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The majority of adults experience back pain at some point or another, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Back pain can be caused by injuries, damage to the spine, or underlying conditions. Pain can be exacerbated by poor posture during the day and as we sleep.
In general, back pain contributes to poor sleep quality. This is often cyclical, as back pain negatively affects sleep quality and poor sleep can worsen back pain. Sleepers suffering from back pain may be wondering what role their pillow plays each night. The right pillow can help reduce pressure and tension in the neck and shoulders and keep the spine aligned. It can also provide comfort and help improve sleep quality.
A pillow can be used under the head to alleviate back pain symptoms, but it can also be placed underneath the legs or lumbar region to relieve pressure and promote spinal alignment.
Choosing the best pillow for back pain may feel overwhelming at first, especially with the sheer number of options available to shoppers. We’ll break down our top picks, explaining the construction and materials that help alleviate back pain. We’ll also take a closer look at the relationship between back pain and sleep, and how back pain sufferers can find relief.
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The unique blend of shredded memory foam and natural kapok fibers in the Layla Kapok Pillow relieves pressure and promotes spinal alignment. This helps ease chronic back pain and ensures ample support for sleepers. The Kapok Pillow is soft enough to be used underneath or between the knees to reduce pressure on the lower back.
The breathable cover of the Layla Kapok Pillow is woven with copper fibers, which help draw heat away from the body. In addition to temperature regulation, copper is antibacterial and odor-resistant. It has also been shown to help improve circulation.
The fill of the pillow includes natural kapok fibers, harvested from the seeds of the kapok tree. The fibers have a lightweight feel that is similar to down. The fibers maintain their loft and encourage airflow throughout the pillow. In addition to kapok fibers, the Layla Kapok Pillow includes shredded memory foam. The open-cell structure of the memory foam helps dissipate heat and moisture.
The plush feel of the Kapok Pillow conforms closely and cradles the head and neck. The pillow is responsive and can be molded into the sleeper’s preferred shape. The loft of the pillow is adjustable. The pillow arrives slightly overstuffed, and fill can be removed as needed.
The Layla Kapok Pillow is highly rated for durability and includes a 5-year warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship. Spot cleaning the pillow is recommended, as machine washing it can void the warranty.
Shoppers can choose between a queen or king size. The Layla Kapok Pillow comes with a 100-night sleep trial. Layla asks that purchasers try out the pillow for two weeks before initiating a return.
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The Brooklinen Down Alternative Pillow offers the soft touch and cloud-like cushioning of a pillow with authentic down, but it won’t trigger allergies or sleep excessively warm. The fill is composed of polyester down alternative clusters, also making the pillow a good option for people who don’t feel comfortable buying products with animal-based components.
You can choose from three pillow densities, each with a different loft and overall feel to best serve different sleep positions. The firm option offers the thickest volume and is best suited to side sleepers, the medium density provides a good balance of loft and support for back sleepers, and the low-loft plush feel will be most comfortable for stomach sleepers. You can also choose from standard and king sizes.
The cover is composed of smooth cotton sateen, and the edges are reinforced with double-stitching to keep the pillow intact and prevent fill from escaping. The Down Alternative Pillow should not be machine washed. Brooklinen recommends spot cleaning for mild stains and dry cleaning for larger stains.
The pillow has a relatively low price-point, especially compared to authentic down pillows, and Brooklinen offers free shipping for all U.S. orders. You may also return the pillow within 365 days of your original order, even if you’ve used and/or cleaned it during that time.
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The TEMPUR-Neck Pillow from Tempur-Pedic is designed with an ergonomic shape that provides excellent neck support while cradling the head. This promotes even spinal alignment for side sleepers, which can reduce aches and pains in the lower back and other sensitive areas. The pillow can also be rotated to provide a flatter, more comfortable surface for back sleepers.
The pillow contains a single piece of TEMPUR memory foam, which is quite durable thanks to its dense composition. While extra firm, the pillow conforms evenly to the head and neck without creating added pressure. Customers can choose from three sizes based on the amount of space separating their neck and shoulders. A travel-friendly size is also available. Pillow loft depends on the selected size, and ranges from 3 to 4.5 inches.
The smooth polyester cover can be removed and laundered in any household machine. All customers in the contiguous U.S. receive free ground shipping, and those in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico pay a small delivery fee. Tempur-Pedic does not allow pillow returns, but the TEMPUR-Neck Pillow comes with a five-year warranty for added peace of mind.
Best for Side Sleepers
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The ergonomic Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow is designed with an oblong shape. This allows you to rest comfortably on your side with your neck slightly elevated and your shoulders aligned with the spine, which can alleviate pain and pressure points in these areas as well as the back and hips. The pillow contains a shredded blend of latex and down alternative fibers, creating a plush yet supportive feel.
The pillow is also adjustable, as you can add or remove fill to change the loft and density. This makes the pillow suitable for any side sleeper regardless of their thickness preferences. The cover is made from a soft and breathable blend of cotton, polyester, and spandex.
One size is available for the pillow. When it needs to be cleaned, simply remove the fill and wash and dry the cover in your household machines. Eli & Elm allows customers to bundle their purchase and save money on additional products, such as sheets, mattress protectors, and other pillows.
Eli & Elm provides free ground delivery to all customers within the contiguous U.S. You may return your pillow within 45 days of the original purchase, even if you’ve slept on it or washed the cover, and you’ll also receive a five-year warranty.
Best for Back Sleepers
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The SpineAlign Pillow features an adjustable ergonomic design that caters to side and back sleepers with different body types. The pillow is structured with three individual chambers containing solid pieces of adaptive polyfoam. Two side chambers with sloped shapes promote neck support and spinal alignment for side sleepers. One side has a higher loft and is best suited to people who stand 5 feet 7 inches or taller, while the lower-loft side accommodates shorter side sleepers.
A third middle chamber offers a flatter surface where back sleepers can rest their head without added pressure. Each chamber is equipped with a zipper that allows you to reach inside and manipulate the foam to make it feel thicker or thinner in certain places. You can also remove foam pieces to change the pillow’s overall feel. Visit the SpineAlign website for a video tutorial about properly adjusting the pillow and sleeping on it in the side and back positions.
SpineAlign offers free ground delivery to customers in the contiguous U.S., and affordable shipping for those in Alaska and Hawaii. The pillow is backed by a 60-night sleep trial with a mandatory 30-night break-in period, as well as a five-year warranty. Full refunds are issued for all returns.
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The Ecosa Pillow has an ergonomic shape that supports the head and neck. The pillow includes two elevation pads, allowing sleepers to adjust the height of the pillow. This helps keep the spine aligned, which can reduce back pain.
The removable cover of the Ecosa Pillow is removable and machine washable. Beneath the cover is a memory foam core with a 3D structure that helps dissipate heat and moisture. The memory foam is infused with charcoal to help prevent the buildup of bacteria and odors.
The sloped shape of the pillow helps support the neck, which is especially beneficial for back and side sleepers. The memory foam core conforms to the shape of the head and neck, offering a plush but supportive feel. This helps relieve pressure in the upper back.
The tall side of the Ecosa Pillow measures 5.9 inches, while the low side measures 4.7 inches. Each elevation pad lifts the pillow by an inch. Due to the shape and height of the pillow, it is not as beneficial for stomach sleepers.
The Ecosa Pillow includes a 100-night sleep trial. The pillow is only available in standard size. The memory foam construction allows the pillow to be compressed easily. It comes with an easy to carry travel bag, making it an ideal choice for those who travel often and want to prevent back pain or discomfort caused by hotel pillows.
Best Wedge Pillow
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The versatile Helix Wedge Pillow is crafted in a sloped triangular shape for elevating the head and neck while sleeping. Its solid memory foam provides noticeable contouring, but the pillow is also quite firm and will resist deep sinkage for most sleepers. Resting the head at an angle can reduce snoring and alleviate symptoms for people with acid reflux. The Helix Pillow is also ideal for reading in bed.
Those with lumbar pain can lie on their back and elevate their legs with the pillow. This alleviates pressure and tension along the spine that often leads to lower back discomfort. The loft measures about 10 inches thick, giving it a noticeable yet gradual slope. A breathable cover made of rayon and polyester encases the Helix Wedge Pillow. The cover is removable, and can be washed and dried in any household machine.
The Helix Wedge Pillow is competitively priced compared to similarly constructed models, and Helix offers free shipping to customers in all 50 states. The pillow comes with a 100-night sleep trial and a one-year warranty.
Best Memory Foam
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The I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow has a shallow curve that helps support the neck and relieve pressure. This eases neck and back pain for sleepers by encouraging spinal alignment.
The soft microfiber cover of the Contour Pillow is removable and machine washable. It resists stains and common allergens while protecting the responsive core.
The core of the pillow is a proprietary memory foam blend. Its lightweight construction helps dissipate heat and moisture while resisting odors. The memory foam core conforms to the shape of the head and the neck with a medium firm feel. The I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow retains its shape throughout the night, ensuring consistent support for back pain sufferers.
A common drawback to memory foam is its initial odor, caused by off-gassing. This refers to the release of volatile organic compounds, which are not considered to be harmful. Letting the pillow air out before use will help any odors dissipate.
Shoppers have their choice of a queen or king size Contour Pillow. I Love My Pillow gives purchasers 100 nights to try the pillow out. Additionally, it is backed by a 3-year warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship.
Best Lumbar Roll
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The McKenzie Lumbar Roll from OPTP is a versatile pillow that can be used in a wide range of environments. The roll, which measures 4.75 inches in diameter, is constructed from high-density polyfoam that cushions and supports the lower back. You can use it lying in bed, sitting in a chair at work, or riding on public transportation. The removable and machine washable cover is made from moisture-wicking fabric that prevents you from feeling too warm. A strap attached to the cover allows you to conveniently carry the roll from place to place.
Customers can choose between two firmness levels. The medium firm option offers more padding, but the foam still holds its shape fairly well, while the firm roll delivers maximum support and barely compresses at all. The thick diameter also ensures minimal flattening, even if you rest against the roll for long periods of time. Prices vary by firmness, but both options are quite affordable.
The McKenzie Lumbar Roll is backed by a 30-day trial period. OPTP only accepts returns for products in excellent and/or unused condition.
There are multiple factors that can cause back pain, and consulting with a doctor is an important step in determining a treatment plan and finding relief. Injuries can often lead to back pain. This includes injuries from exercising, playing sports, and lifting heavy objects. These activities may strain the muscles and ligaments in the back.
In addition to accidents and injuries, back pain can be caused by a ruptured, damaged, or herniated disk. Disks are part of the spine that sit between and cushion each vertebrae. Damage to a disk can also lead to nerve pain and muscle weakness.
Underlying issues including arthritis, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia can contribute to back pain. Back pain is common during pregnancy, as the additional weight puts pressure on the lower back. Back pain can also be exacerbated by poor posture.
There are several types of back pain, and understanding the severity and location of the pain can help when it comes to finding relief.
It is important to work with a medical professional to determine the underlying cause of back pain. Being able to describe the type of back pain you are experiencing is important. Back pain can be considered acute or chronic:
Whether back pain is chronic or acute, it can manifest in different areas of the back. The location of back pain can often point to the underlying cause.
Regardless of how severe your back pain is or where it manifests, speaking to your doctor about your symptoms is important. A medical professional can help diagnose and treat back pain.
Anyone with chronic pain knows how difficult it can be to get uninterrupted sleep each night. The relationship between back pain and sleep is complex. Back pain sufferers often get caught in a vicious cycle: back pain negatively affects sleep, and poor sleep quality can worsen pain. Poor sleep and chronic pain also affect mood, physical function, and quality of life.
Restless sleep often involves waking up throughout the night due to pain and discomfort. Adults generally need seven to nine hours of interrupted sleep each night, something that may feel impossible for those with back pain.
It is important to note that your pillow and mattress play a role in sleep quality and pain management. Both affect sleep posture, which can alleviate or exacerbate back pain symptoms. The best mattress and pillow to combination should promote a neutral posture that keeps the spine aligned.
Pillows can be used to support the head, neck, and shoulders. They can also be used under the lumbar region and legs to alleviate pressure on the spine. There is plenty to consider when selecting a pillow for back pain, which we’ll break down further here.
The pillow you use affects how much support and pressure relief you experience throughout the night. Spinal alignment is important for every sleeper, as it can help prevent and alleviate back pain. The following factors determine how well a pillow supports the head, neck, and shoulders and should be carefully considered. These include the loft, firmness, and size of the pillow. Each shopper has unique needs, which should be accommodated by the right pillow.
The following considerations affect the performance and quality of a pillow, and should be kept in mind by all shoppers. There are plenty of choices on the market, and it is not uncommon for companies to overstate certain features to entice shoppers. This can be distracting.
Focusing on what is most important, namely the amount of support and comfort a pillow provides, will help shoppers narrow down their options. These factors can help shoppers filter out unnecessary marketing jargon and exaggerations and find the best pillow for them.
When evaluating the following elements, back pain sufferers should also consider their sleeping position, head and shoulder size, and type of back pain.
Loft: Loft refers to the height of the pillow, which is one of the most important considerations when choosing a pillow for back pain. It determines the angle of the head and neck and how well the spine is kept in alignment. Loft can range from low to high. Some pillows have an adjustable loft, allowing sleepers to customize the height of the pillow by adding or removing fill. Stomach sleepers often need a low loft pillow to keep the head and neck at a comfortable angle. Back sleepers tend to choose a medium loft pillow that cradles the head and neck, while side sleepers may opt for a medium to high loft to fill the gap between the neck and shoulders.
Support: Support measures how well the spine is kept in alignment. The spine extends into the neck, so the pillow must be supportive enough to reduce pressure on the neck and shoulders. Some materials are more supportive than others, as they retain shape throughout the night and resist falling flat.
Firmness Level: The firmness of a pillow is measured on a scale of soft to firm. The best pillow firmness for back pain depends on sleeping position and weight, among other factors. The pillow should balance comfort and support. Stomach sleepers often prefer a soft pillow, while back and side sleepers may opt for a medium to firm pillow. Firmness and comfort are subjective, so shoppers should keep their personal preferences in mind.
Pressure Relief: How well the pillow conforms to the shape of the head and neck determines how much pressure relief it provides. Back pain can be worsened by undue pressure on the neck and shoulders. This is often caused by a pillow that is too firm, or one that puts the head and neck and an uncomfortable angle. A pillow that relieves pressure will cradle the head and neck and reduce tension. Pillows can also be used underneath the lumbar region to relieve pressure in the lower back.
Shape: How well the pillow retains its shape throughout the night affects the amount of support sleepers receive. A pillow that retains its shape without constant fluffing or adjusting is beneficial for back pain sufferers, as it can help them sleep without interruptions. Some sleepers prefer a pillow that can be molded into their preferred shape. The best pillows for back pain can have an even shape, or can be contoured for additional neck support.
Price: Setting a budget is an essential part of shopping for a new pillow. Polyester and down-alternative pillows are often affordable, while more expensive options may include memory foam, latex, buckwheat, or down fill. The materials and construction impact price.
Quality Materials: The quality of materials used determine the lifespan of a pillow. This is important for back pain sufferers, as quality materials will provide consistent and even support. Latex, feathers, and high-density foams all tend to be durable materials. Shoppers should note that investing in a high-quality pillow may cost more upfront, but these pillows do not need to be replaced as often.
There are benefits and drawbacks to each pillow type, but memory foam pillows are often considered to be the best for back pain. Back pain can manifest in different ways, and every shopper will have different needs and preferences. Some may find that down, poly fill, or latex pillows are more comfortable. We’ll break down common pillow types here.
Viscoelastic foam, or memory foam, conforms to the shape of the head and neck by responding to heat and pressure. This type of pillow offers a customized feel that reduces tension in the neck and shoulders and helps keep the spine aligned. Pillows can have a solid memory foam core, or shredded memory foam fill. There are a couple drawbacks to memory foam to keep in mind, namely that it can have an initial odor and tends to retain heat.
Buckwheat pillows are filled with the outer shell of buckwheat seeds. The hulls have a naturally open shape that encourages airflow and helps dissipate heat. Buckwheat pillows often have an adjustable loft, as the hulls can be added or removed to change the firmness and height of the pillow as needed. The hulls conform to the shape of the head and neck to reduce aches and pains. That said, the buckwheat hulls may be too firm for some. They are also prone to making a rustling noise when the pillow is shifted.
Feather pillows are filled with the outer feathers of ducks or geese. This results in a lightweight fill that compresses easily and cradles the head and neck. For sleepers with back pain, this can reduce tension in the head and neck. Feather pillows are often slightly firmer than down pillows, and the loft can be adjusted by adding or removing fill.
Latex is harvested from the sap of rubber trees, which is poured into molds and processed using the Talalay or Dunlop manufacturing method. The result is a durable, breathable material that offers moderate contouring for pressure relief. Latex retains its shape. It is often used as a solid pillow core, so latex pillows are less likely to be adjustable. They also tend to be expensive.
Down refers to the insulating under-feathers of ducks or geese. It is softer and lighter than feathers, as there are no quills. Like feathers, down compresses easily and fills gaps for contouring support. This type of pillow cradles the head, neck, and shoulders and can ease tension in the upper back. That said, down may be too soft for some back pain sufferers. Down-alternative is a polyester fiber designed to mimic the feel of down at a lower price point.
Polyurethane-based foam, or polyfoam, offers moderate contouring but is not as responsive as memory foam. It can relieve pressure for back pain sufferers. This type of foam pillow is typically affordable, but low-density polyfoam has a shorter lifespan that can result in inconsistent support or deep impressions.
Sleep posture can exacerbate or alleviate back pain. Sleeping on your back is often considered the best positioning for back pain. This position is most likely to encourage sleepers to maintain a neutral posture, which keeps the spine aligned and reduces pressure on the lumbar region. Sleepers can use pillows strategically to relieve back pain.
Stomach sleeping is one of the worst sleeping positions for back pain, as it puts pressure on the lower back and often leads to spinal misalignment.
The following sleeping positions, along with their potential benefits and drawbacks, should be considered:
For back pain sufferers, pillow choice is crucial. In addition to choosing a supportive pillow, shoppers can take the following measures to help alleviate back pain and sleep comfortably.
Can the wrong pillow make back pain worse?
The wrong pillow can worsen back pain, making it essential for sleepers with back pain to choose their pillows wisely. The wrong pillow will provide inadequate support, placing the head and neck at an uncomfortable angle. This can be the result of a loft that is too high or too low, or a pillow that is not the right firmness for the sleeper. Shoppers need to choose a pillow that supports their sleeping position and body type, including their head size and shoulder width.
What is the most important consideration when choosing a pillow for back pain?
One of the most important considerations when choosing a pillow for back pain is its loft. Size and shape are also essential factors, as each impacts how much pressure relief and support the pillow provides. Pillow loft is the height of the pillow, which determines the angle of the head and neck. The pillow should also be large enough to evenly distribute weight and ensure support as sleepers change positions throughout the night.
What is the worst pillow type for back pain?
The worst pillow type for back pain is one that flattens easily and does not support the head and neck. Some materials, like low-quality polyester fibers, are less likely to retain shape throughout the night, causing strain on the neck and shoulders. The pillow should maintain its loft and keep the upper body supported.
Can a body pillow help with back pain?
A body pillow can help alleviate back pain. Body pillows are long pillows that can be rectangular, U-shaped, or C-shaped. These types of pillows are often used to elevate different parts of the body, reducing pressure on the joints and muscles. This is especially beneficial for side sleepers who need to position a pillow between the knees to help with back pain. A body pillow is also commonly used throughout pregnancy.