Last Updated: April 2018
We all want each new day to start well. Waking up and feeling a shooting/stabbing pain from the neck right down the spine is no fun at all. When that happens, no amount of painkillers work because it?s nerve pain that?s sharp and hurtful which overrides any over-the-counter pain relief medication.
When you wake with neck pain, it lasts all morning and quite often until the next time you get to lay your head down gingerly and try to sleep. Along with the pain, the joy of a migraine or a headache is its constant companion which is tough to get through too. In a worst case, numbness in one or both legs, an achy back or sciatica visit you too. It?s rough.
Getting a neck pillow made to reduce neck pain specifically is the easy part; selecting one that?ll suit your head size, shape and weight is another matter entirely.
What Are the Main Causes of Neck Pain?
The most common reason for neck pain as it relates to sleeping is the sleeping position. Each person works with their own anatomy and is in individual. As such, where a friend finds sleeping on their stomach to be the most comfortable, you may feel that back sleeping is preferred. The position we sleep in is a personal thing.
With a different head and neck angle, there will either be no discomfort at all or occasional to regular discomfort in the neck area when waking up. There is no right or wrong sleeping position.
Sometimes we blame our mattresses for causing neck pain, but that high up on the body it?s most likely due to a bad pillow than anything else (baring a pre-existing medical reason being the root cause). The tell-tale sign is when you go to bed with no neck pain but awake with some discomfort then you?re most likely sleeping on the wrong type of pillow.
To better understand how neck pain works, let?s examine the neck for a minute. It is comprised of tendons, cartilage, muscles, and 7 miniature bones. These bones form the cervical area of the spinal column for the neck and float on in a fluid rather than being interconnection. They are a part of the central nervous system and permit easy movement of the neck and head.
The cervical column includes the nerves that connect from the brain downward sending electrical signals around the body to control movement. When any area of the spine has nerves that become pinched or compression takes place, then a loss of feeling or pain are experienced. The neck is perhaps the most vulnerable area in this regard. Maintaining proper spinal alignment down the spinal column is critical to avoid injuring this area of the body while asleep.
Simply put, sleeping with the right type of pillow ensures you?ll be well rested in the morning.
What you need to know
It?s helpful to look at the positives and negatives about pillows for neck pain to get a general overview.
- Reduce or end neck pain
- Loft/height levels vary depending on the pillow
- Some pillows fit between the neck and head to support both areas differently
- Variety of fillings from polyester fiber to memory foam to water provides real choice
- Reduces pressure points to create a floating-like feeling with some pillow product
- Pillows designed for neck pain aren?t always comfortable for someone else whose needs are different
- Not every neck pillow fixes the issue; often sufferers go through several types before finding one that works for them
Our Best Pillows for?Neck Pain Recommendations
Eve Pillow Review
The memory foam filling the interior of the Eve Pillow is their own formulation that responds better than most to head movement during use. It reforms quickly and adjusts perfectly. The pillow only comes in one size but it does offer pressure point relief that helps neck pain sufferers who need some extra relief.
The pillow strikes a good balance between firmness and loft to offer good support for neck pain sufferers while not being too much of one thing or another.
The solid foam is perforated to let air move around inside. Heat is managed well which prevents a restless night of tossing and turning. It also has an UltraFresh treatment to avoid getting mold, mildew and other bacteria inside the foam which would be breathed in overnight.
Its appearance is nicely done with traditional white with a yellow trim around the edge to finish it off. The machine washable cover is made from a Jersey polyester mix that is knitted to help it stretch better with body movement. Eve also sells matching pillowcases too.
The 30-night trial is useful to test the product out and there?s a 3-year warranty too.
In conclusion, Eve side-steps shredded foam for a solid foam block that isn?t washable but does manage heat better than expected. A quality product which is well-produced.
Below is our final score of the Eve pillow based on multiple criteria that we use when testing all of our pillows.
Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft Shredded Pillow Review
The Coop Home Good premium pillow is one that packs down or gets shaken up nicely as its filled with many little bits of foam that move around. The ventilated foam is also removable via the zip on the side of the cover to adjust its loft level. The pillow is sold in Standard, Queen and King sizes.
Heat management is well done both because of the use of memory foam and is shredded up to avoid trapping heat in one area.
The foam is CertiPUR-US certified for its exclusion of harmful chemicals, metals and other potentially damaging substances. The pillow is made in the USA.
The inner cover provided is an attractive one with a quilted appearance. Made from 60% polyester and 40% Rayon with bamboo to keep it smelling good and keeping cool. The product is machine washable too.
The 30-day money back guarantee and the lengthy 5-year warranty are good to see.
Overall, this Coop Home product does well in several areas. Comfortable for people with neck pain and it keeps cool too.
Below is our final score of the Coop Home Good Premium pillow based on multiple criteria that we use when testing all of our pillows.
Snuggle-Pedic Ultra Luxury Shredded Adjustable Pillow Review
The Snuggle-Pedic Shredded Adjustable pillow offers many of the same benefits as the previously reviewed Coop Home Goods pillow. It is filled with shredded pieces of memory foam to adjust its loft to your requirements.
The pillow carries both the BioGreen and CertiPUR-US certifications confirming that its materials were obtained in an environmentally-friendly way and that the foam is free from harmful substances. The foam will never go flat either, according to Snuggle-Pedic.
The product?s materials and filling were all produced, sourced and assembled in the USA.
Heat isn?t a problem with this pillow either. Warm air and moisture moves inside the shredded foam. The inner cover surrounding the pillow is breathable too with its use of Viscose from bamboo fiber and polyester, with some Lycra to make it stretchy too. Also, the pillow is machine washable to keep it smelling pleasant.
There?s a 90-day return policy and a 20-year warranty; both generous durations.
Overall, the Snuggle-Pedic pillow is a good one with comfy support for the neck, cool under head, all USA sourced & made, and BioGreen certified too. The combination of Lycra and bamboo fiber in the cover is a nice touch too.
Below is our final score of the Snuggle-Pedic Shredded Adjustable pillow based on multiple criteria that we use when testing all of our pillows.
Tri-Core Cervical Pillow Review
The Tri-Core Cervical Pillow is an interesting product that you?ll either take to right away or not at all. The design is based around the idea that you lay with your neck on the edge at a raised level and your head lays on the interior which has a shallower loft.
There are five sizes provided. The sizes are full size (firm), medium size (firm), mid-size (gentle), petite (firm) and petite (standard). The regular pillow color is white while the petite ones are green with animals on them.
The center has a trapezoid shape which is recommended for a cervical pillow. The intention is that it better aligns the head and neck. To some extent this depends on the size of your head and neck. There are two areas at the front center and rear center that offer support for smaller or larger necks respectively to address this issue.
The center at the front and rear are designed mostly for back sleepers with neck problems. The left and right side are made slightly raised and intended for side sleepers who require a greater firmness. The firmness is pretty strong with this pillow, so anyone who likes a plush pillow should look elsewhere.
The sizes are generous too, even for people with larger heads. Sleepers with a petite frame and children should choose from the petite models.
There is a minor off-gassing issue with this fiber fill pillow. It?s far less noticeable than with many foam-filled pillows and goes away within a day or so.
The cotton cover is made from a blend of materials that is soft and breathes well. The Standard Tri-Core Cervical pillow fits a regular size pillow case.
The product is made in the USA.
Overall, this pillow is extremely firm which won?t suit everyone. The intention is to provide premium cervical orthopedic support which it does well.
Below is our final score of the Tri-Core Cervical Pillow based on multiple criteria that we use when testing all of our pillows.
Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Review
The Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow is a perfect pillow to provide both neck and head support. The product works by filling in the gap under the neck to effectively cradle it while you sleep. The design language takes a little getting used to, especially for people who toss and turn, but for steady sleepers it is often the most comfortable night?s sleep they?ve had in a while.
The pillow is available in Standard or Queen sizes only.
The SureTemp memory foam is shaped to contour the inverted C-shape of the neck and head from below. The spine aligns well with this design and works best with back sleepers. The maximum loft of the pillow is 5-inches (the same with both pillow sizes).
The CertiPUR-US certified foam (made from safe materials and free from unsafe chemicals, metals, etc.) is medium-firm with a density that supports aggravated necks well.
The product does arrive with a minor off-gassing smell. To remove it, either use a Febreeze or Lysol spray or air the pillow out for a couple of days until the smell dissipates.
A white cotton cover slides over the pillow and protects it from accidental spills.
The product arrives with a 5-year warranty.
Overall, the contoured shape of this memory foam pillow delivers medium-firm support for the neck when sleeping on your back. When other pillow shapes don?t work for you, try this one. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Below is our final score of the Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow based on multiple criteria that we use when testing all of our pillows.
Features & Benefits
Pillows that help with sleeping successfully without pain come in a wide range types to suit different needs. Some are firmer, others are plush. The shapes are also different. Let?s take a look.
Types of Neck Pain Pillows
The material has to be just right to provide the proper level of support while also not aggravating an already painful situation with the neck. Furthermore, causing additional movement because the pillow materials clash with existing allergies is going to be something to avoid. Here are a few of the types of pillows:
- Memory Foam ? Found in many neck pillows because of its ability to adjust its shape to that of the head and neck laying on top of it. The pillow decompresses and then changes shape with head movement through the night. Heat is also managed in various ways like ventilation holes or gel beads included within the foam or as a top layer. May require off-gassing before use.
- Shredded Memory Foam ? Small memory foam strips fill the pillow. The avoidance of using a single foam block aid better aid flow. Gel memory foam is a variation on this type and sucks up heat for even better heat management. Many shredded foam products have an inner cover that unzips to remove some of the filling to adjust loft levels. Shaking these types of pillows will change their composition. Usually machine washable too. May require off-gassing before use.
- Polyester Fiber Fill ? Polyester fiber fill is used in specialist neck pillows that wish to avoid using a filling that might aggravate allergies despite already being hypoallergenic in most cases.
- Duck Down & Feather Fill ? The traditional soft pillow filing of duck or goose down along with some feathers is still available. The filling is thoroughly disinfected and cleaned before use. However, there have been cases where people generally allergic may still get a reaction nonetheless. Typically, they?re ultra-plush or plush, stand up to regular machine washing and require fluffing up to keep its plumpness.
- Water fill ? A pillow that has a water fill is supportive because the water moves inside the pillow to adjust the shape while sleeping. It does feel quite firm to most people though and is a specialist item, not a mainstream one.
- Cotton ? Cotton is often used with covers to create a soft, breathable surface. As a natural substance, it rarely causes allergic reactions and is hypoallergenic. High thread count is preferred for durability over successive machine washes.
- Bamboo ? Either viscose or Rayon are included in some inner cases which is paired with polyester is most cases. Either the Rayon or viscose is derived from bamboo to make it automatically hypoallergenic, breathable, and natural with good odor management features. These types of covers are machine washable.
Pillows to help alleviate neck pain during and after sleeping come in a few different shapes as manufacturers try different approaches to solve the problem.
Traditionally, the rectangular shape is still used in many types of pillows including polyester fill, duck & feather fill, and some memory foam ones too.
There?s also the cervical pillow shape which has raised, curved edges but a deep indent in the center. The idea with this shape is to fit under the neck while still offering support for the head too. The altered shape takes a little getting used to, but some neck pain sufferers swear by it; other people just cannot get along with it at all.
Some pillows like a fiber fill or shredded memory foam ones are adjustable in shape either by puffing them up or removing some filling (as is the case with shredded memory foam quite often).
Roll-shaped pillows are good for propping up the body and resting the neck temporarily, but usually not for regular use.
Then there?s curved, contour pillows that are shaped around the neck and head to fit between the mattress and the head perfectly. Made of poly foam or memory foam, there is some adjustment in compression when resting on them. Mostly, they?re used for back sleepers with severe back or neck issues. Cervical pillows function in a similar fashion.
The amount of loft/height varies from pillow to pillow. It really depends what position you sleep in. Back sleepers and stomach sleepers require a substantially lower loft than side sleepers do.
Adjustable loft through either removable pillow layers or shredded memory is useful to adjust a pillow to changing needs or multiple people using it at different times.
The firmness is different for each pillow. The requirements of a neck pain sufferer vary so that some want an ultra-plush polyester filling for the softest floating-in-air feeling whereas other people need a medium-firm, supportive memory foam pillow that relieves multiple pressure points while supporting the neck appropriately.
The one thing with firmness and shape of the pillow is the requirement to support the neck well to avoid further damage to nerves, tendons, muscles and the small bones inside the neck.
A pillow that adjusts its shape to mimic that of the head and neck as you move around while sleeping is important to avoid damage to the neck area. Overly firm or a non-malleable pillow may cause more harm than good in this area. It?s important to find a balance of comfort and support to get a good night?s sleep and wake up feeling better.
Things to Know
There are a few useful things to know about pillows that deal with neck pain.
Harvard University in a study conducted within their health department determined that either memory foam or a pillow with adjustability were the best choices. A study at John Hopkins also found similar results suggesting that either memory foam or water-filled pillows made the most sense. The reason for the recommendations were that the foam adjusted shape and the water redistributed to make space for the head and neck which absorbed the weight.
Your sleeping position matters enormously to manage neck pain effectively. A high-loft pillow used when sleeping on your stomach is going to stretch the neck and cause further problems. New migraines will likely ensue when choosing the wrong pillow for your preferred sleeping position.
Sleeping on the side requires either a large-sized pillow to support your body and perhaps a separate pillow for the knees to keep the spine aligned throughout the night.
For stomach sleepers, a plush or ultra-plush pillow that has a low loft is ideal to keep the neck and head aligned with the rest of the body.
And with back sleepers, a medium-firm to firm pillow is required to support the neck sufficiently. Anyone with a herniated disc or something similar in their neck will require extended neck support while sleeping to avoid further injury. Depending on the person, a secondary pillow under the knees to elevate that part of the body sometimes relieves weight and tension lessoning any pain felt in that region.
Depending on the pillow, heat is moved around within the pillow using either slits in the foam to vent the air or a fiber fill that isn?t so heavily packed that it prevents air flow.
Memory foam technologies have changed considerably since the concept was first invented; it now handles early heat retention issues properly.
Antibacterial & Microbial
It?s hard to find a pillow that isn?t antibacterial and hypoallergenic. Fillings either are produced as hypoallergenic to begin with or are treated to make them so. It is something to be aware of if you sleep hot because the moisture from sweat creates dampness where bacteria can flourish, so a filling and cover that is naturally protected against bacteria is useful.
Some types of pillows are machine washable. These tend to be the fiber fill and shredded memory foam ones. Detachable covers all seem to be machine washable with the maximum allowable temperature set by the manufacturer.
Q: Will a pillow for neck pain fix my issue?
A: That depends on what the root cause is. For pain that began after sleeping in a bad position all night, then most likely, yes. If you have a medical reason for the pain you?re experiencing, then a medium-firm to firm pillow will help support the neck better even if it doesn?t completely resolve the medical issue or eliminate the pain experienced.
Q: Should I look for a plush or medium-firm pillow?
A: That depends on whether you?re a side sleeper, a stomach sleeper or a back sleeper. Side sleepers and stomach sleepers tend to require more firmness while a stomach sleeper doesn?t.
Q: Does the height of the pillow matter?
A: The height matters as it relates to sleeping position. Side sleepers need a higher loft whereas stomach and back sleepers require a lower loft to be comfortable.
Q: Do I need more than one pillow?
A: If you?re a back sleeper, you may find it useful to lift the knees up or use a pillow to separate them. Doing so often relieves some lower back pressure by keeping the spinal column better aligned.