The TMJ is a hard-working joint that is easily affected by the structures surrounding it and, most notably, your neck. Think of the two as the Bonnie and Clyde of the upper anatomy, if one goes down, the other is likely to follow. Using a special pillow can help relieve TMJ pain by keeping your head, neck, and shoulders in proper alignment while you sleep, reducing pressure on the joint.
A 2015 study published in BioMed Research International found that pain in the neck region was associated with TMJ pain 70 percent of the time. “If you take your hand and place it right under the back of your ear, you can feel two pressure points. Those points are actually the sides of your first vertebrae. You can feel just how close they are to your TMJ,” says Mark Huntsinger, PT, DPT, a physical therapist based in Marina Del Ray, California. When the neck and TMJ are working together optimally, the first vertebrae are taking some pressure off the jaw. “So, when those upper neck joints get stiff and lockout, instead of this nice, smooth movement when we’re chewing or talking, all of the force goes right to our jaw,” says Huntsinger.
To help relieve TMJ pain, let one of the best TMJ pillows do the work while you sleep. Shop from five options below.
5 best TMJ pillows, according to physical therapists
The Tempur-Neck Pillow is made from Tempur-Pedic foam to ergonomically and comfortably support and align your body. The firm material maintains its shape to help your neck and shoulder muscles relaxed as well as supported. The Tempur-Neck Pillow comes in small, medium, and large, allowing you to get the best pillow for your body and your sleep position preference.
The Coisum Back Side Sleeper is designed to cradle your head, preventing your neck from rolling to either side while you sleep. It’s medium-hard with two different contour heights to keep your neck in alignment, as well as temperature control for those of us who get hot-headed while we sleep. The edge of the Coisum Back Side Sleeper has a contour that tucks between your neck and shoulders, protecting them from crunching together.
Memory foam but make it specifically for a side-sleeper. As anyone with TMJ pain already knows, keeping your jaw in alignment while you sleep is hugely important if you want to limit pain during the day. That task is made more difficult if you are a chronic side sleeper. The PureComfort Side Sleeper is attempting to solve this problem with its signature cut-outs, designed to redistribute pressure away from the easy-to-tweak region encompassing your ear, jaw, and upper neck joints.
The Misiki Memory Foam Pillow Orthopedic Pillow is moderately firm to ensure comfortable support while relieving neck pain and shoulder stiffness. The butterfly shape of the pillow keeps the head and neck aligned with the body while the wedge at the base supports the thoracic spine. The gray part of the pillow is there to support your arms if you sleep with them up on your pillow.
Since TMJD typically occurs due to malalignment of the joints of the jaw which is directly related posturally to the position of the neck, it’s important to have a pillow that supports the natural neck curve, says Bianca Beldini, a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Her recommendation is to use a buckwheat pillow, like this one from Beans 72, which is filled with organic buckwheat hulls and unbleached cotton. You can push the hulls around to mold to your own neck, regardless of size. “This support allows the jaw to relax and be placed into an anatomically correct position while sleeping,” she says.
By day, Huntsinger sees clients struggling with joint pain. By night, he serves as TikTok’s resident "pillow guy," going viral several times over for his explainers on how to use pillows to eliminate neck and back stiffness.
“The only, ‘absolutely no,’ I give people who are looking for a pillow is don’t get a down pillow," he says. "It doesn’t hold its shape, so you’re going to fall asleep in a different position than you’ll be in an hour later.” Other than that, Huntsinger recommends trial and error. “Some people do really well with memory foam, other people need something softer and less static, others, like me, need a pillow that can be bunched up and will hold that shape.”
In general, Huntsinger recommends a pillow that can be tucked between your head and shoulders while laying on your side or a pillow that prevents your neck from falling dramatically to either side while sleeping on your back.
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