Neck pain is a real — pun 100 percent intended — pain in the neck. It can also seem pretty random. One morning you're fine, the next you can barely turn your head without howling in agony. The best pillows for neck pain can help, because the cause of your pain could be the way you're sleeping (especially if that's on your stomach with your neck twisted in a knot). But it can also have a lot to do with the quality of pillow you're choosing.
"All those hours spent staring down at our smartphones is causing trouble for spinal alignment and we’re feeling the painful effects of it in the neck and in the back, especially when we sleep," says Dr. Neel Anand, professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles. "If you sleep on your back with your head bent forward or on your side with your head significantly bent to the side, you may exacerbate your current neck pain."
And, when it comes to comfortable pillows for back, side, and stomach sleepers, Anand says it’s not a decision to make lightly, because your neck and back may live with it for years to come (no pressure or anything).
"Many people set out to buy a new pillow or mattress because they have a problem to fix: Their current pillow is causing a neck ache, they find themselves tossing and turning at night, or they feel aches and pains when they wake up," Anand says. "But no matter what has spurred your new expedition, keep the proper alignment of your neck and back as a priority in your decision-making and you’ll have a much better chance of a good night’s sleep and happier mornings."
Anand suggests looking for a pillow that keeps your neck parallel to the mattress and adapts to your specific sleep position. He is partial to memory foam, foam contour, and cervical contour pillows, which he calls “extremely effective for most because your neck rests on a less elevated side when laying on your back or on a more elevated side when sleeping on your side.” If you have a firmer mattress, get a thicker pillow so that there’s less cushion for your shoulder to sink into. If your mattress is made from memory foam, the opposite rule applies: A thinner pillow is needed to compensate for your shoulder sinking into the bed.
No matter how amazing your pillow is, it's important to know when neck pain requires more than retail therapy to cure. If your pain becomes chronic or you experience other symptoms like tingling, numbness, or weakness in the shoulders or arms, visit a doctor to rule out Degenerative Disc Disease.
Assuming your neck pain is nothing more than run-of-the-mill annoying, check out these six great pillows for neck pain.