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Chronic shoulder pain is an unfortunately common condition. Some people with shoulder pain require surgery, physical therapy, and other forms of formal treatment to address their condition. However, you may be able to alleviate some of your day-to-day shoulder pain symptoms by replacing your pillow. Many pillows sold today are specifically designed to support the head and neck in order to reduce pain and pressure in the shoulders and surrounding areas.

Below, you’ll find our top picks for pillows sold today that alleviate shoulder pain. These selections are based on reviews and feedback from verified owners, as well as our own product research and analysis. This best pillow for neck and shoulder pain guide also discusses causes and treatments for different types of shoulder pain, pillow options for people with shoulder discomfort, and some frequent questions from first-time pillow buyers.

In-Depth Reviews

The Saatva Latex Pillow is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a pillow that cushions the shoulder while still offering great support for the neck and head. It’s also very good at keeping cool at night.

  • Pros

    1. Shredded Talalay latex provides gentle contouring and a light bounce

    2. Breathable, machine-washable organic cotton cover

    3. Removable insert allows you to adjust the firmness and loft

  • Cons

    1. Profile may be too thick for some stomach sleepers

    2. Not suitable for people who prefer pillows that contour closely

Price Range

$165 – $185


Shredded Talalay latex and down alternative


Medium Soft

The Saatva Latex Pillow features an adjustable design that should appeal to a wide variety of sleepers with different sleep preferences. Our team found this versatile model was especially suitable for combination sleepers who switch between two or more positions over the course of a single night.

How It Performed

When our testers lay their head on the pillow, it contoured to their heads and necks without hugging too closely. It also felt fairly responsive. You can separate the inner pillow from the outer chamber to adjust the pillow’s thickness and overall feel, depending on how much loft you need at any given time. Side and back sleepers preferred the pillow at full volume, whereas stomach sleepers felt more comfortable with just the inner pillow. Thanks to the natural cooling properties of latex, this pillow runs cool at night. The shredded composition also enables air to flow between the latex pieces, compared to a solid piece of latex that offers less ventilation.

What It’s Made of

The cover is made of organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, a leading authority on sustainably grown materials. The outer chamber is cushioned with down-like microdenier fibers that create a plush feel, and the inner chamber is composed of shredded Talalay latex. The cover and outer microdenier chamber are both fully machine-washable, so you should have no trouble keeping the pillow hygienic.

Saatva provides free ground delivery throughout the contiguous U.S. The pillow comes with a 45-night sleep trial that includes complimentary shipping on all returns, and those who keep it receive a 1-year warranty.

The Luxury Cooling Memory Foam Pillow from Brooklyn Bedding excels at contouring while still offering lots of support. It’s a great option for back and side sleepers who need a balance of cradling and loft.

  • Pros

    1. Adaptive memory foam is infused with copper and graphite to reduce heat retention

    2. Circular-knit cover dissipates heat and feels cool to the touch

    3. Available in two loft levels

  • Cons

    1. Strong off-gassing smells may be present for the first few nights

    2. Loft exchanges not allowed during the sleep trial

Price Range

$129 – $149


Open-cell memory foam



Memory foam is known for its top-notch adaptive, pressure-relieving qualities — but hot sleepers might find the material retains heat to an uncomfortable degree. The Luxury Cooling Memory Foam Pillow from Brooklyn Bedding is designed to minimize heat buildup so that you can enjoy the feel of memory foam even if you sleep hot on conventional foam.

How It Performed

You can choose between two loft levels. The 6-inch profile should be thick enough to cushion your neck and promote even spinal alignment if you sleep on your side. Our testers report that this profile may also be suitable for back sleepers prone to snoring, since this group needs more volume to sleep comfortably. Other back sleepers will likely prefer the lower 4.5-inch profile. Queen and king sizes are available.

What It’s Made of

The solid foam core is infused with copper and graphite, both of which have natural cooling properties, and the circular-knit cover is engineered to dissipate heat on contact. The result is a pillow that offers the deep contouring and pressure relief we all associate with memory foam but without excessive warmth. You can remove and machine wash the cover for easy care, but just spot clean the foam if stains or smudges occur.

An approachable price-point and free shipping throughout the contiguous U.S. make the Luxury Cooling Memory Foam Pillow a solid choice if you’re shopping on a tight budget. Each purchase comes with a 30-night sleep trial, and those who choose to keep their pillow also receive a 3-year warranty against structural defects.

The MedCline Shoulder Relief System has a unique design aimed at reducing painful pressure buildup for side sleepers. Since so few pillows cater to side sleepers, we highly recommend this model for side sleepers with shoulder pain.

  • Pros

    1. Sophisticated three-piece design intended to support the spine and alleviate shoulder pain

    2. Arm pocket allows side sleepers to lie comfortably and prevent numbness

    3. Gradual incline reduces pressure in your downside arm

  • Cons

    1. Foams may give off an unpleasant off-gassing smell for the first few nights

    2. Above-average pricing compared to the competition




Shredded memory foam



MedCline’s Shoulder Relief System is a sophisticated three-piece pillow set designed specifically for people who feel pain or pressure points in their upper body. The system is thoughtfully designed to offer cushioning and support in all the right areas.

How It Performed

Your system includes a body pillow that runs 50 inches long. We found that most side sleepers regardless of their height could tuck the bottom between their legs. You’ll also receive a firm wedge pillow with a slot near the top, in which you put the foam pillow insert. Place the wedge pillow on your mattress and lie on your preferred side while snuggling with the body pillow. Tuck your downside arm into the slot next to the pillow insert – we found this reduces pressure and minimizes the “pins and needles” sensation many side sleepers experience. The wedge pillow has a gradual inclination of 10 degrees designed to take pressure off of your shoulder. Thanks to its symmetrical design, the Shoulder Relief System is suitable for left and right side sleepers.

What It’s Made of

The body pillow component is filled with shredded foam, which gives it a fluffy feel with contouring properties. The wedge pillow is made of a dense foam to give it firmer support. Each component comes with a machine-washable case, so you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping the items clean. For an extra checkout charge, you can add an extra pillowcase for all three items.

MedCline allows returns after you have tested out the pillow for at least 30 nights. Your purchase also includes a manufacturer’s warranty that covers structural defects in the pillow for up to one year.

We highly recommend the Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper if you sleep on your side — and especially if you experience shoulder pain during sleep. The pillow’s shape and design truly take a side sleeper’s body position into account.

  • Pros

    1. Ergonomic shape promotes even alignment for side sleepers

    2. Fill can be added or removed to adjust the loft

    3. Latex and fiber fill delivers gentle contouring

  • Cons

    1. Fill must be removed completely before washing the cover

    2. Only available in one size




75% Latex and 25% Polyester Fiber


Medium, Adjustable

Uneven alignment is a common source of shoulder pain, especially for side sleepers. The Side-Sleeper Pillow from Eli & Elm remedies this problem thanks to its curved design. The adjustable fill also allows you to create a firmness and loft that feels just right.

How It Performed

The pillow features a notch at the bottom edge where your shoulders can rest comfortably without sacrificing head and neck support. Our testers found that sleeping with your shoulder on the mattress and neck elevated improved overall alignment and reduced aches and pains along the spine. Temperature regulation is another strength of this pillow. The fill shouldn’t retain too much body heat — a frequent complaint about foam — and the cover was fairly breathable when we lay on the pillow.

What It’s Made of

The fill consists of shredded latex and plush polyester fibers — and you can add or remove the fill to adjust the loft. The adjustable design made the pillow optimal for most people on our team regardless of their preferred thickness. Changing the volume also made the pillow more comfortable for other sleep positions, even though it is generally intended for side sleepers. The cover is made of a soft cotton-blend cover. You can wash and dry the cover in any household machine, but the fill should never be laundered.

Considering its composition and design, the Side-Sleeper Pillow is very reasonably priced. Eli & Elm also offers free ground shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. You can return the pillow and receive a full refund within 45 days of your purchase, even if you’ve used it.

If you’re in the market for a high-loft pillow to support the head and neck, the Plant-Based Pillow from Sweet Zzz should meet your needs. The plush, vegan fill offers the same fluffy feel as down, resulting in a thick profile and luxurious softness.

  • Pros

    1. Soy-based fill offers the same plushness as real down at a lower price-point

    2. Cover is composed of smooth natural cotton

    3. Breathable materials ensure cool, comfortable sleep

  • Cons

    1. Frequent fluffing needed to maintain a full shape

    2. Those seeking a supportive pillow may need a firmer option

Price Range

$135 – $150


Plant-based down alternative fibers



Lack of neck support may be partially to blame for recurring shoulder pain. The Sweet Zzz Plant-Based Pillow offers an exceptionally high loft to keep your head and neck elevated throughout the night. The thick profile and plush fill are particularly well suited to people who enjoy exceptionally soft pillows.

How It Performed

Our hands-on tests show the pillow is thick enough for side sleepers, filling the space between their head and downward-facing shoulder. This helps promote even alignment and reduce pressure buildup that commonly occurs when lying in the side position. Back sleepers on our testing team also felt comfortable on the pillow. If you sleep on your stomach, the pillow will probably be too thick.

Both the shell and fill are highly breathable, so overheating — a common issue with real down — shouldn’t be an issue with this pillow. You may need to fluff the pillow fairly often, as noticed some shifting during our shape retention tests. By the same token, the pillow is very moldable and perfect for snuggling.

What It’s Made of

The fill consists of soy-based fibers that mimic the softness and fluffiness of real down without potentially triggering allergy symptoms or relying on animal-based materials. A natural cotton shell encases the fill. The fabric has a smooth hand-feel. You can wash and dry the entire pillow in your household machines for quick and easy care. Standard and king sizes are available.

An approachable sticker price and free shipping throughout the contiguous U.S. make the Plant-Based Pillow a good option for shoppers with limited budgets. Your purchase includes a 50-night trial period, during which returns are also free of charge.

The Noble Head Pillow’s advanced adjustment options make it suitable for virtually any sleep position, and three fill types are available for additional customization. A multi-chambered design also allows you to create the ideal loft for specific areas of your pillow surface.

  • Pros

    1. Multi-chambered design lets you customize the loft up to 10 inches

    2. Available with three types of fill

    3. Cover composed of breathable organic cotton

  • Cons

    1. Expensive sticker price is a barrier for shoppers with limited budgets

    2. 30-night trial period is on the shorter side

Price Range

$349 – $399


Wool, shredded latex, or memory foam


Medium Soft, Medium Firm, Firm

Many people with shoulder pain can benefit from an adjustable pillow — particularly combination sleepers who frequently change positions during the night. The Noble Head Pillow is one of the most customizable models our team has tested. A design consisting of nine different chambers lets you add or remove fill in various compartments to optimize cushioning levels for specific areas of your head, neck, and shoulders. 

How It Performed

Our hands-on tests resulted in positive ratings across the board for our team, though the best loft depended on each tester’s sleep position. Our stomach sleepers preferred a lower loft to minimize neck strain, back sleepers felt most comfortable with a mid-range profile, and side sleepers needed a thicker loft to cushion the area between their head and downward-facing shoulder. We recommend experimenting with different loft levels to nail down your ideal profile. If you’re a combination sleeper, the chambers are easy to adjust during the night — just make sure to have a receptacle nearby for removing fill.

All of the fill types are fairly plush, making the pillow moldable and snuggly regardless of which material you choose. Temperature control was another strong performance area for the pillow, especially when we used the latex and wool fills. You may need to fluff the pillow from time to time, but the nine-chamber design also helps maintain a mostly full shape.

What It’s Made of

Depending on the size you choose, you may adjust the loft anywhere from 1 to 10 inches. Noble offers three fill types, each with a distinct firmness and contouring level. The shredded memory foam fill is the softest and most adaptive, resulting in a close hugging sensation. If you’re looking for a firmer feel that still provides some cushioning, the shredded latex should meet your needs. The wool fill is the firmest option and designed to create a sink-free surface for your head and neck. Wool also has natural moisture-wicking properties, which can come in handy if you’re prone to night sweats.

The cover is made of organic cotton, a breathable material that can also help you sleep cool. You may remove and launder the cover in household machines. GOTS certifications for the cotton cover and wool fill and a GOLS certification for the latex ensure these materials have been sustainably sourced. Noble also allows customers to opt for plastic-free shipping containers in order to further lower their order’s footprint.

Standard ground delivery is free of charge for all customers in the U.S. and Canada. While the Noble Head Pillow’s sticker price is somewhat expensive, you’ll receive a trial period with your purchase that runs for 30 nights. You may also exchange your initial pillow for a different size or fill type during this time frame. All pillows are additionally backed by 5-year warranties.

The Silk & Snow Pillow is perfect for sleepers with shoulder pain, since you can adjust and fine-tune the fill until it feels just right. Pillows with this level of thoughtful design often come with a hefty price tag, but the Silk & Snow’s price-point is surprisingly approachable.

  • Pros

    1. Shredded foam fill can be added or removed to adjust the firmness and loft

    2. Cotton cover is soft, breathable, and machine-washable

    3. Each order includes a 100-night sleep trial

  • Cons

    1. Off-gassing odor may be strong for the first 72 hours

    2. Supplemental fill is not available for purchase

Price Range

$75 – $85


Shredded memory foam core with down alternative microfiber outer chamber



Toronto-based mattress and bedding company Silk & Snow designed The Pillow with adjustable comfort in mind. Value-seeking side sleepers should consider this pillow both for its customizable design and fair price-point.

How It Performed

The pillow’s hybrid design balances fluffiness and support, which our testers found suitable for side and back sleepers. The pillow cradled our heads and necks to prevent pressure from building up, while the foam core generated enough support to keep the head elevated. You can also add or remove the foam fill to achieve your sweet spot in terms of firmness and loft.

What It’s Made of

The Silk & Snow Pillow features a breathable cotton cover that you can remove and machine wash for easy cleaning. The fill is made of shredded memory foam and down-alternative microfiber, which gives you the plush feel of real down without the high price tag. The pillow comes fully stuffed with foam, but you can remove the fill as needed. Two sizes are available, standard and king.

Silk & Snow offers free shipping to the contiguous U.S. and all Canadian provinces. You can try out the pillow with its 100-night sleep trial, and purchases are also backed by a 3-year warranty.

Of all the pillows we’ve tested, the Layla Kapok Pillow stands out with a kapok fiber fill that feels incredibly soft. It’s a unique way to balance out the memory foam, which has a firmer feel.

  • Pros

    1. Shredded foam and kapok fibers offer close cushioning and contouring

    2. Fill can be added or removed to change how soft and thick the pillow feels

    3. Poly-viscose cover is breathable and moisture-wicking

  • Cons

    1. Supplemental fill is not available

    2. Sleep trial is shorter than average

Price Range

$109 – $129


Shredded memory foam and kapok tree fiber blend


Medium Soft

The key to reducing shoulder pain is to ensure the neck and head are aligned with the spine. Without proper alignment, aches and pressure points can build where your shoulders make contact with the pillow. The Layla Kapok Pillow balances firmness and cushioning to ensure your neck has all the support it needs without feeling overly firm.

How It Performed

The pillow offers close contouring, so our testers gave it high marks for pressure relief. You may add or remove as much of the fill as you wish to achieve an ideal loft for shoulder pain relief. This means our testers were able to find a comfortable thickness regardless of which position they sleep in. Cooling is another strength of the Kapok Pillow. The memory foam has an open-cell composition while the kapok fibers retain very little warmth, so bothersome heat retention is unlikely to occur.

What It’s Made of

The Layla Kapok Pillow contains a mix of shredded memory foam and downy-soft fibers from the kapok tree, which created a conforming feel during tests. The cover is made from a blend of polyester and breathable viscose, with an infusion of copper intended to help maintain temperature control. The cover can be washed and dried at home, saving you time and money whenever the fabric needs to be cleaned. Layla recommends spot cleaning the pillow when necessary.

An approachable price-point and free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. makes this pillow a great pick if you’re on a budget. Layla backs each order with a 30-night sleep trial, giving you time to test out the pillow and determine if it meets your needs. The pillow also comes with a five-year warranty against structural defects.

Available in three firmness levels, the Brooklinen Down Pillow can accommodate any sleep position as well as combination sleepers who switch between their side, back, or stomach throughout the night. An approachable sticker price and discounts for bundle purchases also make this pillow a solid option for budget-conscious shoppers.

  • Pros

    1. Available in three density levels to accommodate different sleep positions

    2. Plush down clusters create a cloud-like surface for your head and neck

    3. Each purchase includes a 365-night trial period

  • Cons

    1. Down and feather fill may produce a noticeable odor when the pillow is new

    2. People seeking a firm, ultra-supportive pillow may find all three designs too soft

Price Range

$109 – $149


Canadian white down clusters or down/feather blend


Plush, Mid-Plush, Firm

Choosing a pillow firmness based on your primary sleep position is crucial for alleviating shoulder pain. With the Brooklinen Down Pillow, you can choose from three density levels, each of which has a distinct feel and compresses differently beneath the weight of your head and neck. Brooklinen allows you to test the pillow for up to one year before the return period expires, giving you ample time to determine whether the firmness you’ve selected meets your needs.

How It Performed

Side sleepers on our team preferred the firm design. This is the densest option, and dual-chamber construction means the pillow won’t compress too much and put your head and neck out of alignment with the rest of your spine. Back sleepers should find the medium density comfortable — it provides deep cushioning without elevating your head. If you’re a stomach sleeper, we recommend the soft pillow. This non-chambered design contains pure down and compresses deeply, so you shouldn’t feel any neck strain when lying face-down. 

Although the down and feather fill retain some heat, none of our testers felt uncomfortably warm on the pillow. We’ve attributed this to the cotton shell, which is naturally breathable and moisture-wicking. Our team also found the pillow quite moldable. You may need to fluff it regularly to maintain a full shape, though.

What It’s Made of

The firm and medium density pillows are constructed with down in their outer chambers and a core filled with feathers. This creates a nice balance of plushness on the surface and sturdy support. Since the soft pillow isn’t chambered and only contains down, it compresses much more deeply than the other two designs. All pillows are encased in cotton shells with double-stitched edges to prevent rips and tears.

Brooklinen does not recommend machine-washing the pillow. If stains occur, you can either spot clean the shell with a soft towel or arrange for the pillow to be dry cleaned. Standard and king sizes are available.

The Down Pillow’s sticker price is below average compared to competing models made from the same materials. Standard shipping is free within the contiguous U.S., and you’ll receive a 10% discount when you buy two pillows and a 15% discount when you buy four. If you choose to keep the pillow after the 365-night trial ends, Brooklinen further backs your purchase with a year of warranty coverage against manufacturing defects.

The Helix GlacioTex Cooling Memory Foam Pillow is available in two profiles, allowing you to choose a loft based on your preferred sleep position or positions. Solid memory foam and a heat-dissipating cover ensure a comfortable combo of pressure relief and temperature control.

  • Pros

    1. Solid memory foam contours evenly to support the head and neck

    2. Available in two loft levels to accommodate different sleep positions

    3. Phase change cover dissipates heat on contact and feels cool to the touch

  • Cons

    1. Strong — albeit temporary — off-gassing smells after the pillow is unpackaged

    2. Close “hug” may be uncomfortable for people who prefer light contouring

Price Range

$123 – $136


Solid memory foam



Your sleep position should factor into the pillow you choose, so combination sleepers may have a hard time finding a pillow that feels comfortable for each of their preferred positions. The Helix GlacioTex Cooling Memory Foam Pillow is available in two profiles to create a comfortable surface for your head and neck regardless of how you sleep. We recommend the thicker 5.25-inch loft if you’re a combination side and back sleeper — this profile creates ample cushioning between your head and downward-facing shoulder — while the 4.75-inch pillow is ideal for back and stomach sleepers.

How It Performed

Our team tested both of the pillow’s profiles. Side sleepers on our team felt most comfortable on the higher-loft design, while back and stomach sleepers preferred the lower profile. Since the pillow is somewhat soft, no one on the team complained of excessive neck strain or shoulder pressure. We also enjoyed how plush and moldable the pillow felt.

Other performance areas where the pillow excelled include shape retention and ease of cleaning. You may notice some off-gassing odor when the pillow is new, but these smells should clear out in a day or two.

What It’s Made of

The core is composed of solid memory foam, giving the pillow a plush and adaptive feel. The foam responds slowly to movement for a cloud-like cradling effect as your head and neck settle into the pillow. Since solid foam is used, shape retention is a major strength. You should never need to fluff the pillow. A cover made of GlacioTex phase change fabric encases the foam. This material is engineered to feel cool to the touch at all times and release body heat on contact. You may remove and machine-wash the cover whenever it needs to be cleaned.

Standard and king sizes are available. The Cooling Memory Foam Pillow is reasonably priced, and Helix offers free ground shipping to shoppers in all 50 states. Your order includes a generous sleep trial that runs for 100 nights, giving you plenty of time to test the pillow and decide whether it’s right for you. Returns are free if you aren’t satisfied, but you’ll receive a one-year warranty against material defects if you choose to keep the pillow.

Best Pillows for Shoulder Pain Video

In the video below, our sleep experts get hands on with some of our top pillow picks for shoulder pain. Watch the video to get a close-up view of the design and materials of each pillow.

What Is Shoulder Pain?

“Shoulder” is the shorthand term for the ball-and-socket joint that allows both of your arms to move freely. Recent statistics indicate that roughly 15 out of every 1,000 medical patients sees a physician about shoulder pain, and some studies suggest 70 percent of adults will experience shoulder pain at least once during their lifetime.

The shoulder joint consists of three bones: the clavicle (collarbone), scapula (shoulder bone), and humerus (upper arm bone). According to the Mayo Clinic, shoulder pain can also develop from a wide range of injuries and medical conditions. These include the following:

  • Broken arm or collarbone
  • Torn or injured rotator cuff
  • Dislocated or separated shoulder
  • Frozen shoulder characterized by pain, stiffness, and loss of range of motion
  • Torn cartilage or ruptured tendons
  • Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or septic arthritis
  • Nerve impingement
  • Tendinitis
  • Bursitis
  • Heart attack

If you experience other symptoms along with the shoulder pain, such as shortness of breath or an uncomfortable tightening sensation in the chest, you should call 911 immediately – these could be signs of a more serious condition. Sudden pain, swelling, warmth, and/or loss of movement may necessitate a visit to the emergency room or your physician’s office.

The Cleveland Clinic also notes several treatment methods for ongoing shoulder pain. Less invasive options include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or injections, or simply resting until the pain subsides. You may need to undergo certain medical procedures if the pain persists or worsens over time. Surgical treatments for shoulder pain include arthroscopy, open shoulder surgery, shoulder resurfacing, and replacement.

Please note: The information and tips in this guide should never replace the advice of a credentialed medical professional. Please contact your physician or another certified healthcare provider to learn more about diagnosing and treating shoulder pain.

Shoulder Pain and Sleep

According to Ruben Gobezie, M.D., founding director and chief of surgery at the Cleveland Shoulder Institute, discomfort in bed and sleep problems are common issues for people with shoulder pain. Patients frequently feel discomfort regardless of which sleep position they employ. Some also feel numbness, tingling, and muscle spasms.

“Sleep and pain have a bidirectional relationship, and the current data suggest that the effects of sleep on pain are likely stronger than the effects of pain on sleep. Focusing on improving your sleep quality may help with your overall pain level. Common changes to sleep quality could include difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, more sleep fragmentation (i.e., more awakenings during the night), early morning awakenings, and unrefreshing/non-restorative sleep.”

Sarah Silverman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and holistic sleep wellness consultant who treats patients in New York and Florida.

While any of the conditions listed above could contribute to shoulder pain-related sleep problems, Dr. Gobezie notes three specific conditions are the most common culprits:

  • Bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa sacs that cushion bones around joints in the body. Inflamed bursa produce more liquid which can lead to painful swelling.
  • Biceps tendinopathy, a condition that occurs due to prolonged deterioration of the biceps tendon that connects shoulder bones and muscles. Tendinopathy is characterized by sharp pains around the tendon.
  • Tears and other injuries to the rotator cuff, a grouping of muscles that cushions and stabilizes the shoulder joint.

Before seeing medical attention for any of these conditions, Dr. Gobezie recommends taking anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also try sleeping in a recliner, applying ice or heat to the pain-affected areas, or wearing a compression sleeve.

While replacing your pillow is not always effective, this measure may mitigate some of the nightly shoulder aches and pains that accompany these and other conditions. Dr. Gobezie notes that a large pillow to support the entire body or a smaller pillow behind the upper arm can also reduce discomfort after shoulder operations.

How to Choose a Pillow for Shoulder Pain

Finding a new pillow to reduce shoulder pain might seem like a straightforward task, but there are several factors to consider based on your body type, normal sleep position(s), firmness and thickness preferences, and level of pain. Below, we’ll list some of the most important variables to take into account when choosing a pillow and discuss the most common pillow types based on fill material.

What to Consider When Purchasing a Pillow for Shoulder Pain

If you take pillow manufacturers at their word, then every pillow on the market today will reduce shoulder pain and deliver nightlong comfort regardless of your needs or preferences. However, very few pillows are designed to specifically target and alleviate shoulder pain. Furthermore, a pillow that is not soft, firm, thick, or thin enough can cause added discomfort based on your body type, head size, shoulder dimensions, and sleep position.

Before buying a pillow for shoulder pain, check the following specs – and reach out to the manufacturer if you can’t track down any of these details.

  • Loft: Loft, or thickness, affects how supportive the pillow feels. Side sleepers typically need more loft to ensure even spinal alignment, which reduces pressure around the shoulders, lower back, and hips. Back and stomach sleepers often prefer less loft because this allows their head to lie evenly with the rest of their body and lowers their potential for neck and shoulder pain.
  • Support: A supportive pillow will keep your head upright while cradling the neck, while a less supportive pillow will sink beneath the weight of your head. Some sleepers prefer the latter but many people with chronic shoulder pain need a pillow that will support the head and cushion the neck and shoulders.
  • Firmness Level: The ideal firmness level for any given sleeper depends largely on personal preference. Some feel more comfortable on a softer, plusher pillow, while others prefer a pillow that feels firmer and more supportive. Since support is often crucial for pain relief, those with shoulder pain may want to consider a firmer pillow – though excessive firmness can also lead to added aches and pressure points.
  • Pressure Relief: The best pillows for pressure relief support the head and neck without sinking too deeply. If your head is on the smaller side and your wingspan is somewhat narrow, then a softer pillow provides adequate pressure relief, but those with larger heads and wider shoulders will probably find that a firmer pillow reduces more pressure instead.
  • Shape: Some specialty pillows for people with neck pain have irregular shapes that differ from the rectangular cut of traditional pillows. These include wedge pillows that keep the head and neck inclined, and body pillows you can embrace for an added bolster around the neck and shoulders.
  • Price: You should be able to find a high-quality pillow that alleviates at least some of your shoulder pain for less than $100. These include wedge pillows, body pillows, and other models with irregular shapes. For a specialized pillow with multiple components, expect to pay a bit more.
  • Quality Materials: The materials used to construct a pillow can tell you a lot about its expected longevity and supportive qualities. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the most popular fill materials for pillows sold today.

What Pillow Materials Are Best for Shoulder Pain?

The best pillow materials include memory foam, buckwheat hulls, latex, and other fills that provide sufficient support to keep the head and neck upright and aligned with the spine. If a pillow sinks too much or loses shape quickly, the potential for more shoulder pain increases.

Memory Foam

Viscoelastic polyurethane foam – memory foam for short – is engineered to soften when exposed to body heat and return to its former shape when the heat is removed. By contouring close to the body, memory foam can alleviate pain and pressure around the neck and shoulders.

Solid memory foam is used to construct many wedge and specialty pillows for neck pain, including a few of our top picks listed above. Shredded memory foam does not provide the same level of support, but many models with this fill offer adjustable loft.


Buckwheat pillows are filled with hulls, the hard outer casings of buckwheat kernels. They tend to be quite firm but also highly supportive, so your head and neck won’t sink too deeply into the surface. Buckwheat pillows also offer adjustable loft. By adding or removing the hulls, you can make the pillow more comfortable for different sleep positions.


Latex is a naturally resilient material derived from the sappy extract of rubber trees. It provides gentle contouring and won’t conform as closely as memory foam, but latex is also highly durable and won’t flatten as easily.


Down refers to the soft inner plumage of ducks and geese located beneath their outer feathers. It is exceptionally soft and light, so resting your head and neck on a down pillow can alleviate tension and pressure to some degree. At the same time, down is not particularly supportive and won’t be suitable for sleepers who want more firmness from their pillow.

Down Alternative

Made from polyester microfibers, down alternative is a very soft and light material designed to mimic authentic down. Down alternative is hypoallergenic, making it suitable for people with down allergies, and these pillows tend to be much cheaper than their authentic counterparts. However, they don’t offer many advantages over regular down for sleepers with shoulder pain.


The outer feathers of ducks and geese are slightly more supportive than down, but they still provide minimal levels of support. Unless you prefer a softer pillow, a feather-filled model may not keep your head and neck upright.


Like memory foam pillows, polyfoam pillows may contain solid or shredded fill. Polyfoam doesn’t contour too closely and feels somewhat responsive foam, so these pillows may be a good alternative to memory foam models if you find the latter too adaptive.

What Is the Best Pillow Positioning for Shoulder Pain?

If you experience chronic shoulder pain, it’s entirely possible that no sleep position will feel totally comfortable. However, certain angles and pillow configurations may reduce some types of shoulder pain better than others, depending on specific condition and symptoms. Four useful pillow positioning arrangements are outlined below:

Side with Pillow in Armpit: A good rule of thumb for side sleepers with pain in one shoulder is to avoid lying on the affected side. With the sore shoulder upright, place one pillow under that shoulder’s armpit, another between the legs, and cuddle with a third pressed against your stomach. With a fourth pillow beneath your head, this configuration should promote even spinal alignment and help alleviate your shoulder pain.

“Side sleepers tend to need a high-loft pillow for support and to fill the space beneath the head and neck to promote proper spinal alignment. Keep your head and neck in alignment at around 30 degrees with the help of a good pillow so your airway stays open during the night, allowing air to flow from your nose to your lungs without obstruction.”

Sarah Silverman, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and holistic sleep wellness consultant who treats patients in New York and Florida.

Back with Pillow in Armpit: Since back sleeping promotes even spinal alignment without putting added pressure on either shoulder, this is often the best position for people with shoulder pain. If you notice soreness or stiffness in one or both shoulders, try placing a pillow in the armpit beneath the shoulder(s).

Side with Pillow Between Knees: Often the chosen pillow position for pregnant women, a pillow between the knees can improve spinal alignment for side sleepers by reducing pressure in the lower back and hips.

Side with Pillow Under Back: Side sleepers with broad shoulders often experience uneven alignment because their hips and lower back don’t receive the same level of cushioning. A thin pillow placed under the back and hips can even out the spine and alleviate pain throughout the body – including the shoulders.

Stomach sleeping is generally associated with more aches and pains than back or side sleeping. Neck and shoulder pain from craning the neck to avoid lying face-down on the pillow is a common issue for stomach sleepers. For this reason, we don’t recommend stomach sleeping for people with shoulder pain.

Other Tips for Shoulder Pain Sufferers

In addition to using a pillow that offers adequate support, sleepers with shoulder pain can try one or more of the following strategies in order to find relief.

Choose the Right Mattress: As with pillows, a mattress can help reduce shoulder pain or exacerbate your discomfort – and again, this usually comes down to support level. A mattress that feels too soft and sinks excessively can worsen shoulder pain.

Generally, side sleepers feel more comfortable on softer mattresses because they cushion the shoulders and hips while supporting the lower back, leading to better spinal alignment. The back position already promotes proper alignment on its own, so these sleepers need more firmness and support to prevent excessive sinkage beneath the shoulders.

Engage in Physical Therapy or Stretching: Physical therapy and stretching are commonly prescribed to medical patients with shoulder pain. The nature of these treatments largely depend on the nature of your injury and severity of symptoms, so please consult your doctor or another credentialed medical provider for more information.

Practice Good Posture: Slouching while sitting can greatly exacerbate shoulder pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain exercises can not only improve posture but also reduce pain in the process. These include “rolling the shoulders up and back, then letting them relax down, tucking chin down slightly, and sitting up from the hips.” You can also try standing against a wall by resting your head, lower back, and hips against the surface with your shoulder blades down and close together.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pillows for Shoulder Pain

Can the wrong pillow make shoulder pain worse?

Absolutely. If a pillow does not provide enough support for the head and neck, then you’re more likely to feel new or worsening shoulder pain. A less durable pillow that flattens or loses shape over time can mean more pain, as well. The best pillow for shoulder pain should properly support the head and neck, promote spinal alignment, and stabilize the affected shoulder(s).

What is the most important consideration when choosing a pillow for shoulder pain?

The most important factors when choosing a pillow for shoulder pain include loft (or thickness), firmness, shape, and fill material. Since everyone has different pillow preferences, we suggest trying different models to see which ones alleviate pain. As you’re starting out, consider pillows that offer sleep trials with free or mostly free returns. You’ll be able to test out these models without financially committing to them at first.

What is the worst pillow type for shoulder pain?

Down, down alternative, and feather pillows are generally considered the worst pillows for shoulder pain because they provide the least support and tend to flatten during the night.

Can a mattress topper help with shoulder pain?

A mattress topper is a thin layer of cushioning material that rests on top of the mattress surface. Toppers are intended to change the firmness of the mattress – either softer or firmer – so using one can definitely reduce shoulder pain if your mattress sinks too much or feels excessively stiff. However, make sure the pillow you’re using also suits your needs; otherwise the topper on its own may not provide much pain relief.

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