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Pain during sleep most commonly comes from sleeping in an inadequate position. The source of pain for some people could be arthritis or an injury.
We looked at different locations – shoulder, neck, and back – and made lists of the best pillows for each of those specific types of pain. Bear in mind that these problems tend to be highly individual, so a pillow we recommend for shoulder pain could solve someone else’s neck problems, for example. These are all high-quality excellent support pillows and we recommend reading through the entire guide with an open mind.
Our Top Picks
We chose the Night pillow as the best for shoulder pain. It has proven to be fantastic in proper neck and back support that relieves much of the stress that’s put on shoulders.
Mediflow Water Pillow is the absolute winner when it comes to alleviating neck pain. If your chiropractor hasn’t already recommended giving this pillow a try, we definitely do!
Our pick for the best pillow against back pain goes to Coop Home Goods Eden. This soft, customizable pillow offers an escape from pain through support and comfort.
Here is our best-of list that should help you alleviate shoulder pain.
This pillow gives excellent spine and neck support. As one of the common reasons for shoulder pain is poor alignment in the upper body, we made our number 1 pillow against shoulder pain the Night Pillow. It is excellent for back and side sleepers and is made of high-quality memory foam that gives the right shape and correct support at the same time.
The foam inside the Night Pillow is hypoallergenic polyurethane memory foam which easily adjusts to your sleeping position. This means that even if you move around a lot, the Night will support your head and neck the exact way they need support at that moment.
On the plus side, this pillow offers a case made of TriSilk™ (95% Mulberry silk, 5% spandex) that doesn’t strip your skin and hair of natural oils, which gives you a fresher look, fewer wrinkles, and shiny hair.
The Priceless Pillow is made of special layers that provide a high level of support and on top of that, you can customize this pillow by choosing the size and fill (which can be soft, medium, and firm).
Those supporting layers that we love are made of Tencel fabric. Tree sap extracted from specialized tree farms is used for Tencel fabric production and is eco-friendly, breathable, hypoallergenic, and safe. The outer layer is made of the quilted Tencel pattern below which is another (inner) quilted layer that contains gel-fiber microcushions that add extra support.
Whether you’re a stomach, side, or back sleeper, you’ll benefit a lot from the custom fill option. It’s simple – a taller person, let’s say a side sleeper, with broad shoulders will probably need a firmer pillow that stays tall through the night. A petite person will need a pillow of shorter height, so they may opt for a softer pillow.
Nectar offers great neck and shoulder support and is another customizable pillow. Unlike the Priceless, which you order with a certain filling, you can add or remove Nectar filling yourself until you get the right level of firmness. It may take some time to find the right firmness, but once you do, your shoulder pain will become history.
We loved that Nectar has a pillow-in-a-pillow design with the outer shell made of quilted memory foam. It also uses the Tencel fabric that allows good breathability and has a slightly cooling effect.
Nectar will always readily bounce back and you won’t need to keep adjusting the pillow as your position changes.
Neck pain is the most common problem people have with inadequate pillows. Choose one of these for your problem solution.
#1. Mediflow Water Pillow
Water in your pillow? Mediflow is one of the most recommended water pillows against pain. It contains an adjustable water base and a filling – memory foam, fiber, down, or down alternative. The water moves easily as you move, always providing you with the same level of excellent support.
Mediflow was specifically designed for people with neck pain, especially for those who face the pain due to age or previous injuries. Stomach sleepers could find Mediflow too thick but side and back sleepers are likely to love it!
This pillow won’t flatten out with time like other pillows because it has water for the base. You’ll always sleep cool on Mediflow – the water absorbs the heat and the breathable case is made of pure cotton.
#2. Nest Bedding Easy Breather
The Easy Breather is a pillow filled with shredded memory foam while the case is made of breathable Tencel fabric. It offers really good pressure relief and gives support to the neck. Reviewers say it has helped them ease or completely stop having neck pain.
One of the best features of the Nest Bedding Easy Breather is that this pillow can be molded or scrunched up so that it takes the shape that’s right for you personally. It is a medium-firm pillow, so you’ll feel some softness but you won’t sink in the pillow but rather feel the overall firmness.
Back sleepers reported the best sleep on this pillow and side sleepers were pretty happy with it, as well. Stomach sleepers didn’t like the firmness of this pillow.
Airweave is great at distributing the weight and reduces the motion quite a lot. If you frequently move around in your sleep, you’ll love the feel and support of Airweave. This pillow is firm and its firmness comes from the airfiber that is placed in the center of the pillow. The core serves another role – it increases the airflow and keeps the pillow cool to the touch.
The Airweave pillow is made of a breathable mesh cover, an airfiber ring core, and two more airfiber inserts. Even after long use and being washed in the machine, the airfiber remains firm and keeps its motion reducing properties.
The Airweave pillow offers proper support for the neck and pain relief. It also helps with shoulder and back pain. You should go for the Airweave pillow if you’re a fan of firm pillows.
Here’s our choice of the three best pillows to prevent back pain.
#1. Coop Home Goods Eden
Eden is the soft option of the Coop Home Goods pillows. It works best for stomach and back sleepers, although side sleepers who prefer a soft pillow can also enjoy it. Eden keeps your spine at comfortable angles, which gives you restful sleep and pain relief.
We recommend it for back pain relief because it’s incredibly comfortable and the memory foam fill is adjustable so that you can personally customize the pillow.
The Eden pillow is hypoallergenic, with a Lulltra fabric case which is a blend of bamboo-derived viscose rayon and polyester. It is soft and breathable. Eden has a pillow-in-a-pillow design which gives it more firmness. The filling is made of shredded memory foam.
The Diamond Pillow gives excellent support of the neck and back and it comes in two options – low profile and high profile (for both King and Queen sizes). We really like that the company focused on this aspect because the pillow profile solely can cause or diminish pain. You simply need to know which one’s the right for you.
Diamond is a pillow of medium firmness and as such, it is likely to be accepted by the majority of people. We loved how it felt soft and cozy but at the same time offering quality support just like a firmer pillow.
This pillow doesn’t lose its shape throughout the night which means your sleeping will come easy and your neck and back won’t suffer misalignment due to pillow flattening out.
#3. Sleep Buddy
Sleep Buddy is a pillow that we love for its unusual shape. It looks like the letter J upside down and has a small hole for the ear. This pillow is made for side sleepers and it provides good support for the neck.
Sleep Buddy is excellent for single sleepers – it’s really hard to share a pillow of this shape. This pillow was developed by a doctor whose goal was to provide perfect support during sleep, so it keeps the head, neck, and spine well-aligned.
The filling of the Sleep Buddy is 100% polyester which makes it easy to maintain – you can wash it without worrying it will damage the pillow. However, if you prefer natural or organic options, this pillow may not be the right for you.
What things should I consider when buying a pillow?
Here are some basic points you should take into consideration when planning to buy a pillow.
- Durability. We sometimes focus on comfort more than on how long the pillow will last. Pillows that are not durable may lose shape and support in a few months and after that you’ll have to keep readjusting them, while not getting enough rest and possibly suffer from pain. A durable pillow can last for years, some even over a decade without losing the level of support.
- Sleeping position. If you see a high profile, firm pillow advertised as excellent against neck or back pain, but your favorite sleeping position is on your stomach, that pillow is not the right for you. It’s qualities may be fantastic but it doesn’t change the fact that your sleeping position requires a flat (or no) pillow. Side sleepers need firmer and higher-profile pillows while back sleepers could benefit from soft or low-profile firm pillows.
- Materials. Do you have allergies? Are you sensitive to certain materials or fabrics? Based on that you can choose between natural and artificial fill and case type. Most popular fillings are memory foam, down, and down alternative. Materials play the most important role in heat dissipation and accumulation. Foam pillows provide less air circulation and tend to be hotter than, say down pillows. However, a good case can help with this.
- Size. There are about five most common pillow sizes. You can check them out here. Check out the size of your bed, think about your personal needs and then select the size that’s the best for you.
Pillow fill types
Take a look at the most common types of pillow fills (bear in mind there are more, but are not so popular).
- Feather and down pillows. These are filled with down (quill-less feathers on the chest and underbelly of geese or ducks) or feathers (feathers from the wings and backs). Both of these options are excellent insulators of heat and they offer high levels of comfort and support. Feather pillows tend to be “spiky” because of feather quills and they are typically more expensive. Both tend to last for a very long time – sometimes well over a decade.
- Memory foam and shredded memory foam. Memory foam pillows feel more solid and dense. They quickly return to their original shape. Memory foam molds to the position of your head and neck and offers great support and pain relief. However, memory foam tends to trap heat so it’s not recommended to hot sleepers. Shredded memory foam has better air circulation than a single-piece pillow and it still molds to your position and offers great support.
- Latex pillows. Latex conforms to the head and neck but has a more resilient feel, which means it won’t collapse as much as memory foam and down do. Latex is a good, more natural substitute for memory foam because it’s made of rubber tree. Another plus is that they don’t trap heat so you can sleep cool and comfy. The support latex offers is known to last for a long time and help with pain relief.
What are the signs of spine misalignment?
An unhealthy spine can cause pain, difficulty moving, and many other problems. This is how you can tell your spine is not aligned properly.
- Legs, feet, and weight distribution.
- Your heels wear out unevenly – this may be due to one leg being slightly longer than the other or due to stress somewhere along the spine.
- One or both feet flare outward on inward. Glance at your feet when you’re walking, without “trying” to walk properly – just take a look whether one or both feet tend to go to one side. These may indicate lower back problems or hip problems.
- One leg is shorter than the other. If you have someone who could measure your legs while you’re in a lying position.
- Take two identical bathroom scales and stand on each with one leg. If the weight is not distributed evenly, your body is not balanced well and your head, spine or hips are probably not aligned properly.
- Pain, numbness, and movement problems.
- Back aches, sore or painful spots in muscles and joints
- Constant tension in muscles and joints
- Stiffness in muscles, especially in back or neck
- Numbness of limbs, tingling sensation down the spine, arm, or leg
- You can’t turn, twist, or bend equally to the left or right. Try doing this with your head (turning), neck (bending), and hips (twisting). If the range of motion is not equal, you need to work on it.
- Cracking and clicking.
- You often feel the need to crack your back or neck – this means your body is telling you that it’s not in the right position and it needs change
- Clicking of the jaw is a sign of neck misalignment or tension in the neck
Sleeping with arthritis
Arthritis can make it hard to fall asleep – the pain increases stress hormones which keep you awake. Unfortunately, poor sleep further results in worse pain. If you’re having sleep problems, remember to talk to your doctor about it. The doctor can find the exact cause of sleep problems and help you with it.
Other tips that can help you are these:
- Keep the same sleep schedule on all days. Routine makes it easier to fall asleep on time and it is the hero of low stress levels.
- Nap responsibly. If you need naps, feel free to enjoy them. Just make sure they are not longer than 30 minutes and not too late in the afternoon. A nap longer than that means you’ll probably reach deep sleep, which lessens your sleep need (sleep propensity) for the day.
- Spend time outside in the morning and early afternoon sun. Sunlight helps your inner clock tick in tune with nature so exposing yourself to natural light sources during the day will increase sleepiness at night.
- Exercise as much as your doctor recommends and as much as your condition allows you to. By exercise, we primarily mean activity – for some it could be jogging, for others gardening and cleaning. Just move your body and get yourself tired. It’s good for your health and your sleep.
- Things to avoid for a good night’s sleep are: caffeine after 2 pm, alcohol in the evening, smartphone and other devices with bright screens, strong light and stressful arrangements in the evening.
Poor sleep increases the chances that a person with arthritis will become more disabled as the time passes. Taken that arthritis worsens with poor sleep, it’s very important that you seek professional help for your sleep problems as soon as possible.