Neck pain results from a long list of issues (illness, injury, posture, etc.), but did you know your pillow might be making a bad situation worse? While it’s best to consult your doctor or physical therapist regarding how to treat your neck pain, it never hurts to replace your pillow. This article will help you find the best pillow for neck pain, whether you’re ready to invest in a sleep accessory or just need a quick fix.
Choosing a Pillow: Things to Consider
It can take years of trial and error to find the perfect pillow. One way to cut down on the hassle – and expense – is to consider your sleep position.
Do you usually sleep on your back, side, stomach, or a combination? The way you sleep affects which pillow will best reduce your neck pain.
No matter your position, the best sleeping posture keeps your spine in neutral, with your neck fully supported and not strained in any direction.
If you sleep on your back, go for a medium-fill pillow: one that’s not so thick that it cranes your neck forward, nor too flat that your neck is unsupported.
Side-sleepers, on the other hand, need a thick pillow to fill the large space created by their shoulder. Even a medium-fill pillow may not hold its shape enough throughout the night to support the head and stabilize the neck.
You may require only a thin pillow if you sleep on your stomach. A medium-to-thick pillow will elevate your head too much and overextend your neck.
Finally, if you sleep in a combination of positions throughout the night, there’s a pillow for you too. A versatile pillow may be just what you need to stop tossing and start experiencing restful, pain-free sleep.
DIY Contour Pillows for Neck Pain
Both back-sleepers and side-sleepers benefit from a contoured pillow, which is a semi-firm, molded pillow designed to support the neck while cushioning the head. A contoured pillow is thicker along the edge, where the neck rests, and thinner in the middle, where the head rests.
If you’re curious about whether a contoured pillow is right for you, you can DIY one with your existing pillow. Simply roll up a hand towel and insert it into your pillowcase along the bottom edge of your pillow. Or, you can buy a cheap neck roll to place below your pillow under your neck when you sleep.
If this kind of roll is comfortable and relieves your neck pain, you should consider one of the contoured pillows on this list. Otherwise, some other options might be more suitable for you.
Be patient when trying pillows for neck pain
One more thing to consider: Neck pillows take some getting used to. Most companies offer a trial period (30-100 days) so that you have plenty of time to give the pillow a fair shot. Be patient with the process; your neck pain may get worse as you experiment with different heights.
Finally, always check the return policy before you buy. Some brands won’t accept returns on personal-use items such as pillows. So, hope for the best, but have a plan in case the pillow doesn’t suit your sleep needs.
5 Best Pillows for Neck Pain
The Classic: Tempur-Pedic Contoured Neck Pillow
If you’re like me, the words “contoured neck pillow” immediately conjure up images of Tempur-Pedic commercials from the 90s and onwards, showcasing an innovative neck pillow that looked anything but comfortable. Yet, Tempur-Pedic still sells this product because it’s proven to be one of the most supportive pillows for neck pain on the market.
Sculpted from their signature memory foam, this cervical pillow is anything but fluffy. Some reviewers find it too supportive – too hard, even. But by and large, the ergonomics behind this pillow work. Its contoured shape provides enough “loft” to keep your head in line with your spine and enough curve to keep your neck comfortably snug.
Like most pillows, a contoured neck pillow is only comfortable if it fits properly. Luckily, Tempur-pedic has a neck sizing chart on their website to help match customers with the ideal pillow, whether large or small, side-sleeper or back-sleeper.
- 3 sizes: Small (3” thick), Medium (4” thick), or Large (4.5” thick)
- Made of contoured memory foam
- Removable and washable cover
- 5-year warranty
Best for: back and side sleepers
Not good for: stomach sleepers; people on a budget
Buy for $100 (medium)
The Adjustable Contour: UTTU Sandwich Memory Foam Pillow
If you like the design of the Tempur-pedic neck pillow, but dislike the commitment, UTTU might have just the pillow for you. Their Sandwich Memory Foam pillow is contoured for cervical support and emulates the Tempur-pedic shape, with one rim of the pillow higher than the other.
However, instead of confining you to one size, the UTTU pillow is adjustable. At its tallest height, the pillow reaches 4.5,” but by removing a middle layer of memory foam, you can lower the pillow to 3.”
The two edges are themselves different heights, so whether you are a side sleeper or a back sleeper, with this pillow you should be able to find a level of supportive comfort that best suits your sleep needs.
UTTU uses an imitation memory foam called “dynamic foam” which some reviewers found to be insufficiently supportive. However, if traditional memory foam is too firm for your comfort, then this softer material might be the perfect compromise.
- One size, adjustable from 3”-3.5” to 4”-4.5”
- Includes a removable memory foam insert
- Pillow case is 60% polyester and 40% bamboo; washable
- Accepts returns within the first 96 nights
Best for: back and side sleepers
Not good for: stomach sleepers; those needing hefty support
Buy it on Amazon for $45.
The Trapezoid: Core Products Tri-core Cervical Support Pillow
Rectangular pillows are overrated. For a unique shape, consider Core Products’s Tri-core Cervical Support pillow. Its trapezoidal cushion is surrounded on all sides by cervical rolls designed to cradle and stabilize your head when sleeping on your back or side.
The Tri-core pillow also stands out for being one of the few contoured pillows that benefits combination sleepers. A conventional cervical pillow requires flipping over when switching positions, which is cumbersome and disruptive. With the Tri-core, you can roll onto your side or your back seamlessly throughout the night, with the proper neck support right where you need it.
Core Products admits their pillow is particularly firm and recommends giving it a fair trial. Break into it gradually, using the pillow for naps or for a few hours each night until you adjust.
Because of this break-in period, many impatient reviewers dislike the pillow. Others complain it’s too large, taking up too much real estate on the bed. However, for sleepers with neck pain, learning to love this Tri-core pillow pays rich dividends to their comfort and quality of life.
Finally, if you’re concerned the fiberfill will be too firm, Core Products offers a “Gentle” fill option to emulate a medium-firm density. Be sure to purchase from their website to find this option.
- 3 sizes: Full (24 x 16 x 5”), Mid (22 x 15 x 4”), and Petite (19 x 12 x 4”)
- Made of cotton and polyester fiber fill
- Very Firm: available in a “gentle,” less-firm fill
- 90-day money-back guarantee
Best for: side and back sleepers, combination sleepers
Not good for: stomach sleepers, small spaces
Buy for $42 (Midsize).
The Cool One: Purple Harmony Pillow
One of the primary complaints of cervical pillows is how hot they get – or more specifically, how much they retain and reflect body heat. This is particularly the case for memory foam or its imitation. Regardless of how supportive the pillow is, if you’re waking up from overheating throughout the night, your sleep quality suffers.
As a solution, Purple laced their Harmony pillow with an innovative, hyper-elastic polymer grid, which promotes airflow and whisks away moisture throughout the night. Despite its traditional shape, the Harmony pillow is designed to alleviate neck pain in side sleepers by providing plush support in a hypoallergenic, latex core.
Reviewers with cervical arthritis, migraines, and nightly sweats alike benefit from the Purple Pillow, finding the high price tag worth the investment. Fortunately, Purple offers a 100-night trial period, so if you decide the pillow is just too tall or you’d prefer a contoured pillow, there’s no harm done.
- 2 heights: 6.5” or 7.5”
- Made of polymer, nylon, and Talalay latex
- Uses 360º Purple GridTM Hex to promote air flow
- 100-night trial and free returns
Best for: back and side sleepers, people who overheat
Not good for: budgets
Buy for $160.
The Natural Stuffable: ComfyComfy Buckwheat Pillow
No one wants to be pigeon-holed in choosing a pillow height, so companies have responded by designing stuffable pillows. Consumers simply unzip the pillow to add or remove filling until the perfect pillow height is achieved.
A customizable pillow is great, but an eco-friendly one is even better. ComfyComfy’s Buckwheat pillow is stuffed with the hulls of Buckwheat, grown and cleaned without chemicals in the USA.
Instead of heat-retentive polyurethane foam or stinky latex, buckwheat hulls encourage air flow, helping you achieve a supportive night sleep without sweating it out.
No matter your sleep position, this pillow can help relieve neck pain. Side sleepers stuff it to the max for optimal elevation, while stomach sleepers thin it out so their neck isn’t overextended.
A few reviewers disliked the noise the buckwheat hulls made when disturbed – like the sound of a bean bag. Others described the feel of the pillow as akin to compacted sand: sufficiently supportive but not plush.
- Available in 5 sizes: from 14×21” to 20×30”
- Includes 1-2lbs extra fill for overstuffing
- Made from USA-grown buckwheat hulls and 100% organic cotton
- Free returns within 60 days
Best for: any sleep position; people with allergies or smell sensitivities
Not good for: someone wanting a fluffy pillow
Buy for $70 (Traditional, with pillow case)
Best Pillows for Neck Pain: Summary
An unsupportive, flimsy pillow perpetuates neck pain and warrants mindful replacing. If you sleep on your side, choose a high, thick pillow that will hold its shape through the night. Back sleepers might benefit from a contoured pillow, with extra support for their neck, while stomach sleepers should avoid high pillows and choose something customizable.
Finding the right pillow might require more time and money than you want to spend, but you’ll agree with many of the above pillows’ reviewers that the right investment is always worth it. Sleep habits are too vital for overall health to ignore.