The Best Pillow for Neck Pain

In This Article

Stiff necks and muscle aches seem to be the defining factor of adulthood and for many adults, relief from neck pain can only be found in a restorative night of sleep.

Sleep does wonders for the human body, but for individuals who suffer from chronic neck, pain sleep can cause more pain than it relieves, which is why sleeping on the best pillow for neck pain is one best way to restore much-needed relief.

What is Neck Pain

Neck pain is medically defined as the sensation of pain radiating from any of the structures of the neck, specifically:

  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Skin
  • Muscles
  • Arteries,
  • Veins
  • Lymph Nodes
  • Thyroid Gland
  • Parathyroid Glands,
  • Esophagus
  • Larynx
  • Trachea

The majority of adults are familiar with neck pain. A study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology concluded that chronic neck pain is frequent in 34% of the general population.

Severe pain is the most obvious symptom of neck pain and is the symptom that has the most significant effect on an individual’s quality of life. Neck pain can turn simple tasks, like sitting up straight, into difficult endeavors.

A study published in Physical Therapy, a medical journal run by the American Physical Therapy Association, concluded that individuals exhibiting chronic neck pain demonstrate a reduced ability to maintain an upright posture.

Individuals who suffer from chronic neck pain also exhibit difficulty standing or sitting for prolonged periods of time, wherein the muscles of the neck must actively support the head. Other symptoms related to neck pain include:

  • Consistent Dull Ache
  • Muscle Spasms and Stiffness
  • Decreased Mobility
  • Headache

What Causes Neck Pain

Nonspecific neck pain is the most common type of neck pain and is often the result of poor posture; however, the cause of more specific forms of neck pain is often very difficult to diagnose.

According to a study conducted by Dutch researchers at the Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, in the majority of individuals experiencing neck pain, no specific cause can be identified.

The source of an individual’s neck pain may be difficult to determine, but doctors have identified five of the most common causes, including:

Muscle Strain- Muscles become strained from overuse. Neck muscles are particularly vulnerable to strain due to poor posture when sitting, standing and even sleeping.

Joint Degeneration- Every joint in the body is susceptible to degeneration from overuse and old age. The joints of the neck, particularly the cartilage between cervical vertebrae, can deteriorate causing the bones to grind together painfully.

Bodily Injury- Physical injury is one of the most frequently reported causes of neck pain. Accidents can cause nerve compression, whiplash, herniated disks, and even a life-threatening fracture.

Disease- Diseases such as Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis are commonly associated with chronic neck pain, but many diseases can cause neck pain, including:

  • Congenital Torticollis
  • Spondylosis
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Tumors
  • Infection
  • Scoliosis

How Does Neck Pain Affect My Sleep?

Studies have shown that sleep disturbances and chronic pain often exacerbate the condition of the other.

The more pain an individual experiences when sleeping, the less likely they are to achieve restorative sleep, and the less sleep an individual receives, the more susceptible they are to sensations of chronic pain.

Furthermore, a study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics concluded that sleep quality was associated with pain and disability.

The results of the study showed that disability in the neck and shoulder muscles contributed to symptoms of mechanical neck pain in patients who exhibited worse sleep quality than control patients. (patients with no neck pain)

Science doesn’t lie. Study after study has shown that pain, especially chronic nocturnal pain affects the quality of sleep the body can achieve.

The body can’t function without restorative sleep, which means the logical course of action for individuals suffering from nocturnal neck pain is to improve the quality of sleep they achieve.

For many of those who suffer from nocturnal neck pain, it may be surprising to discover that their bed and pillow combination may be the cause of their chronic pain.

A pillow that does not provide adequate support for the neck to disperse the weight of the head and align the spine is not only uncomfortable but exacerbating an already painful condition.

What’s more, many of individuals who suffer from neck pain are aware of the effect their sleep posture has on their sleep, which means that it is likely that they are not using the best pillow they can be for their neck pain.

How to Alleviate Nocturnal Neck Pain

Chronic neck pain is not only a hindrance to quality sleep, but it’s also a painful hurdle preventing millions of individuals from living a healthy lifestyle.

The best way to alleviate nocturnal neck pain is by providing adequate support for the neck and spine in accordance with sleep posture.

An individual’s sleep posture is determined by the position in which they primarily sleep.

Stomach Sleeper- Stomach sleeping is the sleep posture that is most detrimental to a healthy spine and quality sleep. Individuals suffering from neck pain are advised to avoid stomach sleeping if possible.

However, for those who find it difficult to sleep in another posture an ultra slim pillow is recommended. Some stomach sleepers may find it more comfortable to forgo a pillow altogether.

Back Sleeper- Sleeping on the back is the best posture one can assume to alleviate neck pain. A thin pillow is recommended to enable the spine to rest comfortably.

Those who suffer from chronic, severe neck pain may find the most relief while sleeping in on the back, in a reclined position.

Side Sleeper- The best way for side sleepers to support their neck and adequately align the spine is to utilize a pillow that is approximately as thick as the length of the shoulder.

Using a Pillow for Neck Pain Relief

The understated hero of neck pain relief is the pillow. Pillows can be used strategically to provide crucial support where the body needs it, and relief uncomfortable pressure points.

For those who are suffering from neck pain the most beneficial pillow arrangement will be the one that provides the most support for the cervical spine and enables a neutral spinal alignment.

A neutral spine alignment is a configuration the spine assumes naturally when at rest. To support the neutral spine, neck pain sufferers are advised to consider their sleep posture, then position pillows in the areas of the body that feel least supported, typically the hips, lumbar, and neck.

For example, a back sleeper with chronic neck pain may find that sleeping in a reclined position with a pillow under each arm relieves the most pressure from the neck by preventing the arms from sinking and exerting strain on the neck and shoulders.

Side sleepers with neck pain will find that a thin pillow that provides more height under the neck than it does the head provides the highest level of support and comfort. However, a pillow that is too high or thick can cause the neck to strain too far in one direction.

When positioning pillows for neck pain relief, it is important to remember that all pillows are not created equal. The best pillow for neck pain is going to include specific features and be made from a material that is designed to provide the most support for the neck and head.

The Best Pillow for Neck Pain Buyers Guide

To purchase the best pillow for neck pain one first needs to know what materials, features and qualities equate to a quality pillow. A pillow can be considered high quality if it:

  • Includes a cover that is breathable and machine washable
  • Manufactured from hypoallergenic, responsive materials
  • Includes cooling and drying features
  • Maintains its shape with repeated use
  • Provides comfortable support for the head, neck, and spine.

Pillows are available in nearly every size, shape and stuffing imaginable; however, pillows designed for neck pain relief are manufactured in size and shape conducive to cervical spine alignment and be stuffed with materials that are thin, yet responsive.

Stuffing material commonly found in pillows designed for back pain relief include:

  • Memory Foam
  • Shredded Memory Foam
  • Buckwheat
  • Latex
  • Shredded Latex Noodles
  • Down (Feather)
  • Down Alternative
  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Gel
  • Water
  • Microbed
  • Polyfil
  • Innerspring
  • Polyester (Synthetic)

Neck pain pillows will also include features that not only contribute to the relief of neck pain symptoms but ensure the most comfortable sleep possible. These features may include:

  • Increased Responsiveness
  • Cooling Materials
  • Cradling Design
  • Additional Neck Support
  • Increased Lumbar Support
  • Anti-Snore
  • Curved Shape
  • Increased Softness

The best pillow for neck pain is going to be the pillow that provides the most comfort and support for the individual, which means that perfect pillow for one person may not be a terrible pillow for the next person.

Best Overall – Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow

The Contour Memory Foam Pillow from Sleep Innovations is the ideal pillow for side and back sleepers with chronic nocturnal neck pain. The pillow is contoured to mold the form of the neck to provide comfort and support.

The pillow is stuffed with a core of memory foam which allows the head to sink far enough into the pillow to feel comfortable, yet not sink far enough to cause strain on the neck.

The Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow is higher under the neck than it is the head, a design feature that enables it to support the head and neck at the same time comfortably.

The curved shape and recessed design of the Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow also mean that there is no need to fluff or reshape the pillow to change position. The pillow remains supportive and maintains its shape no matter what position it is used.

Runner-Up – Mediflow Waterbase Pillow

The Mediflow Waterbase Pillow combines the best aspects of a waterbed and a supportive pillow designed for neck pain relief. The Mediflow Waterbase Pillow is manufactured from polyester to contain a water base at the bottom.

The water base is what distinguishes the Mediflow Waterbase Pillow from other neck pain pillows because it enables the sleeper to add water as needed to create their most comfortable pillow.

Owners of the Mediflow Waterbase pillow claim they wake up feeling less neck pain and praise the pillow for remaining supportive all night long.

An unexpected positive feature of the Mediflow Waterbase Pillow is its weight. The added water makes the Mediflow Pillow heavier than the competition, which means won’t slip or fall off the bed.

The Mediflow Waterbase Pillow is also a smart option for obese and overweight sleepers who require a pillow with a high loft and adjustable firmness.

Honorable Mention – Coop Home Goods – Premium Adjustable Loft Pillow

Adjustable pillows enable the sleeper to customize the size and feel of the pillow, so it is perfect for their sleep profile. The Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft Pillow is the adjustable pillow that takes customization a step further than any other adjustable pillow

The stuffing in the Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft Pillow is shredded Visco elastic memory foam which provides the pillow with increased airflow, thus enabling it remains cool and dry all night long.

The shredded Visco elastic memory foam can be removed or added to create the ideal firmness and provide as much or as little support as needed, which makes it perfect for side sleepers and back sleepers alike.

The pillow is designed to the contour of the head, so it feels as comfortable as it is supportive.

The contour aligns the cervical spine and enables the neck to rest without any added strain or discomfort from supporting the head.

The cover includes with the Coop Home Goods Premium Adjustable Loft Pillow is derived from bamboo and provides breathability to the sleep surface and reduces heat retention. The cover is also 100% machine washable and hypoallergenic.

Honorable Mention – Classic Brands Conforma Ventilated Memory Foam Cushion Firm

The Conforma Ventilated Memory Foam pillow from Classic Brands is memory foam pillow that is providing a unique solution to nocturnal neck pain.

The Conforma Ventilated Memory Foam pillow designed to keep the cervical spine aligned so that the head and back remain straight and the curve of the neck properly supported.

The pillow includes a soft and luxurious cotton blend cover that is s 100% machine washable, allergen-free and resistant to mites.

The pillow is stuffed with a medium firm, ventilated memory foam to provide maximum support and airflow. The pillow is five inches thick which makes it ideal for side sleepers and providing a high level of neck and head support.

The Conforma Ventilated Memory Foam Pillow is designed to dissipate body heat and provide a cool and dry sleep surface.

Honorable Mention – Arc4life Cervical Linear Traction Neck Pillow Medium Standard

The Arc4life Cervical Traction Neck Pillow is a smart option for anyone suffering from chronic nocturnal neck pain. The pillow is designed with a recessed center to comfortably accommodate the head and gently immobilize the neck.

The result is a pillow that aligns the cervical spine and provides the most comfortable sleep possible and high levels of neck pain relief.

The Arc4life Cervical Traction Neck Pillow has two: a traction side and a support side. The traction side of the pillow is designed to gently stretch the spine, perfect for those who suffer from little to no curve in the neck, arthritis or bulging and herniated disks.

The Arc4life Cervical Traction Neck Pillow provides high superior comfort for side and back sleepers and even promotes healthy posture in the cervical spine. The pillow has even been known to reduce muscle spasms, and relieve tension for stiff and aching muscles.

Winner: Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow

The winner of the best pillow for neck pain is the Contour Memory Foam Pillow from Sleep Innovations for its high levels of comfort and support for an affordable price.

The Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow was the only pillow to have relieved upper back pain and relieve headaches as well as alleviate the symptoms of neck pain.

The contoured design of the pillow combined with the memory foam stuffing enables the pillow to keep its shape all night long and provide continual support for the cervical spine.

What’s more the Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow includes none of the bad odor associated with new memory foam pillows.

Consumers agree with our assessment. The Sleep Innovations Contour Memory Foam Pillow is one of the highest rated pillows across the web and the only pillow on our list that can be considered the number one best pillow for neck pain.

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