Best Pillows for Neck Pain – 2019 Reviews and Buyer’s Guide
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Pillow choice is a major concern for people living with chronic neck pain. Pillows that offer adequate levels of support and pressure relief can greatly improve sleep quality, leading to more comfort and fewer disruptions during the night. The wrong pillow can have the opposite effect – and may actually exacerbate the sleeper’s aches and pains.
Pillow loft (or thickness) is an important consideration for all sleepers, particularly those with frequent neck pain. Pillows that are too thin can cause the head to fall back too far, putting strain on the neck as well as the shoulders, while excessively thick pillows affect how closely the neck and spine are aligned. Material composition is another variable to consider. Some pillow materials offer closer conforming and more pressure relief than others. Other factors that impact sleep quality include temperature neutrality and noise potential.
This guide will explore different pillow considerations for sleepers with neck pain. Below you will find our picks for the top pillows for neck pain sold today. Our choices are based on verified customer and owner experiences, as well as intensive product research and analysis.
Our Editor’s Pick is the TEMPUR-Neck from Tempur-Pedic, an orthopedic pillow with a ridged, ergonomic design that elevates the neck and cushions the head. The pillow is made of solid memory foam that cradles the head, neck, and shoulders – but because it is ‘Extra Firm,’ the material will not sink too deeply or compromise spinal alignment. The pillow comes in three four loft profiles ranging from 3″ to 4.5″, allowing shoppers to choose the thickness that is most suitable for them.
Durability is another quality that sets the TEMPUR-Neck apart from other memory foam pillows. With an average lifespan of three years, this pillow will retain its shape without sagging or indentations longer than most competing models. The polyester knit cover is removable and machine washable, as well.
The TEMPUR-Neck is a high-value pillow due to its below-average price-point, and Tempur-Pedic offers free shipping within the contiguous U.S. The TEMPUR-Neck is backed by a five-year warranty.
Known as the Snuggle-Pedic Bamboo Pillow or simply as the Snuggle-Pedic, this pillow from Relief Mart is filled with shredded memory foam. This material conforms closely, much like solid memory foam, but better air circulation in the interior allows the pillow to sleep exceptionally cool for most. The velour cover, made from a blend of bamboo-rayon, helps with temperature neutrality, as well.
Many shredded memory foam pillows offer adjustable loft. The Snuggle-Pedic is no exception, although the pillow is sealed at the opening and owners should avoid adding or removing foam themselves; rather, they may send the pillow to Snuggle-Pedic to have the loft professionally adjusted. Snuggle-Pedic offers unlimited customizations for the pillow, and shipping is free for all owners.
The Snuggle-Pedic has a below-average price-point. Customers in the contiguous U.S. also qualify for free shipping. The pillow comes with a 120-night sleep trial and a 20-year warranty; both are significantly longer than average.
Every type of sleeper (side, back, stomach, combination)
Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
The Zoned Gel Dough pillow from Malouf is part of the company’s Z Pillows collection. It is made of durable, aerated memory foam; the lifespan far exceeds that of the average memory foam pillow. The foam is infused with gel, allowing the pillow to sleep very cool. Its ventilated construction and a cover made of polyester and rayon from bamboo also provide good temperature neutrality.
The Zoned Gel Dough is available in low, medium, and high loft options. This selection accommodates a wide range of sleepers with neck pain. The dense memory foam hugs the head, neck, and shoulders closely without losing its shape. As a result, sleepers experience above-average levels of pain and pressure relief, as well as improved spinal alignment.
All customers in the contiguous U.S. qualify for free shipping when they order pillows from Malouf. The Zoned Gel Dough is backed by a five-year warranty.
Side and back sleepers
Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
Excellent shape retention and exceptional durability
The Purple Pillow, much like the mattresses that share its name, is constructed with the company’s signature ‘Smart Grid.’ This design features buckling-column gel dispersed throughout an elastic polymer grid. The material provides comparable levels of conforming and pressure relief as memory foam and latex, but the polymers are much more durable and the Purple Pillow’s expected lifespan is much longer than average.
The Purple Pillow also sleeps cooler than most pillows sold today. Good air circulation throughout the grid helps minimize body heat absorption, while the cover made of polyester and spandex mesh also feels very cool. The pillow also retains its full shape without fluffing or primping; this ensures a surface that is comfortable and supportive night after night. The Purple Pillow is 3″ thick, making it ideal for those who prefer low- to medium-loft pillows.
Purple offers free pillow shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. The Purple Pillow comes with a 100-night sleep trial and a one-year warranty.
Adjustable loft is a desirable pillow trait for sleepers whose thickness preferences vary from night to night. The Easy Breather pillow from Nest Bedding contains shredded memory foam that can be added or removed at any time to increase or decrease the loft. Sleepers with neck pain can adjust the pillow as needed to accommodate their aches and discomfort. The Easy Breather also conforms closely to alleviate pain and pressure points throughout the head, neck, and shoulders.
The Easy Breather sleeps very cool even by shredded memory foam pillow standards, due in part to a cover made from breathable Tencel® lyocell. The pillow is also highly moldable, making it a good option for people who like to snuggle with pillows while they sleep. The Easy Breather may require some fluffing, but placing it in the dryer for a few minutes allows the pillow to expand back to its full shape.
The Easy Breather qualifies for free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. Nest Bedding offers a 100-night sleep trial for the pillow, as well as a two-year warranty.
Sleepers with neck pain are particularly vulnerable to aches and discomfort when they travel by plane, train, or other forms of public transportation; sleeping upright for long periods can cause undue strain on the neck and shoulders. Most travel-size pillows do not offer adequate conforming and pressure relief.
The Travel and Camping Pillow from Coop Home Goods is a standout because it contains shredded memory foam, which provides close conforming and also the moldability needed for sleeping upright. The loft is also adjustable, allowing owners to increase or decrease the fill to accommodate different sleeping quarters. And thanks to good air circulation, the pillow sleeps exceptionally cool.
Every type of sleeper (side, back, stomach, combination)
Sleepers in all weight groups (light, average, heavy)
Neck pain is a common condition among adults. In most cases, people develop neck pain due to muscle strain, worn joints, or nerve compression — but in some cases, it may indicate a more serious condition. However, many people experience nightly neck pain due to their pillow choice. Certain factors, such as material composition and loft (or thickness), can affect how supportive and comfortable pillows feel to sleepers with neck pain. Sleeper position also plays a role in choosing the right pillow.
This guide will look at the causes and symptoms of conditions that cause neck pain, offer some tips for choosing the right pillow based on different criteria, and share our top-rated pillows for neck pain based on customer and owner experiences.
What Causes Neck Pain?
According to the Mayo Clinic, neck pain usually occurs due to one or more of the following five causes:
Strained muscles: Muscles become strained due to overuse. Many people strain their neck muscles by sitting at work desks all day. Other causes may include reading in bed or teeth grinding, as well as awkward sleeping positions.
Worn joints: Neck joints tend to deteriorate with age, and many adults — particularly the elderly — develop neck pain due to wear. The condition known as osteoarthritis can exacerbate this problem by wearing down the the cartilage between vertebrae, which causes bone spurs to form.
Compressed nerves: Neck pain may develop when nerves are unable to fully extend due to spinal problems, such as herniated disks or bone spurs.
Injuries: Any bodily injury can lead to neck pain, but the problem is especially common in automobile accident survivors who develop whiplash when their heads suddenly jerk back or forward.
Diseases: Diseases like cancer or spinal meningitis can lead to chronic neck pain.
Common symptoms of chronic neck pain include:
Pain or strain that develops when the head is upright for prolonged periods of time; examples include working at a desk or driving
Muscle strain or spasms
Reduced range-of-motion around the head and neck
Most neck pains don’t require medical attention, but the Mayo Clinic encourages people to see a physician if the following symptoms occur:
Severe or persistent pain
Pain that migrates to the arms, legs, or other areas of the body
Pain that is concurrent with headaches, numbness, tingling, or body weakness
Why Pillow Choice Is Important for Neck Pain
A recent article from Harvard Medical School notes that two sleeping positions appear to be the best options for people with neck pain: side- and back-sleeping. People with neck pain who sleep in either (or both) of these positions are urged to take the following precautions:
For those who sleep on their back, a dual pillow system is recommended. A rounded pillow should support the neck, while a flatter pillow can provide cushioning for the head. This can be accomplished by tucking the smaller, rounded pillow into the pillowcase of the flatter pillow, or using a specialized pillow that has elevated neck support and an indentation to support the head.
For those who sleep on their side, spinal support is important since this position can cause the spine to become misaligned. A pillow that is elevated under the neck and lower beneath the head typically works best.
Feather pillows are a good option for people with neck pain because they conform closely to the shape of the neck and head. However, they tend to flatten out over time and may need to be replaced regularly — once a year, in some cases.
Memory foam pillows are also suitable for sleepers with neck pain for the same reason: they conform to the neck and head for a contouring feel.
People with neck pain should avoid using pillows that are too high and/or too stiff. They can cause neck muscles to become strained and lead to stiffness the next day.
Traveling by plane, bus, or other forms of public transportation can lead to neck pain because, in many cases, people are forced to sleep in a sitting position. Horseshoe-shaped travel pillows can help mitigate these aches and strains by supporting the neck and preventing the sleeper from falling forward in their seat.
Stomach-sleeping is linked to neck and back problems because it causes the back to arch. People who sleep on their stomach also turn their necks to the side, which can lead to muscle strain. Although it can be difficult to transition to a new sleep position, people with neck pain who sleep on their stomachs should try sleeping on their side or back instead.
Ultimately, pillow choice can have a significant impact on neck pain. The next section will look at three key factors to keep in mind when selecting a new pillow: size, shape, and loft.
Understanding Pillow Size, Shape, and Loft
Pillows come in six standard sizes, as well as a ‘Small’ size normally reserved for orthopedic memory foam pillows with elevated neck support. The table below lists the size names and standard width and length dimensions, as well as the corresponding pillowcase sizes. As a general rule, pillowcases should be one to two inches wider and two to four inches longer than the pillow.
Pillow Case Size and Dimensions
20W” x 12L”
This is the size for most cervical (curved) memory foam pillows, which are shorter than standard, flat pillows (see below)
20W” x 26L”
Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L)
This is the most common pillow size, as well as the most compact
20W” x 28L”
Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L)
This size is slightly longer than the Standard, but will fit into the same pillowcase sizes
20W” x 30L”
Standard (20-21W” x 30-32″L) Queen (20-22W” x 30-34L”)
This size is a good option for people who toss and turn, since there is extra length
20W” x 36L”
King (20-21W” x 36-41″L)
This size may be suitable for people who toss and turn, as well as those who sit up to read in bed
26W” x 26L” 24W” x 24L” 22W” x 22L” 20W” x 20L” 18W” x 18L” 16W” x 16L”
Euro (dimensions vary)
The square shape makes them suitable as headrests or backrests
54W” x 20L” 48W” x 20L”
Body pillow (dimensions vary)
Suitable for side-sleepers who like to snuggle with a pillow while sleeping, as well as pregnant women
In addition to size, pillow shape is another important consideration. For sleepers with neck pain, the following two pillow shapes tend to be best:
Even surface: This is considered the standard shape for pillows, but people with neck pain may not receive enough support from even-surface designs. However, even-surface pillows filled with feathers or shredded memory foam contour to the sleepers head and neck for a more supportive, comfortable feel. Pillows with interlocking polyester fill also tend to retain a fuller shape despite their even surface. See next section for more information.
Curved surface: Also known as cervical or orthopedic pillows, curved pillows are usually made from memory foam. The area supporting the neck is elevated while the area for the head is recessed. However, some people report more support and comfort when the pillow is placed upside down.
The bottom line: sleepers with neck pain should choose a pillow shape that is most comfortable for them. However, they tend to experience the most pain relief from pillows that are either made from contouring materials or shaped to provide elevated neck support.
Next, let’s discuss pillow loft, or thickness. Although specific loft measurements vary from model to model, there are three general loft categories:
Low-loft: Pillows that measure less than three inches thick.
Medium-loft: Pillows that measure three to five inches thick.
High-loft: Pillows that measure more than five inches thick.
Loft is directly linked to how supportive and comfortable a pillow feels, as well as the likelihood of developing neck pain. There are several variables that people should consider when choosing the best pillow loft for them. These factors include sleep position, pillow position, and mattress type, as well as the sleeper’s body weight, head size, and shoulder width.
Sleep position: The right loft depends on whether someone sleeps on their back, side, or stomach.
Back-sleepers usually prefer medium-loft pillows because they provide a good compromise of softness and thickness.
Side-sleepers may require medium- or high-loft pillows to compensate for the extra space between their head/neck and the pillow.
Stomach-sleepers typically feel most comfortable on low-loft pillows, though some choose not to use a pillow at all. Again, this position is not recommended for sleepers with neck pain.
Pillow position: People who sleep with a pillow completely under their head tend to prefer low- to medium-loft pillows because there is not much space. Those who sleep with a pillow partially beneath their head may require a medium- or high-loft pillow.
Mattress type: Low-loft pillows will generally work for mattresses that sink deeply below the sleeper’s body, such as memory foam and latex models, because there is less space between the head/neck and the sleep surface. Sleepers who use less responsive mattresses, such as innersprings and hybrids, may prefer to use medium- or high-loft pillows to compensate for the extra space.
Sleeper weight: Those who weigh more than 230 pounds often sink deeply into their mattress regardless of the material composition. As a result, they may prefer the feel of a low- or medium-loft pillow. Lighter individuals (230 pounds or less) do not sink as deeply, and may need a medium- or high-loft pillow to fill the gaps.
Sleeper head size: As is to be expected, people with larger and heavier heads often feel more supported on high-loft pillows that compensate for sinkage, whereas people with smaller, lighter heads may find that low- or medium-loft pillows are sufficient.
Sleeper shoulder width: Wide shoulder spans increase the space between the sleeper’s head/neck and their pillow, and often require higher-loft pillows. People with narrower shoulders may find that low- or medium-loft pillows provide enough support.
For sleepers with neck pain, a pillow with adjustable loft may be the best option. These pillows allow owners to remove or add fill as needed to decrease or increase loft. These models can be particularly beneficial for people who experience intermittent neck pain or prefer to switch sleep positions on a regular basis. Some pillow types have adjustable loft by design. We’ll discuss different pillow materials in the next section.
Common Pillow Materials
Next, let’s look at common pillow material types and explore which ones are most and least suitable for sleepers with neck pain. The table below lists information for the seven most common pillow materials. To learn more about each type, click the link to our review pages in the far-left column.
Materials are filled with shredded or interlocking fibers of polyester, a synthetic fabric designed to mimic the softness of cotton
Low cost No allergy risk No odor potential
Short lifespan Lose shape/flatten easily Noise potential
Fair Interlocking fiber pillows are better for people with neck pain because they do not flatten as easily, but shredded polyester pillows can exacerbate neck pain symptoms
As the table indicates, feather and memory foam pillows tend to be the best options for sleepers with neck pain. Latex and buckwheat pillows may also be suitable, though high price-points and mixed sleeper experiences have earned these pillows slightly lower ratings. We do not recommend that people with neck plain use a down, down alternative, or polyester pillow.
Additionally, pillows with interior water chambers have become a popular pillow choice for people with neck pain. The water chambers can be filled or drained to achieve different lofts, and their malleable surface helps the pillow conform more closely. Most pillows with water chambers also feature padding made from polyester or foam to provide extra cushioning.
Additional Tuck Resources
For more information about pillow options, please check out the following Tuck.com pages: