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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.
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The GhostBed GhostPillow is available in three models, each with a different fill — memory foam, faux down, and shredded memory foam and microfiber. The faux down option is a good choice for people who enjoy the fluffy feel of down pillows but are looking for a more affordable price-point.
The GhostPillow Faux Down is filled with a microfiber gel that mimics the feel of down, giving it a soft and squeezable quality. An outer zippered cover is made of plush velour designed to minimize heat coming off the body, while the interior cover is made from cotton to enhance breathability. It’s worth noting that down alternative is more breathable than down, which makes this an appealing option for people who enjoy the feel of down but find it too hot.
Due to its soft fill, the GhostPillow Faux Down offers moderate pressure relief for painful shoulder areas. The firmness level is best suited for back and stomach sleepers, who typically need less firmness to keep the head and spine aligned during sleep. The pillow may not provide the firmness and support that side sleepers require, especially those who are experiencing shoulder pain.
GhostBed offers free shipping, a 5-year warranty, and 101-night sleep trial. Customers may return pillows after an initial 30-day period to receive a full refund, minus return shipping fees.
Best Pressure Relief
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Ideal pillow thickness often depends on your preferred sleep position. Back and stomach sleepers don’t need as much loft to feel comfortable, so those who prefer these positions can usually get by with a lower-profile pillow. Side sleepers typically need the extra loft to align the spine and reduce pressure in the neck and shoulders. With a 6-inch profile, the Amerisleep Comfort Classic Pillow is geared toward the latter group. However, back sleepers who enjoy sleeping on thicker pillows should also find the pillow sufficiently supportive.
The pillow’s core contains proprietary Bio-Pur, a dense memory foam that conforms evenly without losing shape or buckling under the weight of your head and neck. Bio-Pur’s open-cell composition allows the material to contour as needed without trapping too much heat. The breathable cotton-polyester cover also promotes steady airflow, so this pillow might be a good option if you’ve slept uncomfortably warm on memory foam pillows in the past.
The Comfort Classic Pillow is available in queen and king sizes. The cover can be removed and machine-washed for easy care. Amerisleep will ship the pillow free of charge anywhere in the contiguous U.S. You’ll also receive a warranty that covers structural defects for up to 10 years, which is very long compared to the average pillow warranty length.
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For shoppers seeking a pillow that offers pressure relief with good temperature regulation, the Bear Contour Pillow is a solid option.
The Bear Contour Pillow is filled with a siliconized fiber and encased in a fabric engineered to feel cool to the touch. The pillow’s ergonomic shape is designed to provide close contouring to the head, neck, and spine, making this a good choice for those seeking pain relief in the neck and shoulders.
At 2 inches thick, the Bear Contour Pillow’s loft is lower than the average pillow loft. The low profile makes the pillow a good fit for stomach and back sleepers, who typically require pillows with lower loft to maintain healthy spinal alignment. The pillow comes in one size, standard/queen, and is compatible with conventional pillowcases despite its unique shape. The cover may be spot-cleaned.
Bear offers a 100-night sleep trial, during which customers may return the pillow for a full refund, minus shipping costs. A 2-year warranty is also included. Bear ships for free within the contiguous U.S.
Best for Side Sleepers
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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 contains a blend of shredded memory foam and downy-soft fibers from the kapok tree, so you can expect close contouring. You may add or remove as much of the fill as you wish to achieve an ideal loft for shoulder pain relief, making the pillow suitable for both side and back sleeping.
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. The cover is also made from a blend of polyester and breathable viscose. Copper – which has natural cooling properties – is infused into the yarn blend for added temperature control.
The cover can be washed and dried at home, saving you time and money whenever the fabric needs to be cleaned. You can also wash the entire pillow at once. Layla recommends multiple drying cycles if you go this route to ensure there isn’t any remaining moisture when you return it to your bed.
An approachable price-point and free shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. makes this pillow a great pick for shoppers on a budget. Layla backs each order with a 120-night sleep trial, giving you ample time to test out the pillow and determine if it meets your needs, as well as a 5-year warranty against structural defects.
Best for Neck Support
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A common complaint about memory foam pillows is that they’re too soft and prone to sinkage that can aggravate shoulder pain. If you’ve found this to be true, you’re a prime candidate for Tempur-Pedic’s TEMPUR-Neck Pillow. An extra-firm feel and contoured shape helps to keep the head, neck, and shoulders aligned with the spine, which in turn reduces pressure and helps you wake up without soreness in these areas.
The core of the pillow is composed of proprietary TEMPUR memory foam, a dense material that contours evenly and holds up well over time compared to other foams. A breathable knit cover encases the pillow. This cover can be removed and machine-washed whenever a cleaning is needed, but you should only spot-clean the foam.
The pillow’s thickness ranges from 3.5 to 4.75 inches, depending on which size you select. Side sleepers will likely prefer the large size because it offers the most loft, while back sleepers may find the thinner small and medium sizes more comfortable. Tempur-Pedic also offers a travel size for people who want to minimize shoulder discomfort while they’re on the road.
The TEMPUR-Neck Pillow is priced competitively and Tempur-Pedic offers free ground shipping anywhere in the contiguous U.S. All sales are final and returns are not permitted, but each purchase is backed by a warranty that covers structural defects in the pillow for up to 5 years.
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The Saatva Latex Pillow features an adjustable design that should appeal to people across different sleep position groups, including combination sleepers who switch between two or more positions over the course of a single night. The pillow’s core contains shredded Talalay latex, a material that contours to the head and neck without hugging too closely and also feels fairly responsive.
The outer chamber is cushioned with down-like microdenier fibers that create a plush feel. 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 will probably prefer the pillow at full volume, whereas stomach sleepers may feel comfortable with just the inner pillow.
The outer cover is made of organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, a leading authority on sustainably grown materials. The cover and outer microdenier chamber are both fully machine-washable, so you should have no trouble keeping the pillow hygienic. Customers can choose to add a pair of cotton-sateen pillowcases to their order for an added charge.
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.
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Pillow Cube is a young pillow company that caters to side sleepers by providing optimal support to the head and shoulders. The company currently offers two models, the Classic and Pro. While the Classic is meant for nappers on the go and side sleepers who don’t move much during sleep, the Pro is larger and accommodates side sleepers who tend to shift a lot at night.
The Pillow Cube Pro is made out of memory foam and comes with a quilted cover. There are three loft options — 4 inches, 5 inches, and 6 inches. Generally speaking, people with broader shoulders and larger heads will benefit most from the thicker loft options, while those with narrower shoulders and smaller heads may prefer less loft.
The memory foam construction makes the Pillow Cube Pro a suitable pillow for people who suffer from shoulder pain. The foam contours with the shoulder and neck to offer pressure relief in areas that contribute to shoulder pain. At the same time, the pillow is firm enough to support the shoulder and maintain healthy sleep posture.
Pillow Cube allows exchanges and refunds within 60 days of purchase. The company covers return shipping costs for exchanges but charges a $20 shipping fee for returns. Shipping is free for purchases over $100 to destinations in the contiguous United States.
“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.
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