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Lauren Fountain

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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.

The Best Pillows for Back Pain

Product Details

Layla Kapok Pillow

Layla Kapok Pillow
Fill:
Shredded memory foam and kapok tree fiber blend
Firmness:
Medium Soft
Layla Kapok Pillow
Highlights:

The Layla Kapok Pillow is filled with natural kapok fibers and shredded memory foam to relieve pressure on the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Who it's best for:
  • Back pain sufferers looking for a closely conforming pillow
  • Those who tend to sleep hot
  • Most sleeping positions and body types

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.

Ecosa Pillow

Ecosa Pillow
Fill:
Solid memory foam
Firmness:
Medium
Ecosa Pillow
Highlights:

The ergonomic design and adjustable height of the Ecosa Pillow helps promote spinal alignment for a variety of sleeping positions and body types.

Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers with upper back pain
  • Back and side sleepers
  • Those who travel often

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.

Luxe Pillow

Luxe Pillow
Fill:
Down & Feather
Firmness:
Luxe Pillow
Highlights:

The soft down fill of the Luxe Pillow relieves pressure and helps reduce neck pain by conforming to the shape of the head, neck, and shoulders.

Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers who want a malleable pillow
  • Those with neck and shoulder pain
  • Back, side, and stomach sleepers

The Luxe Pillow has a down and feather fill that conforms to the shape of the head and neck. This cradling effect relieves pressure and can help reduce neck and shoulder pain.

The 300-thread count cotton protector helps wick away moisture. The breathable construction helps regulate temperature. Double-stitched piped edges reinforce the structure of the pillow.

The pillow is constructed with three chambers. Sustainably sourced white goose down fills the two chambers that surround the feather core of the pillow. The Luxe Pillow is Responsible Down Standard Certified, ensuring the down is from geese that were humanely treated.

The structured core of the Luxe Pillow is filled with high-quality small-game waterfowl feathers. Having a three-chamber design ensures that the pillow retains its shape throughout the night. The Luxe Pillow is soft with a high loft that helps keep the spine aligned. Though the down and feather fill compresses easily, it still provides ample support for each sleeping position.

The Luxe Pillow can be machine washed or dry cleaned as needed. Shoppers can choose between standard or king size. The pillow comes with a 100-night sleep trial, and the company asks that purchasers try out the pillow for two weeks before initiating a return.

Mediflow Water Pillow

Mediflow Water Pillow
Fill:
Dacron fiber padding and fillable water bladder
Firmness:
Adjustable
Mediflow Water Pillow
Highlights:

The Mediflow Water Pillow stands out with an adjustable water pouch that contours to the shape of the head and neck for pressure relief.

Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers with chronic neck pain
  • Those who want to adjust the firmness of their pillow as needed
  • Allergy sufferers

The Mediflow Water Pillow helps reduce neck pain by contouring to the shape of the head, neck, and shoulders. The adjustable water-filled pouch inside the pillow relieves pressure with a customizable firmness.

The 100% cotton cover of the Mediflow Water Pillow is breathable and moisture-wicking for added comfort. The interior of the pillow includes Dacron Hollofil, a resilient polyester fiberfill. The fiberfill helps the pillow retain its shape without needing to be fluffed throughout the night.

The core of the Mediflow Water Pillow is a sealed and insulated water pouch. The pillow includes a cap to access the water pouch, and a funnel to easily fill it.

A Johns Hopkins School of Medicine clinical study showed that the Mediflow pillow reduces neck pain. Users can add or remove water to the water pouch to adjust the firmness of the pillow as needed. The pillow can be soft, medium, or firm, making it an ideal choice for nearly all sleeping positions and body types. The Mediflow Water Pillow is responsive and conforming.

The pillow is hypoallergenic and machine washable. It is available in a jumbo size, measuring 20 inches by 28 inches. This size should fit in standard pillow cases. Shoppers have the option of purchasing a single, twin, or value pack. The value pack includes two pillows and two anti-allergen pillow protectors.

The Mediflow Water Pillow comes with a 30-day sleep trial and 3-year warranty.

Sleep Yoga Multi-position Pillow

Sleep Yoga Multi-position Pillow
Fill:
Down alternative fibers
Firmness:
Medium
Sleep Yoga Multi-position Pillow
Highlights:

The Sleep-Yoga Multi-Position Pillow has three sections to support multiple areas of the body and promote good posture to reduce back pain.

Who it's best for:
  • Those with chronic back and joint pain
  • Allergy sufferers
  • Sleepers who like to prop up their arms or legs

The Sleep-Yoga Multi-Position Pillow was designed with input from a chiropractor. Its ergonomic design includes three connected sections that can be used in various positions to align the joints and improve sleep posture. This helps reduce aches and pains.

The cover of the Sleep-Yoga pillow is 80% cotton and 20% Coolmax fibers. The breathable cover wicks away moisture to help regulate temperature and keep sleepers comfortable. Each section of the Multi-Position Pillow is filled with non-flat cluster polyester fibers, which help the pillow retain its shape and provide consistent support.

The total length of the pillow is 48 inches, making it an ideal choice for sleepers who like to hold a pillow as they sleep. The tri-section design can be used under the head and neck, as lumbar support, and underneath the knees. Each section is connected with a flexible cord to allow users to shape the pillow as needed. It can also be used when sitting up in bed or lounging.

The soft fiberfill conforms to the shape of the body and offers customized support for multiple areas. The Sleep-Yoga Multi-Position Pillow can be used throughout pregnancy to relieve pressure on the lower back and joints.

There is only one size available for the Multi-Position Pillow, and the unique shape means shoppers will likely need to purchase matching pillow cases directly from Sleep-Yoga. The pillow comes with a 30-day return policy, giving purchasers a month to try out the pillow before deciding if it is a good fit.

I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow

I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow
Fill:
Lightweight memory foam
Firmness:
Medium-Firm
I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow
Highlights:

The I Love My Pillow Contour Pillow has a contoured shape to support the head and neck and ease upper back pain.

Who it's best for:
  • Sleepers with neck and upper back pain
  • Side and back sleepers
  • Allergy sufferers

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.

How Common is Back Pain?

Back pain is quite common, as an estimated 80 percent of the population experiences symptoms at some point in their lives. Back pain can range in severity and frequency and it often affects the working population. Workers suffering from back pain may miss days of work, or have limited mobility when they are on the job.

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.

Types of Back Pain

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:

  • Acute: Acute back pain typically has a sudden onset, and is often caused by an injury. This type of back pain heals as the underlying cause is resolved. This may involve a torn muscle or ligament, or damage to the tissue. Tissue damage generally takes three months to heal, so acute back pain often lasts three months or less. That said, acute back pain can turn into chronic back pain if the body does not properly heal.
  • Chronic: Chronic back pain lasts longer than three to six months. It persists even after an injury heals. In these circumstances, the nervous system continues sending pain signals to the brain. Chronic back pain can also be the result of an underlying condition. Arthritis, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia can all cause chronic back pain.

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.

  • Low Back Pain: Low back pain is the most common type of back pain. It manifests in the lumbar region, specifically vertebrae L1 through L5. These five vertebrae, and the disks, ligaments, tendons, and muscles connected to them, help support the upper body. As a result, this area is at risk of injury when exercising or lifting heavy objects improperly. Weight gain and pregnancy can also strain the lower back. Using a pillow under the lumbar region can reduce pressure on the spine and help alleviate lower back pain.
  • Mid-Back Pain: Mid-back pain occurs between the lumbar region and the bottom of the rib cage. This type of back pain is less likely to be caused by heavy lifting. Mid-back pain can be connected to more serious health issues like tumors or underlying conditions. Posture can play a role in worsening or preventing mid-back pain.
  • Upper Back Pain: Upper back pain occurs in the thoracic spine, or the 12 vertebrae between the rib cage and neck. This type of back pain includes the shoulders, and is often affected by posture. Trauma or injury can also cause upper back pain. Serious conditions, including osteoporosis, arthritis, tumors, and narrowing of the spine can all lead to upper back pain. Like other types of back pain, upper back pain can also be a result of damage to the vertebrae, disks, muscles, or ligaments. Pillow choice is especially important for those with upper back pain, as the right pillow will support the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

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.

Back Pain and Sleep

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 mattress and pillow 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.

How to Choose a Pillow for Back Pain

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.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Pillow for Back Pain

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.

What Pillow Materials are Best for Back Pain?

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.

Memory Foam
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
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
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
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
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.

Polyfoam
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.

What is the Best Pillow Positioning for Back Pain?

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:

  • Back with Pillow Beneath Knees: Sleeping on your back relieves pressure on the spine. To make this sleeping position even more beneficial, sleepers can use pillows underneath the head and knees. The pillow beneath the head should cradle the head, neck, and shoulders and keep the spine aligned. A pillow underneath the knees may help prevent pressure from building in the spine.
  • Fetal Position: The fetal position can be beneficial for some back pain sufferers, but precautions should be taken to ensure body weight is evenly distributed. If back pain is caused by a herniated disk, the fetal position stretches the spine and helps with pain management. Sleepers should keep both knees evenly bent and curve their upper body towards their knees to promote natural alignment.
  • Side with Pillow Between Knees: Side sleeping can be comfortable for back pain sufferers, but the mattress and pillow should be conforming and supportive. Placing a pillow between the knees squares the hips and alleviates pressure on the lumbar region. This helps keep the spine aligned.

Other Tips for Back Pain Sufferers

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.

  • Choose the Right Mattress: When selecting a mattress for back pain, shoppers should consider their sleeping position and body type. These can affect how comfortable the mattress feels. The right mattress will help alleviate back pain for those already suffering, but it can also help prevent it. A supportive mattress will help keep the spine aligned and improve overall sleep quality.
  • Engage in Physical Therapy or Stretching:Physical therapy can help with both acute and chronic back pain. Physical therapy includes exercises and stretches that improve mobility and strengthen muscles. This can reduce pain and tension throughout the body. Heat and cold therapy can also be used in physical therapy to relieve back pain. Working with a physical therapist can result in a long-term plan to manage back pain and its underlying causes.
  • Invest in a Mattress Topper: A mattress topper adjusts the firmness of a mattress by acting as an additional comfort layer. For back pain sufferers, a mattress topper can cushion pressure points. Conforming materials like foam and latex help evenly distribute body weight and keep the spine aligned. Investing in a mattress topper is often a more affordable option than purchasing a new mattress, especially if the only issue with the mattress is its current firmness level.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pillows for Back Pain

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.