Neck always in pain? It’s probably your pillow’s fault (2024)

Waking up with a sore neck after a restless night of sleep is one of the worst ways to start the day. Unfortunately, the culprit is usually lying right beneath our heads. A dull, flat and unsupportive pillow often leads to a painful stiff neck. While the discomfort subsides after a day or two, it’s ideal to prevent neck pain from happening in the first place. To do this, start by choosing the best pillow for neck pain based on your sleep position, the material and overall height.

To learn more about the best pillows for neck pain, I tested a pillow myself for over two weeks. I also spoke to chiropractors and other experts, for their guidance and product recommendations. Below, I list products recommended by our experts, as well as items that are highly rated on Amazon.

SKIP AHEAD How we picked the best pillows for neck pain | The best pillows for neck pain | How to shop for a pillow for neck pain | What type of pillow is best for neck pain?

Selected.Our top picks

How we picked the best pillows for neck pain

There are a few important factors to consider when looking for a pillow to help with neck pain. Experts recommend keeping the following in mind when shopping for one:

  • Height: One of the most important aspects to consider when looking for a pillow is how tall it is. That’s because if a pillow is too tall or too short, it can lead to neck pain. Your body height also plays a role in how tall your pillow should be. “The height of a pillow is often referred to as its loft and this will vary depending upon the size of the sleeper,” says Dr. Matthew Cavanugh, a chiropractor at Cavanaugh Chiropractic. “A taller sleeper would likely need a higher loft in order to maintain proper spinal alignment.” Many brands of high-quality pillows have options when it comes to pillow height, which makes it easier to find the right one for you.
  • Firmness: Aside from height, the firmness of your pillows is a huge factor in preventing sleep-related neck pain, according to Cavanaugh. While a very plush pillow feels good at first, in many cases, a firm pillow is often better for overall spinal health. “While soft and squishy pillows may be comfortable, they do not provide the same amount of stability to your head and neck,” he says. A soft pillow won’t provide enough support to keep your head propped up at the right angle to prevent neck pain or a crick.

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The best pillows for neck pain in 2024

I spoke with chiropractors for their insight into the best pillows for neck pain. I included some of their product recommendations below, as well as pillows that have at least a 4-star average rating from 500 reviews or more on Amazon.

Best pillow for neck pain worth the splurge: Saatva Natural Latex Pillow

What we like

  • Multiple height options
  • Plush feel
  • Hypoallergenic

Something to note

  • Somewhat pricey

This pillow comes recommended by Cavanaugh, who likes that it comes in different heights, which is perfect for particularly tall people. It is made with a plush latex filling that provides proper head and neck support, and it has a removable machine-washable fill layer. The standard pillow is five inches tall, which is ideal for back or stomach sleepers, and the high-loft pillow is between six and seven inches, perfect for side sleepers, according to the brand. The tall pillow would also be appropriate for people who are six feet, three inches tall or more, according to Cavanaugh.

Best adjustable pillow for neck pain: Luxome Layr Customizable Pillow

What we like

  • Multiple height options
  • Multiple firmness options

Something to note

  • Nothing to note at this time

This pillow comes recommended by Cavanaugh, who appreciates that it’s both supportive and cooling at the same time. You can adjust both the height and firmness of the pillow, which comes in either a standard or king size, according to the brand. One side of the pillow is made of down alternative and the other side is made of gel-infused memory foam. To adjust the level of firmness in the pillow, you can swap out the filling by adding a firmer insert. The pillow cover is made from cooling bamboo viscose, which is machine-washable along with the insert covers,, according to the brand. To achieve the best amount of firmness in the pillow, the brand’s website has a guide on the best combinations of inserts to use.

Best pillow for neck pain with pressure relief: TempurPedic Cloud Adjustable Pillow

What we like

  • Adjustable shape
  • Plush feel

Something to note

  • Nothing to note at this time

This pillow is also recommended by Cavanaugh, who likes that it provides a good amount of pressure relief. It’s compatible with all sleeping positions and the cover is removable and machine-washable, according to the brand. It also has a flexible liner which allows you to fluff and adjust the shape of the pillow, depending on the height that’s best for you. Plus, the fill provides support and breathability.

Best travel-friendly pillow for neck pain: Alex Orthopedic C-Shaped Pillow

What we like

  • Good for travel
  • Good for sitting

Something to note

  • More suitable for sitting

This pillow comes recommended by Dr. Allen Conrad, a chiropractor at Montgomery County Chiropractic Center, who says that it could be a good option for people with neck pain stemming from injury or trauma, such as a car accident. “This is because their normal pillow is too stiff after the car accident, and can provide temporary reinforcement while sleeping and recovering from neck pain and whiplash,” he says. That said, it’s also good to use for sleeping while traveling on a plane or in a car. It connects at both ends with a hook, so you can secure it as you sleep. The cover is also machine-washable.

Best neck pain pillow for side sleepers: The Pillow Cube Side Cube

What we like

  • Supportive
  • Cooling

Something to note

  • Best for side sleepers

Pillow Cube sent me a few different samples of their pillows, including their bestselling Side Cube (often simply called “the pillow cube”), which I reviewed. I tried the Side Cube for over two weeks, and found that it was not only perfect for side sleepers, given its height and firmness, but also because of its cooling capability. I didn’t feel any discomfort sleeping on the Side Cube, which was a relief because I was afraid that it would be too tall or firm for me, but it really cradled and contoured well to my head and neck. Additionally, I didn’t notice any transfer of facial products onto the surface of the pillow cover or case. It has a temperature-regulating core that reduces warmth and it has a height of about five inches.

Best firm pillow for neck pain: Tempur-Pedic Neck Pillow

What we like

  • Multiple size options

Something to note

  • Best for side or back sleepers

This neck pillow from Tempur-Pedic also comes recommended by Conrad, who says it’s particularly good for side sleepers, since it comes in different heights. “ It’s comfortable yet allows plenty of neck support while you sleep,” he says. “This will help you stay in one place while sleeping which can enhance a good night’s sleep.” It provides support to the neck by contouring to your body. It’s also available in small, medium and large sizes, that you can choose from depending on your height. If you’re taller than average, consider a large pillow, but if you’re short, then a small pillow would be best, according to the brand.

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How to shop for a pillow for neck painPrioritize support over softness

While all pillows should be soft and comfortable to an extent, the softest pillows don’t always make the best option for people with neck pain. This is because they don’t have enough loft to properly support your head for hours of sleep, according to Conrad. “In general, the softness of a pillow may feel comfortable at first,” he says. “In the long run, a pillow that is too soft is not going to have the additional reinforced support that your neck needs while sleeping.” This is especially important for those who have degenerative conditions, such as arthritis. It’s best to choose a pillow on the firm side if you experience constant neck pain. “Most neck pain upon awakening comes from a lack of support. If you already have cervical arthritis, the joints in your spine are lacking that ligament support,” Conrad says. “As a result, the spine can’t stay in place when you are not active.”

What type of pillow is best for neck pain?

As mentioned above, the best pillows for people with neck pain are ones that are firm, rather than super soft, as well as pillows with a loft that is compatible with your individual height. Additionally, the chiropractors we spoke to recommend getting a pillow with breathability, especially if you’re typically a hot sleeper.

Meet our expertsWhy trust NBC Select?

I am a commerce editor at NBC Select, where I report on bedding, mattresses, pillows, home and kitchen topics. I have written roundups on the best lumbar support pillows, the best cervical traction devices and the best cotton bed sheets. I spoke with chiropractors for their guidance and product recommendation for this story.

Catch up on NBC Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.

While all pillows should be soft and comfortable to an extent, the softest pillows don’t always make the best option for people with neck pain. This is because they don’t have enough loft to properly support your head for hours of sleep, according to Conrad. “In general, the softness of a pillow may feel comfortable at first,” he says. “In the long run, a pillow that is too soft is not going to have the additional reinforced support that your neck needs while sleeping.” This is especially important for those who have degenerative conditions, such as arthritis. It’s best to choose a pillow on the firm side if you experience constant neck pain. “Most neck pain upon awakening comes from a lack of support. If you already have cervical arthritis, the joints in your spine are lacking that ligament support,” Conrad says. “As a result, the spine can’t stay in place when you are not active.”

Cory Fernandez

Cory Fernandez is a commerce editor for Select on NBC News.

Neck always in pain? It’s probably your pillow’s fault (2024)
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