The best pillow for neck pain or for low back pain

It’s a good question. It’s tough to answer because the best pillow is different for everyone.  A good pillow will improve the quality of your sleep.  A bad pillow can make headaches worse, increase neck pain, shoulder and arm pain, as well as increase allergic symptoms, wheezing, and asthma. Furthermore, if your pillow is old, it may contain mold, fungus, mildew, dust mites, and old skin cells.


When should you buy a new pillow and what is the best kind to buy?  Experts agree that a pillow every 12 to 18 months.  After 2 years, it definitely should be replaced.


The purpose of a pillow is to support your neck so that your head in kept in a neutral alignment.  That means that when you lay on a pillow, regardless of your position, your neck should be straight, not bent.  So what’s the expert’s advice? The best pillow depends on your sleep position.


  • If you sleep on your back, you need a thinner pillow so that the head isn’t pushed too forward.  But look for a pillow with extra loft in the bottom so that it supports your neck.
  • If you sleep on your side, you need a firmer pillow to support the extra space under the ear and shoulder.
  • If you sleep on your stomach, you need a very thin pillow.  Some stomach sleepers don’t use a pillow under their head, but prop one up under their stomach so as to avoid low back pain.


In addition to how thick a pillow is, there are different choices for pillow stuffing.  You can find pillows made out of down or feather, foam, synthetic materials, latex, memory foam, and natural fibers like buckwheat hulls.  Most people have more than one type of pillow on their bed, depending on how they sleep.


  • Foam pillows generally provide more support and last longer.
  • Memory foam pillows are reported to reduce pressure points because they adjust to the shape of your head and neck as you move around during the night.
  • Latex offers the firmest option and is naturally resistant to dust mites and mold.  Memory foam and latex pillows are often found contoured for neck support for back sleepers and side sleepers.
  • Wool and cotton pillows are also firm pillows and, like latex, are naturally hypoallergenic and also resist mold and dust mites.
  • Synthetic down is giving feather down a run for its money.  Although the most popular pillows continue to be feather and down because the stuffing can be moved around, many people with allergies feel worse when they sleep on these pillows.  Synthetic down is a popular alternative.


Now that you know the types of pillows and stuffings that are available, you are ready to shop. Here are some things for which to look.


  • Cervical pillows can be made out of different materials and shapes.  These pillows have extra stuffing in the lower portion of the pillow to support the neck.
  • Water pillows can be found in some physical therapy or chiropractic offices.  Patients fill these pillows with different levels of waters to find their own comfortable levels.
  • Cool pillows are advertised to help hot flashes and night sweats.  A filling of tiny heat-absorbing beads keep the part of your head and face that touches the pillow feeling cool.
  • Positional pillows are made specifically for people who sleep on the stomach, back or side.
  • Oxygen-promoting pillows are a high-tech option for sleepers.  This pillow uses the same fabric technology used in diabetic socks that helped improve circulation.  Research studies have shown that this fabric technology can increase oxygen content in tiny blood vessels by up to 29%. Increased oxygenation is correlated with a reduction in pain.


There is a lot of information that goes into choosing a pillow, but regardless of what you research, the final answer comes down to one thing: the pillow test.  When you shop for a new pillow, try it out in the store if you can.  Don’t look at the price tag. A better pillow isn’t necessarily more costly.  The best pillow is the one that is most comfortable for you.


1 Comment

  1. Benjamin 02/08/2013, 2:34 am Reply

    I got rid of mine once I got the problem casuing the pain taken care of. You have pinched or tight muscles in your neck and no matter what you sleep on until they are released they are going to be painful. Once released you will be able to sleep on anything, I know I have and it no longer bothers me. My chiropractor helped me.

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