Find Your Dream Pillow to Banish Back and Neck Pain

Your pillow buying guide for a healthy spine.

When’s the last time you thought about your pillow? When it comes to sleep and back pain, your mattress probably gets most of the attention. But, think about it: Your pillow supports your neck (and possibly also your back, knees, and hips) throughout the night. It has a big responsibility, and this guide will help you pick the right pillow to meet the challenge.
Happy woman hugging her pillowYour pillow has a big responsibility. It supports your neck (and possibly also your back, knees, and hips) throughout the night. Photo Source:

First, Some Simple Tips for Buying a Quality Pillow

These general guidelines apply to just about anyone looking for a spine-supportive pillow. When buying, look for pillows that:

  • Keep your spine naturally aligned (your head should rest directly over your shoulders—it shouldn’t be propped up or pushed back too far)
  • Have maximum adjustability
  • Support your head
  • Eliminate pressure points
  • Increase facial air circulation
  • Are hypoallergenic

Picking Pillows Based on Your Sleep Position

While the tips above are a good starting point, picking the right pillow for you means understanding more about how you sleep. Your sleep position may lead the way toward your optimal pillow. 

  • Back sleepers should look for a pillow that’s on the thinner side, but it should also have some loft or lift in the bottom third of the pillow to help support your neck. Memory foam is a good material option for back sleepers because it adjusts to your specific head and neck.
  • Side sleepers should seek out a firm pillow, ideally one with a gusset (a gusset is a piece of material that adds strength and thickness). A more structured pillow will help keep your spine aligned while you’re on your side.
  • Stomach sleepers benefit from the thinnest pillows—and you might even get away with not using a pillow under your neck at all. Sleeping on your stomach puts more pressure on your lumbar spine (low back) than any other sleeping position, so consider sleeping on your side or back for spine health.

Specialty Sleep Aids: Pregnancy and Chiropractic Pillows

In some cases, such as if you have severe spine pain or if you’re pregnant, a standard pillow won’t fit the bill. Fortunately, specialty pillows may provide comfort and pain relief. Pregnancy pillows and chiropractic pillows are 2 examples.

Pregnancy pillows come in several varieties, but the goal is the same: to provide added support to your growing abdomen and aching joints. Pregnancy pillows include body pillows designed to fit under the abdomen and between the knees, smaller pillows that go under the belly, and large tube-like pillows that can support all areas of the body—the head, abdomen, and legs.

Chiropractic pillows, also called cervical pillows, may be a worthwhile investment if you have severe neck or back pain that’s interfering with your sleep. These pillows are molded to your neck and keep your spine in proper alignment throughout sleep, and they come in a variety of styles and materials. Your chiropractor or physician may help you choose the right pillow and show you how to use it properly.

Other Tips and Considerations for Pillow Purchasing

  • If you have allergies, take special care when purchasing a pillow. Some pillows are made of allergens, such as down or latex. Carefully read the pillow’s packaging to ensure it’s a safe pick for you.
  • If you’re buying a pillow in a store, feel free to rest your head on it to see how it feels.
  • Pillows come in a range of sizes, but don’t buy simply based on what you think will look best on your bed (that is, don’t buy a king pillow because you have a king-sized bed). Think about your body size and match that to the size of your pillow.

When Should You Replace Your Pillow?

Generally, you should replace your pillow every 18 months to 2 years (though a pillow protector may keep your pillow longer). Keeping a pillow beyond its “lifespan” not only reduces its ability to support your spine, it also creates hygiene issues (such as a buildup of dead skin cells, mold, and dust mites). Wondering whether your pillow is past its prime? Fold it in half. If it doesn’t return to its original position, that’s a good sign that it’s time to buy a new pillow.

Updated on: 10/08/19
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