If you don’t already have neck pain, consider yourself lucky. Also doomed. With all the Instagram scrolling and single-shoulder-work-bag carrying we did and hope to one day do again, it’s probably only a matter of time. Unless you’re ready to throw away your phone (which we’re not) or switch to a backpack (to be fair, there are some nice-looking, grown-up styles out there), there’s another step the chiropractors we spoke with said you can take to soothe your aching neck: Swap out your pillow.
According to Karen Erickson, a chiropractor and American Chiropractic Association spokesperson, “your neck muscles should rest at night and recover from the strain of texting, computer work, and the other forward-head position tasks we all do during the day.” Below, Erickson and four other chiropractors share their recommendations for pillows that ease neck pain, ranging from a totally organic option to an orthopedically designed one for more severe cases.
Best overall pillows for neck pain
All the chiropractors we spoke with agree that the best pillows for neck pain are ones that maintain proper alignment of the vertebrae in your neck, also known as the cervical spine. “You want to see the center of your head line up with the center of your sternum and the center of your pelvis,” says chiropractor David Perna of Back & Body Medical. It’s easiest to achieve this alignment while sleeping on your side or your back. This pillow, recommended by chiropractor Randi Jaffe, allows you to do so in either position by supporting the neck without causing it to flex too far forward or bend to one side. “It gives you a little bit of that arch into the neck, so it gives you nice support,” says Jaffe. One end of the pillow is firmer than the other, so you can choose which option feels best. Strategist contributor Alison Freer swears by the Tri-Core. It “stopped my neck and shoulder pain cold — and transformed my sleeping life,” she says.
With a pronounced “roll” to cushion your neck whether you’re on your side or your back, this pillow is one of Perna’s top picks. He likes Tempur-Pedic’s dense memory foam because, as he says, “if you’re going to place your body weight on a pillow, you want to make sure it has some resistance to hold you in the proper position.” It hits the sweet spot of being firm enough to fill the space between your head and your shoulders while maintaining the natural curve but isn’t so stiff that it forces your neck into an unnatural position. It’s also available in a small size for those with smaller frames.
This pillow, recommended by Jaffe, has a similar shape to that of the Tempur-Pedic one above and comes in two different sizes: a lower-height “wave” for back sleepers and a taller one for side sleepers. It’s made with a proprietary material called Celliant, which absorbs body heat to both help with temperature regulation (often an issue with memory-foam pillows, which can run hot) and reflect energy back into the head and neck as infrared heat to promote muscle recovery.
Best side-sleeper pillow for neck pain
Even though sleeping on your side is one of the best positions for spinal alignment, it can still put pressure on your neck and shoulders if you’re not properly supported. “A lot of people have a problem sleeping on their side and trying to maintain that position while not putting a lot of torque on their necks,” says Perna. A pillow with a high loft could push your neck too far upward when you’re on your side. With its graduated wedge shape, the MedCline is Perna’s pick for side sleepers looking to reduce neck pain. It also has a hole to slip your bottom arm through so there’s less pressure on your shoulders.
Best adjustable pillows for neck pain
While the two pillows above come in different sizes, if you fall somewhere in between (or want to occasionally change up the feel of your pillow), adjustable options like this one allow for more customization, Perna says. For example, those with narrower shoulders need less pillow under their neck, especially when side-sleeping. The Pancake pillow lets you achieve the just-right level of support with multiple layers that can be added or removed based on your size.
Rudy Gehrman, a chiropractor and the founder and CEO of Physio Logic, has a less-is-more approach to reducing neck pain. He personally sleeps in one of two ways: If he’s on his back, he puts a rolled-up towel under his neck; when he’s on his side, he uses a thin pillow that just fills the gap between his head and shoulders. He acknowledges that this approach isn’t for everyone, but if you do want to give it a try, he recommends easing into it. For the transition, he likes this adjustable pillow with four interchangeable support rolls that let you gradually move down in plushness. “I have had one of these before and recommend them for someone trying to go from multiple pillows down to [a thinner pillow], and, in some cases, down to what I personally sleep with,” he says.
Best personalized pillow for neck pain
“We all have drastically different shapes and sizes to our bodies, so it’s just not possible that one size of pillow will fit all people well,” says chiropractor Jan Lefkowitz of Body in Balance Chiropractic. That’s why he likes Pillowise, which uses an algorithm, based on your neck and shoulder measurements, sleeping position, and mattress firmness, to determine the best pillow for you. Lefkowitz uses one himself and says, “I can’t live without mine now, and I’ve also seen amazing results for my patients.” Jaffe tells us Pillowise is also a favorite among her colleagues.
Best pillow for severe neck pain
Like a supercharged version of the standard cervical-spine pillow, this extra-firm option adds a wedge for upper-back support. Jaffe likes this option for people with more severe neck pain as well as anyone who suffers from migraines or tension headaches. She says it’s “really, really structured, and it helps to really support the neck.”
Best water pillows for neck pain
Water-filled pillows are “really big in our profession,” Jaffe says. Water is an appealing choice if you want to avoid synthetic fillings and have allergies to down. Because the water pillow is also adjustable (you can fill the insulated pouch with more or less water, depending on the level of firmness you like), Gehrman is also a fan and recommends it for someone moving toward less pillow. Erickson sleeps on “a pillow with a water base and with hypoallergenic filling on top,” like this one, which she calls “supportive yet supercomfortable.”
Recommended by both Jaffe and Lefkowitz, the Chiroflow is another water-filled pillow that helps relieve neck pain by contouring to the exact curvature of your neck. “The water will provide support and naturally fill in the space of your neck curve,” says Lefkowitz. The Chiroflow includes a layer of memory foam for additional support and it’s been clinically proven to reduce pain and improve sleep quality.