What Pillow Is Best for Neck and Back Pain?

February 13, 2019

Woman sleeping on pillow
Renée Bacher

You might think your spine and muscles are safe from injury while you're sleeping, right? Think again. If you wake up hurting, it's time to find the best pillow for back pain and/or neck pain management.

The Importance of a Good Pillow

A good night's sleep is crucial to both physical and mental health, especially if you're suffering from a medical condition whether related to your spine or another part of the body. Ask your doctor how to choose the best pillow for your particular condition. Remember, the wrong pillow can hurt not just your back and neck, it can also cause headaches and exacerbate other health issues, such as acid reflux. The benefit of sleeping with a pillow that addresses neck pain in particular is that you are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed and headache free.

How To Choose the Right Pillow

Pillows come in many different shapes, sizes and materials, and may include memory foam, shredded memory foam, latex, cotton blends, feathers, goose and duck down. Choosing the right pillow is key to neck and back pain management if you are already hurting. It can also prevent neck and back pain in the future if you currently have none.

Another thing to consider when choosing a pillow is whether you may be allergic to any of the materials it contains, such as feathers or latex. And if it's an especially expensive pillow, consider whether it can be returned after you've tried it for a few nights. While some pillow manufacturers don't allow returns, others do, so do your research. Also, some retailers, like Hammacher Schlemmer, offer lifetime guarantees on all of the products they sell, such as ergonomic pillows designed especially for side sleepers.

It's also important to choose a pillow that suits your preferred sleeping position.

Back Sleepers

According to this article in the Harvard Medical School publication Healthbeat, sleeping on your back is one of two ways in which to avoid neck and back pain. How you position your pillows while sleeping on your back as well as what type of pillow you use may also affect how you feel in the morning.

The best pillow for back pain and neck pain management when you're a back sleeper is one that supports the natural curve of your neck. This can mean using a memory foam neck roll under your neck with a flatter pillow supporting your head. Some memory foam pillows have an arched built-in neck support. Place the pillow with the high end under your neck and let your head fall back slightly on the flatter part. The best pillow for back pain, particularly lower back pain, if you are sleeping on your back, is any firm pillow placed beneath your knees. This helps to take the strain off your lower back. Good pillows for back sleepers may include memory foam and feather, which can be molded to support your neck.

Side Sleepers

Sleeping on your side with the proper support for your neck and back is another way to avoid neck and back pain that can complicate your night's sleep or how rested you may feel in the morning. Choose pillows that will conform to the shape of your neck. Some retail stores specializing in products that promote back health will measure your shoulders to help you determine the right size pillow to keep your spine in the proper alignment if you sleep on your side. Also, when you're a side sleeper, the best pillow for back pain is any firm pillow placed between your knees. Separating the knees like this and moving them slightly up towards your face helps take the strain off your lower back.

Stomach Sleepers

The bottom line is: Don't sleep on your stomach. According to the Mayo Clinic, sleeping on your stomach can cause strain on your back and neck. If you really must sleep on your stomach, try putting a firm pillow under lower belly and pelvis and see how that feels. You may also want to skip putting a pillow under your head.

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