Best Pillow for Pain (Back, Shoulder and Neck) in 2023     – CNET

Best Pillow for Pain (Back, Shoulder and Neck) in 2023 – CNET

When you have back, shoulder or neck pain, it may be difficult to fall and stay asleep during the night without being interrupted by aches, stings or sores. According to a 2019 National Health Interview Survey, one in five adults in the United States has chronic pain. Of all medical conditions, pain is the top cause of insomnia, meaning millions of people are losing sleep due to body aches and pains. 

A pillow that doesn’t properly support you can contribute to your pain. Your pillows and mattress play an important role in keeping your body in proper alignment while you sleep, preventing further discomfort. There are certain factors to consider when looking for a pillow for back, shoulder or neck pain, the most important of which are your sleeping position and pillow materials. Back and side sleeping are recommended as the ideal positions for pain relief, but there are options for stomach sleepers seeking aid, too. 

We get into the important details below, including my best pillows for pain recommendations and what you should know when shopping for a pillow to relieve your pain. 

Best pillow for neck pain 

Side sleepers with neck pain need a lofty, tall pillow that properly supports the neck without going flat. Feather pillows are (usually) not your friend. The Eli & Elm Pillow is around 5 inches tall and measures 17 by 29 inches. You can get yours with extra fill if you want it even firmer. 

Conversely, you can take fill out to adjust its firmness level to your liking. It’s also ergonomically shaped to contour around your shoulder and has the right loftiness to keep your neck in alignment with your spine. 

The inside is made with soft polyester fibers and bouncy latex shreds – Eli & Elm call them noodles. It provides a good balance between soft and supportive. Latex foam is bouncy and pressure relieving, but doesn’t lose its shape and durability, an ideal trait when you’re looking for the best pillow for neck pain. 

Sleep Number

The Sleep Number True Temp pillow in the contour shape is a good pillow that aligns your neck and spine in a “C” shape, ideal for back sleepers with neck pain. 

It also has a few additional perks, like its 37.5 Technology that uses natural volcanic minerals. In other words, it helps regulate your temperature and lets you sleep cooler than you would on other memory foam pillows. Combined with a cooling cover that’s cold to the touch, it’s a cooling pillow true to its name. 

Three foam inserts inside the Sleep Number True Temp pillow give it a cushy, pressure-relieving feel. It’s really soft but still offers a good balance of support. If you want to make it even softer and less lofty, you can remove the inserts and adjust accordingly. 

Sleep Number

Imagine you’re at the movie theater, and you get front-row seats. Your neck has been kinked for over an hour, and you walk out with slight soreness or irritation. The same thing goes for stomach sleepers who sleep on a tall pillow. 

The ultimate ComfortFit Sleep Number pillow offers the best of both worlds between low loft and proper support. It doesn’t fall flat thanks to its soft, shredded foam-filled inserts. The filling gives the pillow a soft, plush and really enjoyable feel. Not to mention that inserts are removable if you want to shorten your pillow. I removed one insert to make it comfortable for me during stomach sleeping, and it’s now one of my go-to pillows. 

Best pillow for back pain


Many side sleepers claim they’re on a never-ending quest for the perfect pillow. The key is to look for height and support; Purple Harmony fits both bills and is my pick as the best pillow for side sleepers with back pain.

Offered in three different heights — 5.5, 6.5 and 7.5 inches — it’s fitting for side sleepers of all sizes who live with back pain. It softly cradles your head and cervical spine while keeping it in neutral alignment with the thoracic and lumbar spine.  

Purple claims that Purple Harmony is unlike any pillow, and it’s not wrong. It’s made with the brand’s own Gel Flex Grid and a slab of latex foam, making it soft and supportive at the same time. 

The feel of the Gel Flex Grid is similar to gel, like a shoe insole. It’s soft and squishy but never loses its shape. With the latex foam, you have a pressure-relieving pillow that promotes proper alignment, and great airflow. You’ll never have to fluff the Purple Harmony in your life. 

You can purchase the Purple Harmony through Purple, but its sold at a cheaper price on Amazon. 

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The Layla Kapok pillow is an eco-friendly pillow made with natural fill sourced from the fibers of kapok tree seed pods. Alongside Layla’s shredded memory foam fill, it makes for a plush, cushy and supportive pillow that supports the cervical spine while promoting a proper “C-shaped” curve for back sleepers with back pain. 

The Layla Kapok, like a few others on our best pillow for pain list, is adjustable. You can remove the filling to size the loft to your preference. I also appreciate the price of this pillow, as it’s one of the more affordable pillows for back pain. 

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Brooklyn Bedding

Stomach sleeping isn’t recommended for people with back pain, but having an accommodating, low-loft pillow is better if you can’t make the switch. You want to keep your neck in alignment with your spine to avoid hurting your back more, but your pillow should properly support your neck. 

The Talalay latex pillow from Brooklyn Bedding has a low loft option that accommodates a stomach sleeper without losing its shape. It’s also a very environmentally friendly pillow, made with a Talalay latex slab sourced from a rubber tree’s sap. Outside, the cover is made from soft, organic cotton. 

Its perforated latex construction makes it a breathable, temperature-regulating pillow if you’re a sleeper who gets hot during the night. Last but not least, it has one of the most affordable price tags on our list. 

Best pillow for shoulder pain 


The only down pillow mentioned on my best pillow for pain list, the Casper Down uses ethically sourced feathers and a five-chamber design to deliver fluffiness that doesn’t go completely flat when you lay your head down. The inner chambers are supportive and firm, while the outer chambers feel light and airy. It will require fluffing every day or two to keep its shape. 

When you’re living with shoulder pain, back sleeping with the Casper Down pillow supporting the neck and between the shoulders is a comfortable way to gently relieve pressure around the shoulders while keeping your back in line with your neck and head. 

How we tested pillows

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about based on editorial merit. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission. We are still testing the best pillow for shoulder pain in side sleepers and will update the article accordingly. 

Loft: Regarding pillows, the word “loft” refers to their height. Different sleeping positions require a different pillow height. The goal is to have a pillow that supports the head and neck and keeps your spine in a straight alignment. 

Firmness: The firmer the pillow, the more supportive it is. I looked for pillows that had a firm, supportive feel that still relieved tension around the joints. Softer, flat pillows may not be ideal when dealing with back, shoulder or neck pain. 

Adjustability: Many pillows these days are made to be adjustable because brands know that pillows aren’t a “one size fits all” deal. This way, you can remove filling or inserts to adjust the firmness and loft to your specific needs. It also makes pillows accommodating for different body types – the larger your build, the taller and firmer your pillow should be.  

Price: Some people have the budget to invest in an expensive pillow that helps relieve pain, but others need pain relief without spending over $100 on a pillow. I wanted to include a fair share of both options so most people can afford a comfortable night’s sleep. 

Materials and comfort: Memory foam and latex foam tend to be the best pillow materials for pain relief. They offer pressure relief, contouring and support without losing shape or requiring regular fluffing. But some down pillows are beneficial for pain relief, especially when placed under the lumbar region or in between limbs. 

What to consider when choosing a pillow for pain

Sleeping position

Side sleeping has been shown to reduce pain in the neck and spine. Side sleepers can lie with a tall pillow supporting their neck and head, keeping it in a straight line with their spine. Keep a supportive pillow between the knees to maintain the hips in alignment and reduce pressure on your hips and joints. 

Back sleepers benefit from small to medium loft pillows that keep the neck or cervical spine in a proper C-shaped curve. Back sleeping is ideal for minimizing pain because it distributes pressure evenly across your body and reduces pressure on the spine. 

Stomach sleepers report the greatest amount of neck pain during the day, and stomach sleeping can put added pressure on your back and shoulders. It’s not recommended as a good sleeping position when dealing with pain. That said, you can sleep with a pillow under your hips to promote better spinal alignment if you can’t switch to your side or back. 

Pain type

Sleeping with shoulder pain is most comfortable when you sleep on your back or non-injured shoulder. Back sleeping is recommended because it evenly distributes weight without disturbing either of your shoulders. Still, you can also sleep on your side with a pillow beneath your armpit to relieve pressure. 

Sleeping with back pain is most comfortable when you’re on your back so you ensure straight spine and neck alignment. You can also place a pillow under your knees to relieve more pressure off your spine. 

Sleeping with neck pain is most comfortable on the side or back, but your pillow must keep your cervical spine in neutral alignment to avoid increased pressure on the neck. Back sleepers with shoulder pain should sleep with their pillow supporting their shoulders and neck, and another underneath their knees to relieve pressure off the spine.


Certain materials are better at keeping their shape, propping your head up and cradling your neck and shoulders. The best pillow for back pain, shoulder pain or neck pain will have a good balance between pressure relief and support, with a decent firmness. 


The loft of your pillow is important when you’re dealing with pain. Your pillow’s height should accommodate your specific sleeping position to keep your spine, neck and head in alignment. 

Side sleepers benefit from taller, loftier pillows that support their head. Stomach sleepers benefit from thin pillows that cradle the head, and back sleepers need a medium loft that promotes a proper C-shaped curve. 

Best pillow materials for back, neck and shoulder pain 

Memory foam

Memory foam is known for its pressure-relieving properties and is a good choice for support and comfort. It’ll contour around your shoulders and head while never going flat. 

Latex foam

Latex foam is an airy, durable and supportive foam that’s also squishy at the same time. Many brands use organic latex foam, making their pillows eco-friendly and hypoallergenic. Latex foam has similar pressure-relieving characteristics to those of memory foam but is much bouncier. 


Down pillows act as a good added cushion around the body when trying to support your knees, shoulders or lower back. And as long as the down pillow has a supportive design, it can also benefit back and stomach sleepers who need small to medium loft. 

Poly foam 

Polyurethane foam is cheaper to make than memory or latex foam, meaning these types of pillows are more affordable. It’s more responsive than memory foam and more like traditional soft foam than latex foam. To put things in perspective, comfy couches are made with polyurethane foam. 

Best pillow for pain FAQs

What pillows do Chiropractors recommend?

Many chiropractors suggest memory or latex foam because of their supportive and pressure-relieving qualities. These foams contour around your curves, keep the neck and head propped up and promote a straight spinal alignment. 

Can pillows cause back, shoulder or neck pain?

Yes, your pillow plays a key part in preventing added pressure to the neck and spine. If your pillow doesn’t accommodate your sleeping position, you risk improper spinal alignment and increased pain. 

What sleeping position gives you back pain?

Stomach sleeping is the most unrecommended position when dealing with back, shoulder and neck pain. This position adds more pressure on your spine and can also contribute to neck pain because you have to keep your head kinked to the side during sleep. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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McKenzie Dillon

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