Healthy Sleeping Habits

Spinal Surgeons and Chiropractors Recommend These Pillows if You Suffer From Back Pain

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Photo: Getty Images/ JGI/Jamie Grill
Pillows—everyone has them, but not everyone has the right one. Especially if you have back or neck pain, a good pillow for back pain can help you not just get sleep, but quality sleep. And considering a full night’s rest can affect everything from snacking habits to mood, your pillows can be the key in making sure you wake up on the right side of the bed, and without a crick in your neck that ruins the rest of the day.

There’s no one-size-fits all solution, as pillows depend on sleeping positions and personal preferences, but whatever you use, like a good BFF, they should support you and keep your body in line for the night. Ahead are some of the best expert-recommended pillows for back pain, as well as what you should look for so you can finally catch some relaxing zzz’s.

Best Pillows for Back Pain

purple pillow
Purple, The Pillow — $109.00

Purple’s pillows use the company’s own Purple Grid, which is durable, non-toxic, hypoallergenic, soft, supportive, and breathable (because of the grid design). The pillow comes with boosters so you can change the height of your pillow, as well as a moisture-wicking mesh cover. Dr. Michael Breus, Purple’s Chief Sleep Advisor, adds that “ The GelFlex grid cradles your head and neck for optimal support” and when he sleeps with the pillow, “I move around less, and don’t wake up with any neck pain, ever.” Dr. Laura DeCesaris, a functional medicine practitioner, is also a fan of the pillow because “it allows for easy adjustment of the firmness by simply zipping or unzipping the extensions in it.”

You can also purchase on Amazon.

saatva latex pillow
Saatva Latex Pillow — $155.00

This plush, latex pillow has an organic cotton cover, organic cotton fill, and a shredded natural latex core for head and neck support. Alex Savy, a Certified Sleep Science Coach and the founder of SleepingOcean.com, likes this pillow, saying since it’s latex, it sleeps cooler than the majority of conforming pillows on the market. “I also like that the latex is shredded in this model. Plus, there’s a layer of down-like cotton fill. Therefore, it’s easy to shape this pillow and adjust the loft based on every sleeper’s needs (except for stomach sleepers, probably).”

Coop Home Goods Adjustable Pillow — $62.00

Filled with conforming memory foam and soft microfiber, this pillow has the best of both worlds. It’s adjustable to your preferences and sleeping styles too, as it comes with an extra ½ pound bag of fill so you can adjust the loft. The entire pillow is machine washable, so you can launder just the outer liner or toss the whole thing in the washing machine for a thorough refresh. It also has over 30,000 five-star reviews, with one reviewer saying, “Coop’s is about as perfect of a pillow as one can buy, especially if you have neck and back problems.”


Best Pillows for Lower Back Pain

Winkbeds Adjust-a-Cube Pillow
WinkBeds Adjust-a-Cube Pillow — $89.00

The WinkBeds pillow is filled with memory foam cubes that are infused with gel to keep them and you cool at night. You can add or remove cubes based on your sleeping positions, and the inner pillow also has a thin layer of memory foam, so you don’t feel any bumps from the cubes. Savy likes this pillow because “it adjusts to the sleeper, offering support where it’s needed while gently hugging the neck and the head. This aids pressure redistribution and proper alignment, which should also help with back pain relief.”

layla kapok pillow
Layla Sleep Kapok Pillow — $109.00

In addition to memory foam, the fill for this pillow is mixed with natural Kapok fibers that are responsibly harvested from the seeds of the Kapok tree. Kapok has a light, airy, down-like feel, so you’ll get a plush pillow that supports your head and neck while you sleep (you can also unzip the pillow and remove some fill if needed). The pillow cover is made with a copper-infused yarn that is antibacterial and has a cooling effect.


Best Wedge Pillows for Back Pain

helix wedge pillow
Helix Wedge Pillow

The Helix wedge pillow is 10 inches in height and can be used under your head to reduce neck pain, or under your legs to help with lower back pain. It’s also big enough (24”x24”) to be used for support when you’re just sitting and reading or watching TV in bed. There’s a layer of gel memory foam to keep you cool and conform to your body so you sleep comfortably all night.

sleep number adjusable wedge pillow
Sleep Number Adjustable Wedge Pillow — $50.00

This wedge pillow has three foam inserts so you can try different heights to find the right one for you. With all three inserts, the pillow has an 8” height, but if you want something lower, you can also go with 2”, 4”, or 6”. The removable, cotton cover is also adjustable no matter what height you choose, and it’s machine washable, so you can easily put it in with the rest of your laundry.


Best Pillows for Back Pain for Side Sleepers

Everpillow the curve
Everpillow The Curve — $84.00

The Curve is designed for side sleepers and comes with extra fill so you can stuff it with as much or as little as you want (there are also different types of fill). It’s hypoallergenic, non-toxic, and antimicrobial. Dr. Breus says The Curve is one of two pillows he uses. He likes this pillow “due to the shape and the fact that I am a side sleeper. I actually often put this one between my legs (I know it’s a little big for that), but because I can manually take out the stuffing, I can customize it to whatever I like.”

Casper Sleep Pillow
Original Casper Pillow — $65.00

If you like combining pillows, the Casper does it for you: There’s an inner supportive pillow and a soft outer pillow that zips around it and can be removed for easy cleaning. The cotton cover is breathable, and there’s a 2” gusset to help with neck support. Dr. DeCesaris says that the Casper pillow is a great option for side sleepers as it’s a bit firmer.


Best Pillows for Neck and Back Pain

snugglepedic pillow
Snuggle-Pedic Original Memory Foam Pillow — $35.00

For hot sleepers, this pillow has shredded foam inside and a bamboo cover to allow for air flow and breathability. It was developed by a chiropractor and is allergy and budget friendly, too. Dr. DeCesaris says this Snuggle-Pedic is a cost-effective, sustainable option for both back and side sleepers. “You get the benefits of memory foam, but with a more eco-friendly material. Great for a between-the-knees pillow to keep the hips level as well.”

airweave pillow
Airweave Pillow — $193.00

Airweave pillows are filled with airfiber material that provides support, allows for airflow, and doesn’t attract mold or dust mites. The pillow is also washable inside and out—the airfiber can be rinsed with water and detergent, and the mesh cover is machine-washable. Robert Pagano, certified sleep science coach and co-founder at Sleepline, says he likes the Airweave pillow because “it’s constructed out of an interwoven material that provides more head and neck support compared to memory foam or traditional down pillows.”

How important is your sleeping pillow?

A pillow, similar to a mattress, supports good sleep posture, says Dr. Breus, calls it a “bed for your head.” It needs to provide support so your head is aligned with the center of the chest without the neck bending forward or backward, and also comfortable enough that you can stay in that position for an extended period of time.

How you sleep during the night can affect your posture in the long run as well. “The cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines each have a natural curve in opposite directions when looking from the side. These curves balance each other nicely, to keep the head above buttocks, allowing the eyes to gaze out horizontally,” says Dr. Thomas C. Schuler, spine surgeon and Chairman of the National Spine Health Foundation's Medical & Scientific Board. Chronic poor posture, the normal aging process, or some kind of traumatic event can all result in malalignment of the curves, which can be painful and cause muscle fatigue. Therefore, he says, it’s not only important to maintain good posture during the day, but also to do so while you sleep.

An ill-fitting pillow can also be a significant contributor to neck and upper back pain, says Dr. Wilson Wang, a chiropractor in Seattle. Depending on the position(s) you sleep in, a pillow should properly support the neck and keep the neck position as neutral as possible, as any strain on the neck or upper back can worsen pain, he says. This kind of pain, adds Dr. Breus, can make it very hard to get restorative sleep.

What should you look for in a pillow to reduce back and neck pain?

To find the right type of pillow for you, think about what position you mainly sleep in, and then “imagine how the natural curve in your neck needs to be supported in that particular position,” says Dr. Schuler.

  • Back Sleepers: Back sleepers should use pillows with medium-firm support and loft, says Savy. It should offer some cradling for the neck and head while keeping them supported. “The right amount of support will keep your eyes looking at the ceiling—but too much support will force your chin to your chest, which is a posture you should avoid,” advises Dr. Schuler. If you’re a back sleeper, you can also put a pillow under your knees to keep the natural curve of your lower back and relieve pressure on your spine, says Dr. Breus.
  • Side Sleepers: Side sleepers, says Savy, need firmer support and taller pillows because the pillow has to fill in the space between your mattress and head. The firmer support will also help prevent the pillow from compressing too much. Dr. Wang recommends a thicker fiber or foam pillow to give the head and neck more support, whereas down pillows do not provide good support.
  • Stomach Sleepers: Stomach sleepers should choose low pillows to prevent their heads from tilting back, says Savy. “This way, sleepers can protect themselves from putting too much strain on the neck (which already experiences enough tension build-up in this sleep position).” But in general, Dr. Breus says it’s almost impossible to maintain spine alignment in this position.

Other things to consider are fill and size. The pillow filling (e.g., down, synthetic fill, latex, memory foam, or others) is a matter of personal preference, as they all have different benefits. As for size, for most people, Dr. Breus says a standard-size pillow should be sufficient. “If you prefer a larger pillow, that’s fine, provided you can keep your sleep posture in alignment.” And finally, make sure your pillow cover/pillowcase, which should be a breathable fabric, fit properly, recommends Dr. Breus, so you don’t have a big pillow stuffed into a small pillowcase or a standard size pillow swimming in a large pillowcase.

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