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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.
Constructed for an ergonomic shape that promotes even alignment for side sleepers, this pillow from Eli & Elm contains a latex and fiber fill blend that can be added or removed to adjust the loft and overall feel.
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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 specialized design. The pillow features a notch at the bottom edge where your shoulders can rest comfortably without sacrificing head and neck support. Sleeping with your shoulders on the mattress and neck elevated can improve your overall alignment and reduce aches and pains along the spine.
The pillow is also adjustable. Its fill – which consists of shredded latex and plush polyester fibers – can be added or removed to adjust the loft, making the pillow optimal for most people regardless of their preferred thickness. Changing the volume can also make the pillow more comfortable for other sleep positions, though it is generally intended for side sleepers.
Temperature regulation is another strength of this pillow. The latex and fiber fill shouldn’t retain too much body heat – a frequent complaint about foam – and the cotton-blend cover is also fairly breathable. 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.
The Purple Plush Pillow is filled with interlocking microdenier material that can be added or removed to increase or decrease the loft. The pillow’s breathable cover offers excellent cooling and moisture-wicking.
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An adjustable model, the Purple Plush Pillow delivers a high-quality design and low price-point. The pillow is filled with interlocking polyfiber material that feels quite plush – hence the name – while supporting the head, neck, and shoulders. You can add or remove the fibers to adjust the loft. In order to alleviate shoulder pain, we recommend more fill when sleeping on your side, and less fill when sleeping on your back or stomach.
The case is made from lyocell fabric, a highly breathable plant-based material that sleeps quite cool and wicks away moisture from the body, making it ideal for hot sleepers. The Purple Plush Pillow is also a good choice for those who enjoy snuggling with a pillow or sleeping with a bolster under their legs or between their knees. The entire pillow can be washed and dried in any household machine. Drying the pillow can actually help it expand and retain a fuller shape.
Priced at less than $50 in a standard size, the Purple Plush Pillow costs less than many competing models with adjustable, interlocking fill. Purple also offers a 100-night sleep trial to test out the pillow, along with a one-year warranty for extra peace of mind. Shipping is free for orders in the contiguous U.S.
The custom Pluto Pillow is made to order based on your specific preferences for fill material, loft, firmness, cover fabric, and temperature control.
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The Pluto Pillow takes customization to another level. Each customer is asked to visit the Pluto website and complete a detailed survey about their ideal pillow design. Questions cover key topics such as preferred material, loft, firmness level, and cover composition. All Pluto Pillows contain at least one piece of solid polyfoam that has earned the CertiPUR-US certification, indicating it does not contain lead, ozone depleters, or other hazardous materials.
The foam may be ventilated if you claim to sleep hot. Pluto will also take your weight, height, and primary sleep position into consideration when crafting your pillow. The cover is another customizable element of the design. The questionnaire will ask whether you prefer a smooth or quilted surface, and cooling cover fabric is also available. More than two dozen unique configurations are available.
Pluto will create the pillow based on your feedback in the survey and ship it to you after the order is processed. In case you aren’t satisfied with the results, the company offers a 100-night sleep trial and accepts all returns – including used pillows – after a mandatory two-week break-in period. The Pluto Pillow is also backed by a one-year warranty and shipping is free throughout the contiguous U.S.
Available in three loft and density options, the Parachute Down Alternative Pillow is an affordable option for sleepers who prefer a softer feel – as well as those with allergies to authentic down.
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Our best pillow for shoulder pain selections begin with the Parachute Down Alternative Pillow. Cushioned with plush microfiber fill, this pillow provides the padding and support of authentic down but is sold at a more affordable price-point compared to down/feather pillows. The microfibers are also hypoallergenic, making this pillow suitable for anyone with down or feather allergies.
You can choose from three pillow densities that affect the loft, or thickness, as well as how supportive the pillow feels. The soft option features the lowest loft and is a good choice for stomach sleepers who’d rather not sleep face-down on a thick pillow. The medium feel is a mid-loft option, and should be most comfortable for back sleepers. The firm pillow offers the thickest loft. We recommend this feel for side sleepers because more fill can help to promote even spinal alignment – a common concern with this position.
The fill is encased in smooth and breathable cambric cotton. The loft shouldn’t absorb or trap too much body heat, so we recommend the Down Alternative Pillow for hot sleepers. Thanks to its synthetic fill, you’ll be able to wash and dry the pillow in any household machine. Although the price-point depends on loft, this pillow is highly affordable regardless of which density you choose. Shipping is also free to all 50 states and the pillow is backed by a three-year warranty.
Best for Side Sleepers
The ergonomic myDual Side Pillow is filled with supportive, breathable wool that can be added or removed to adjust the loft.
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The myDual Side Pillow from Sleep & Beyond is a great choice for eco-conscious shoppers. The pillow is composed of natural Shropshire wool fill housed in a cotton sateen shell, while the outer cover is made of quilted wool. These natural materials are not only sustainably sourced and hypoallergenic, but also highly breathable. As a result, the myDual Side Pillow sleeps very cool and wicks away sweat to keep you dry.
The pillow comes loaded with wool, giving it a relatively high loft, but owners can remove the fill and adjust the thickness to their liking. The contoured shape is ideal for side or back sleeping, so the customizable loft allows you to easily switch between these two positions if you are a combination sleeper. You can also remove the liner, which can be used as a smaller separate pillow.
The outer cover and wool fill in its cotton shell can be machine washed and dried at home, so there’s no need to pay for dry cleaning. Sleep & Beyond treats the wool to ensure it won’t shrink in the wash. Buyers receive a 45-day trial period, during which they can return unused pillows for a full refund, as well as a five-year warranty for the pillow if they decide to keep it. Shipping is free if you order two or more myDual Side Pillows.
Best for Pressure Relief
Composed of solid memory foam with a medium feel, the Shoulder Zoned Lavender Pillow conforms closely to the head and neck while producing a relaxing scent.
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The Shoulder Zoned Lavender Pillow is made from adaptive memory foam. The material has a medium feel and conforms very closely to the head and neck, making it noticeably softer than many competing memory foam neck pillows. The foam is also ventilated to promote airflow and resist heat absorption, and the cover is made from breathable Tencel fabric, so the pillow is well-suited to people who often feel excessive warm on memory foam.
Wider holes in the center of the pillow soften the foam for comfortable head cradling while the perimeter is ventilated with smaller holes for firmer neck support. A small notch at the front of the pillow allows side sleepers to rest comfortably while maintaining even alignment between the neck, shoulders, and spine. The pillow is specifically designed for people who sleep on their sides, so back and stomach sleepers probably won’t find it as comfortable.
As an added bonus, the pillow is also infused with a calming lavender scent that may also mask initial off-gassing odors. An extra vial of lavender is included with purchase for you to use whenever the pillow needs refreshing. The cover can be removed and machine washed at home. Queen and king sizes are available, both with a 6-inch loft. Free shipping is available for all customers in the contiguous U.S. and PlushBeds backs the pillow with a five-year warranty.
The Lumia Wellness Cervical Traction Wedge Pillow is constructed from dense memory foam to provide support and pain relief for back sleepers. The pillow can also alleviate tension and migraines.
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The Lumia Wellness Cervical Traction Wedge Pillow is constructed from a solid piece of dense memory foam. It is designed with an inclined wedge shape with a cutout in the center to support the head and neck. By design, this pillow is geared toward back sleepers, but some side sleepers may also find it comfortable. The removable cover – which can be washed and dried in any household machine – has a soft felt texture.
Measuring 4.5 inches tall and 6 inches long, the pillow supports the head, neck, and shoulders on a fairly steep grade. The foam is highly durable and the pillow should maintain a supportive shape and firm feel over time. We also recommend this pillow to people who experience migraines or chronic headaches because it promotes even spinal alignment and can reduce tension at the back of the neck. As dense as the memory foam feels, the pillow itself is not very heavy and most people won’t have any difficulty lifting or adjusting it.
Priced at less than $30, the Lumia Wellness Cervical Traction Wedge Pillow is very affordable given its durability and performance. Standard ground shipping is also free to all 50 states. You can also opt for expedited shipping for a small surcharge.
Best Wedge & Body Pillow System
A three-piece pillow system designed to reduce pain from rotator cuff injuries and other painful conditions, the Medcline Shoulder Relief Pillow is composed of dense memory foam components and specifically designed for side sleepers.
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The innovative Medcline Shoulder Relief Pillow consists of three components that can be used together or separately, depending on your needs. An inclined shoulder wedge provides support for the head, neck, and shoulders; a pillow insert fits inside the wedge for a space to rest your arm comfortably; and a body pillow can be placed on top of the wedge to cushion the body and alleviate shoulder pain. The Medcline Shoulder Relief Pillow is primarily designed for side sleepers, but back sleepers may also be able to use one or more of the pillow’s components.
All three pillows are cushioned with dense memory foam, which is considered one of the best materials for reducing shoulder pain. The pillows are especially well-suited for people with rotator cuff injuries, as well as arthritis, bursitis, and/or nerve impingement around the shoulder area. A symmetrical design enables any side sleeper to use the pillow, whether they prefer the left or right side.
The pillows include cases that can be removed for washing and drying in a household machine. While the Medcline Shoulder Relief Pillow may be a bit expensive, this product can be a valuable investment if shoulder pain is negatively affecting your sleep. The pillow is backed by a 100-night sleep trial and a one-year warranty.
“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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.