pillow with higher loft. Alternately, if you weigh more than 230 pounds, you will sink more deeply into the mattress, so you may need to adjust by choosing a pillow with a lower loft.
Along the same lines, if you have a larger head, you’ll need to get a firmer pillow with a higher loft to ensure it doesn’t compress too much when you lie down on it, tilting your neck and head down and out of alignment. As we’ll review in the next section, the pillow materials also play a role when it comes to the amount of compression you’ll experience when lying your head on the pillow.
When choosing a pillow, side sleepers with shoulder pain should pay particular attention to the width of their shoulder (the length from the base of your neck to the shoulder’s edge). When your spine is aligned, this width creates a space between your head and the mattress surface. A pillow fills this space to keep the spine aligned while you sleep, so it’s important to match your pillow loft to the span of your shoulder (higher loft for broader shoulders and lower loft for narrower shoulders).
Today’s pillows come in a wide variety of fill materials, some of which are more or less supportive for sleepers with shoulder pain. Below we review the different types of pillow materials, along with the pros and cons they offer sleepers with shoulder pain.
|Pillow Material||Description||Pros||Cons||Neck Pain Rating|
|Buckwheat||The pillows are filled with five to 10 pounds of buckwheat hulls, or outer shells||Adjustable loft Sleeps cool Good support||High price Too firm for some Heavy and difficult to move||Good The sturdy support of a buckwheat pillow can be great for side sleepers with shoulder pain, preventing sinkage, but may be too firm for others.|
|Down||The pillows contain the soft inner plumage of ducks or geese, and may also be padded with outer feathers||Adjustable loft Lightweight Sleeps cool||High price Flatten easily Too soft for some||Good The soft, adjustable firmness of a down pillow provides support to stomach and back sleepers, but can lose shape during the night for side sleepers.|
|Down Alternative||The 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||Good Quality is important here, as down alternatives may break down more quickly and not provide adequate long-term support to those with shoulder pain.|
|Feather||Pillows 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||Fair Feather pillows can conform to the head and neck of back and stomach sleepers, but may not be firm enough to support side sleepers with shoulder pain.|
|Latex||Pillows contain solid latex, a substance extracted from the sap of rubber trees||Close conforming Long lifespan Retain full shape without flattening||Non-adjustable loft High cost Dense and heavy||Very Good The loft of a latex pillow can’t be adjusted, but once you find the right loft, it provides long-term, conforming support.|
|Memory Foam||Pillows may contain shredded or solid pieces of memory foam, which softens when it comes into contact with body heat||Close conforming Adjustable loft if shredded Lightweight||High cost Sleeps hot||Very Good Memory foam conforms to fill in the space between the shoulders, providing support for any kind of sleeper with shoulder pain.|
|Polyester||Pillows contain shredded polyfoam, which has a similar feel to memory foam, or interlocking polyester fibers that give the pillow a fuller shape||Low cost Adjustable loft when shredded||Short lifespan Flattens easily Sleeps hot||Fair Interlocking fiber pillows maintain their shape and support sleepers with shoulder pain, but shredded filler can flatten easily and worsen symptoms.|
Generally, if you’re sleeping with any kind of pain, including shoulder pain, you want a pillow with filler material that maintains its shape well and stays supportive throughout the night. You can narrow down those options based on your sleeping position and personal preference (e.g. how much contour you’d like to experience). If you’re a side sleeper with shoulder pain, you’ll benefit from a taller, firmer pillow (like buckwheat, latex, or memory foam), while back or stomach sleepers require thinner, softer pillows (like a down or memory foam pillow).
If you suffer from shoulder pain, your pillow can only do so much. To create the most supportive sleep experience, you’ll want to choose a mattress to work in tandem with your pillow, providing support and relief while you sleep.
The average person may sleep fine on a medium firm mattress (around a 4 to 6 on a scale of 1 to 10). If you’re experiencing any type of chronic pain, however, it’s important to really hone in on the best mattress firmness for you. A quick way to identify your ideal mattress firmness is by using your body weight and sleep position.
|Weight Group||Below-Average (less than 130 lbs.)||Average (130 to 230 lbs.)||Above-Average (more than 230 lbs.)|
|Ideal Firmness for Side Sleeping||3 (Soft) to 4.5 (Medium Soft)||5 (Medium) to 6.5 (Medium Firm)||6.5 (Medium Firm) to 8 (Firm)|
|Ideal Firmness for Back Sleeping||4 (Medium Soft) to 5.5 (Medium)||5 (Medium) to 6.5 (Medium Firm)||6 (Medium Firm) to 8 (Firm)|
|Ideal Firmness for Stomach Sleeping||3 (Soft) to 4.5 (Medium Soft)||4 (Medium Soft) to 5.5 (Medium)||6 (Medium Firm) to 7.5 (Firm)|
Besides firmness, certain mattress materials are more conducive to relieving pain than others. If you sleep on your side, you may find more relief from a mattress with more contouring ability, such as a foam, latex, or even a hybrid mattress. These mattresses will allow you to sink into the surface, keeping your spine straight. Back sleepers may also benefit from some contour, but stomach sleepers will want to avoid sinking too deeply.
Some individuals with shoulder pain appreciate the adjustable firmness of an airbed. Generally, individuals with shoulder pain may want to avoid innerspring mattresses, as these mattresses can be more prone to sag.
If you’re generally happy with your current mattress, but would like it to be softer or firmer, you can always experiment with a mattress topper. Mattress toppers are designed to adjust the firmness of an existing mattress, which is ideal for those who aren’t in a position to buy a brand new mattress, need a different firmness on a temporary basis, or sleep with a partner who has different firmness needs.
You can think of a mattress topper as an individual comfort layer you place on top of your current mattress. Typically, they’re designed to add more softness and cushion, although you can find firmer mattress toppers as well. Mattress toppers can be made from different materials, including (most commonly) memory foam, latex, feathers, or wool.
The chart below outlines recommended mattress toppers based on your weight, sleeping position, and desired firmness level.
|Sleep Position||Weight Group||Ideal Firmness||Ideal Topper Thickness||Ideal Topper Density|
|Side||Less than 130 lbs||Soft to Medium Soft||1″ to 2″||2.5 PCF and lower|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium||2″ to 2 1/2″||3 to 4 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||2″ to 3″||4 PCF and higher|
|Back||Less than 130 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium Firm||1 1/2″ to 2 1/2″||2.5 to 3 PCF|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium to Firm||2″ to 3″||3.5 to 5 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||2″ to 3″||4.5 PCF and higher|
|Stomach||Less than 130 lbs||Medium Soft to Medium Firm||1″ to 1 1/2″||3 PCF and lower|
|130 to 230 lbs||Medium Firm to Firm||1″ to 2″||2.5 to 4 PCF|
|More than 230 lbs||Firm to Extra Firm||2″ to 3″||3.5 to 4.5 PCF|
Once you’ve outfitted your bed with the best pillow, mattress, and potential mattress topper to relieve your shoulder pain, there’s still more you can do to sleep better. Better sleep comes from better sleep habits. To get yourself in a sleepy state of mind, try incorporating these sleep practices into your nightly routine: