Skip to main content

These are the pillows you absolutely need if you have neck or back pain

Neck and back pain can arise from a fall, a car accident, arthritis, bad posture, or spending the bulk of your day at a computer. You may also wake up with a stiff neck or a sore back because your pillow isn’t doing a good job of supporting your head and spine in the proper alignment. Even if your pillow isn’t the source of your neck or back pain, sleeping with the wrong pillow may be making matters worse.

If your pillow is flat or lumpy or you keep adjusting it to get comfortable, if you wake up during the night or wake up in pain most mornings, your pillow is probably not providing the support you need. Replacing your pillow is a simple change that may significantly improve your sleep and quality of life.

woman sleeping in bed
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Characteristics to consider when shopping for a pillow


One important factor is a pillow’s loft, or the angle it holds your head at relative to your spine. If your pillow is too high or too low, your neck will be positioned at an awkward angle while you’re sleeping, and it will have to compensate for the lack of support from the pillow. That can cause you to wake up in pain.

Recommended Videos


A pillow should contour to support your neck and reduce pressure points. Cervical pillows conform to the neck to provide the necessary support.


The firmness of the pillow is another critical factor. It needs to be firm enough to provide adequate support, but not so firm that it causes pressure points. The firmness that’s right for you will depend on your head size and preferred sleeping position, as well as the height of the pillow and the firmness of your mattress.

couple sleeping
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Common pillow materials

Memory foam

Memory foam can contour to support your head and neck and keep your spine in alignment. Memory foam pillows are affordable, hypoallergenic, and available at a wide range of stores and online retailers, but some people find them uncomfortable because they trap heat.


Polyfoam pillows can contour to your neck and respond better to pressure than memory foam. They are lightweight, hypoallergenic, and inexpensive. The downsides are that polyfoam can trap heat and will develop indentations over time, which means you may have to replace polyfoam pillows frequently.


Buckwheat is a natural material that’s breathable, durable, environmentally friendly, and resistant to allergens. Buckwheat holds its shape well and can provide good neck support, but buckwheat pillows aren’t as soft as ones made with other materials, and they can make noise when you shift your position in bed. They are also more expensive than other types of pillows.


Feather pillows are soft, and you can add or remove feathers to get the right loft. Over time, though, the feathers can get compressed and displaced, which can reduce the amount of support the pillows provide.


Down pillows are made with soft, lightweight feathers from ducks and geese. Down is expensive, and some people are allergic to it. Down-alternative pillows are made from polyester fibers, but both materials can lose their shape quickly and fail to provide adequate support.


Pillows made with latex offer good support. They can also minimize pressure points and regulate temperature. Latex is usually shredded, and you may be able to adjust the amount of filling to suit your needs.

woman lying in bed
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The relationship between your pillow and sleeping position

Learning how to sleep with neck pain can help you wake up feeling better. It’s best to sleep on your back or side because sleeping on your stomach can put pressure on your spine.

  • If you can only sleep on your stomach, use a pillow with a low loft.
  • If you sleep on your side, choose a pillow with a loft that’s equal to the distance between your ears and the edge of your shoulders. That can keep your head and spine in alignment.
  • If you have back or hip pain, sciatica, or a herniated disc, sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees may help. Sleeping in that position can keep your knees on top of each other and keep your spine from rotating. That position can also help you sleep comfortably if you’re pregnant.
  • If you sleep on your back, a pillow with a medium loft should work. If you can’t find a pillow that provides the right support, you can try sleeping with a small, round pillow under your neck, in addition to your primary pillow.
  • If you have back or hip pain and you like to sleep on your back, placing a pillow under your knees may be beneficial. That can keep your spine neutral, distribute your weight, and discourage you from shifting positions while you’re asleep.

Many people don’t realize how important their pillow is. The right pillow can help you get a good night’s sleep and alleviate neck and back pain, while the wrong pillow can cause pain or make pain from another source even worse. If your current pillow isn’t giving you the appropriate support, it’s time to replace it.

Some pillows may be pricey, but if they’re made with quality materials and will last for several years, the higher cost can be money well spent. When you think about how vital sleep is and how chronic neck and back pain can diminish your quality of life, investing in a quality pillow is a small price to pay.

Editors' Recommendations

Jennifer Supernaw
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jennifer Supernaw is a freelance writer who has produced home-related content for RISMedia, as well as blogs and articles for…
7 simple safety tips to stop a rug from sliding (and you from tripping)
Keep your rug where you want it so you can stay safe
Modern living room with leather sofa and large red rug

Area rugs are a great way to bring the room together. They add decorative flair to your space and offer comfort while standing or walking on them. Even though they're popular in modern homes, rugs are difficult to keep in place, particularly on hardwood floors.

They slide around easily and even curl up at the corners, creating slipping and tripping hazards for you and your family. Luckily, there are several ways you can successfully keep your rug where you want it. We're going to discuss how to stop a rug from sliding with seven simple solutions.
Why does my rug keep moving?

Read more
9 refreshing bedroom paint ideas we love (and we think you will too)
Textures, patterns, bold colors, and more: Check out these bedroom paint ideas to freshen up your sleep space
A white-covered bed sits against a white wall with exposed brick in the background.

Creating an inviting and relaxing atmosphere in your bedroom is crucial -- we spend a ton of time in our beds. And while a grand bedroom remodel may be tempting sometimes, a coat of paint is all you need to change up the vibe. What’s on the walls has a huge impact on the overall feeling of a room; different colors, patterns, and designs can add a whole lot of personality to the space. If you’re looking for inspiring bedroom ideas, or if you're intent on changing up your current design, check out some of these creative bedroom paint ideas that we think you'll love. 

Feature walls for the win
Feature walls have been done and redone, for good reason. They are perfect for combining simple sophisticated designs with some added personality. A feature wall is essentially one wall that is dedicated to something different than the others. It could be a different color, a stunning mural, a beautiful pattern, or anything else you decide. The great thing about feature walls is the versatility and ability to experiment. Depending on the shape and size of the bedroom, you can really get creative.

Read more
This is the addition your bathroom absolutely needs this winter to help keep everyone warm
Warm up this winter with the luxurious comfort of warm towels
White towel hanging on bathroom towel ladder

A warm towel when you step out of the shower is something you can expect at a spa or in a fancy hotel, but most people don’t have that luxury every day. However, thanks to modern technology, you can find a good towel warmer for home use and bring that spa day feeling into your bathroom whenever you wish.

Home towel warmers come in a few styles and are good for more than just added comfort. Towel warmer racks and towel warmer buckets also help reduce loads of laundry, cut down on harmful bacteria that grow on damp surfaces, and provide you with warm, dry towels each time you need one. And since the weather is colder, now is the perfect time to consider adding a towel warmer to your bathroom.

Read more