Total Health

What is the best pillow for neck pain?

May 2nd, 2021 by
Category: Dr. Luke Vella Neck pain

overhead shot of woman sleeping on bed

Neck pain – what is it and where does it come from?

Before we can dive into which pillow is going to be best for those who experience neck pain, or for those who are looking to take care of their posture while they sleep (to help prevent neck pain occurring in the first place), we first need to understand the basic feelings, causes and types of neck pain some people may suffer from. 

There are three main types of neck pain that you may experience:

  1. Acute neck pain – neck pain that has been occurring for three days or less, so is a very new episode of pain
  2. Sub-acute neck pain – neck pain that has been occurring for 1 – 3 weeks
  3. Chronic neck pain – neck pain that has been occurring for over a month. This type of pain can be happening constantly or on and off daily throughout the month (or longer)

Common causes of neck pain

Common causes of neck pain include:

  • Muscular dysfunction or tightness
  • Poor posture
  • Structural misalignment
  • Strains or sprains
  • Poor sleeping ergonomics
  • Car accidents or sporting injuries that result in whiplash

Common symptoms of neck pain

Common symptoms you may feel if you have neck pain include:

  • Limited or poor movement
  • Pain and aches
  • Muscle tightness and spasms
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Difficulty sleeping or getting comfortable
  • Irritability

For those of you who are reading this and are rubbing or moving your neck because this sounds like you and your neck, I’m here to tell you the best thing you can do is see a Chiropractor or another health care professional as soon as possible. The sooner you do something about your symptoms, the easier it becomes to tackle and resolve them. If do nothing about your neck pain and let it get to that chronic state that I mentioned above, it can be more difficult and take longer to treat. 

So, does the pillow you sleep on matter?

In short – YES.

There are two important factors that help determine a good night’s sleep with a good sleeping posture:

1. The position you sleep in

It is recommended you sleep on either your side or on your back, while avoiding sleeping on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach puts a lot of strain on your neck while you sleep.

2. The pillow you use

You want to be using a pillow that is supportive and is going to support your spine’s natural curves. There are many types of pillows on the market – it can be hard to choose which one is right for you, but that’s where I will help you out.

What are the qualities of a good pillow?


infographic of correct and incorrect pillows to use

Good pillows are beneficial for many different reasons. It’s also important to keep in mind that the ‘right’ pillow for you may not necessarily be the ‘right’ pillow for someone else. As there is no one universal pillow that’s perfect for everyone, it’s important to look out for the below qualities:

  • The pillow supports the head and neck in a neutral position, aligned with the rest of the body (see image above)
  • There is no space between the neck and the pillow (the pillow may be too high or too low)
  • The pillow is made from a dense material, such as memory foam
  • The pillow should be breathable and comfortable
  • The pillow should be contoured to suit your spine’s natural curves

What are the qualities of bad pillows and when should you replace your pillow?

Now we know what to look for in a good pillow, it’s important to know the qualities of ‘bad’ pillows. Keeping in mind that a ‘good’ pillow is different for everyone, qualities of bad pillows include:

  • The pillow does not offer support for your individual needs
  • The pillow does not encourage a neutral spine sleeping posture
  • The pillow is made from poor quality material that is not breathable. Pillows that are not breathable make it harder for the body to regulate its temperature for a comfortable night’s sleep

It is recommended that you should be changing your pillow every 1 – 2 years. You will know when it’s time to update your pillow as the original support is no longer felt, breathability has decreased and/or you are uncomfortable or are waking up with a sore neck. You should also be regularly washing your pillow to ensure its life is prolonged and it remains hygienic.

Do bad pillows equal a bad neck?

As a Chiropractor, I regularly get asked if someone’s pillow can be affecting their neck pain. The short answer is yes. If you use a pillow each night that is not correct for you and your spine, you are putting yourself at risk of developing neck pain. If your pillow is not supportive in the right way for your natural posture, you are constantly encouraging bad postural habits while you sleep – given that we sleep for approximately one third of our lives, that can be a long time spent unconsciously reinforcing poor postural habits!

What is the best pillow for neck pain?

Because everyone sleeps in a different position at night, there’s no one universal pillow to help with neck pain. When shopping for a new pillow to help reduce pain in your neck, it’s important to keep in mind the following factors to help you choose which pillow is right for you: 

  • Does the pillow offer support to keep your neck and back spinal segments aligned?
  • Does the pillow fill the gap between your neck and the bed, leaving no room for the neck to be hyper-extended or hyper-flexed?
  • Is the pillow made from a quality material, such as memory foam?
  • Is the pillow contoured to suit your spine?
  • Is the pillow breathable?
  • Most importantly, is the pillow comfortable?

It’s important to note that a new pillow can take up to three weeks to get used to – don’t be discouraged if you have an uncomfortable sleep during your first few sleeps! Your body needs time to adjust and break down the poor postural sleeping habits you may have had beforehand.

Should you change your pillow?

Swapping out your pillow may seem like a big change, however if you experience any neck pain or symptoms mentioned in this blog, you may want to consider an upgrade. It’s important that you shop for a pillow that’s going to be comfortable, breathable and supportive for YOU. If you need help selecting the right pillow for you, do not hesitate to contact us here at Total Health Chiropractic, or another trusted healthcare professional.


Years Combined

Average Client


Patients Visits


Practices Around