Is a Firm or Soft Pillow Better for Neck Pain?

Is a Firm or Soft Pillow Better for Neck Pain?

Irish Chiropractor Dr Lawrence Wood says sleeping with the wrong pillow can worsen neck pain. Navigating daily activities with physical pain is challenging. So, which is better for neck pain, choosing a firm or soft pillow? Does it matter whether you use a firm or soft pillow for neck pain? 

Generally speaking, a too-firm pillow is not ideal for neck pain. The best pillow is medium firm to support your head and neck. A product that is too firm creates pressure points and muscle tension, leading to neck and shoulder pain. Soft pillows conform to the shape of your head but don’t offer much support. 

Choose a pillow that keeps your neck aligned with your spine, ensuring your muscles relax and rest during the night. 

What Are the Benefits of a Firm Pillow?

A firm pillow supports your head and neck consistently during the night. It should also provide pressure relief. Choose a comfortable and supportive pillow. Soft pillows are likely to become lumpy and uneven quite rapidly, making them uncomfortable and prone to causing pain as your neck is not adequately supported.

Let’s review some product suggestions designed to support your head and neck sufficiently.

Product
Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow for Neck Support, Adjustable Cervical Pillow Cozy Sleeping, Odorless Ergonomic Contour Memory Foam Pillows, Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleeper
Osteo Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain Relief, Hollow Design Odorless Memory Foam Pillows with Cooling Case, Adjustable Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Sleeping, Contour Support for Side Back Sleepers
Cervical Pillows Memory Foam Pillow - Neck Pillows for Pain Relief Sleeping - Ergonomic Contour Bed Pillow for Side, Back & Stomach Sleepers
KEEPMOV Memory Foam Pillows - Cervical Neck Pillows for Pain Relief, Ergonomic Contour Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleepers (Purple)
Product name
Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow for Neck Support, Adjustable Cervical Pillow Cozy Sleeping, Odorless Ergonomic Contour Memory Foam Pillows, Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleeper
Osteo Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain Relief, Hollow Design Odorless Memory Foam Pillows with Cooling Case, Adjustable Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Sleeping, Contour Support for Side Back Sleepers
Cervical Pillows Memory Foam Pillow - Neck Pillows for Pain Relief Sleeping - Ergonomic Contour Bed Pillow for Side, Back & Stomach Sleepers
KEEPMOV Memory Foam Pillows - Cervical Neck Pillows for Pain Relief, Ergonomic Contour Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleepers (Purple)
Best overall choice
Best Seller/Amazon’s choice
More than 3000 bought in the past month
Ergonomic option
Rating
-
-
-
Product
Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow for Neck Support, Adjustable Cervical Pillow Cozy Sleeping, Odorless Ergonomic Contour Memory Foam Pillows, Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleeper
Product name
Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow for Neck Support, Adjustable Cervical Pillow Cozy Sleeping, Odorless Ergonomic Contour Memory Foam Pillows, Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleeper
Best overall choice
Rating
Buy on Amazon
Product
Osteo Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain Relief, Hollow Design Odorless Memory Foam Pillows with Cooling Case, Adjustable Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Sleeping, Contour Support for Side Back Sleepers
Product name
Osteo Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain Relief, Hollow Design Odorless Memory Foam Pillows with Cooling Case, Adjustable Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Sleeping, Contour Support for Side Back Sleepers
Best Seller/Amazon’s choice
Rating
-
Buy on Amazon
Product
Cervical Pillows Memory Foam Pillow - Neck Pillows for Pain Relief Sleeping - Ergonomic Contour Bed Pillow for Side, Back & Stomach Sleepers
Product name
Cervical Pillows Memory Foam Pillow - Neck Pillows for Pain Relief Sleeping - Ergonomic Contour Bed Pillow for Side, Back & Stomach Sleepers
More than 3000 bought in the past month
Rating
-
Buy on Amazon
Product
KEEPMOV Memory Foam Pillows - Cervical Neck Pillows for Pain Relief, Ergonomic Contour Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleepers (Purple)
Product name
KEEPMOV Memory Foam Pillows - Cervical Neck Pillows for Pain Relief, Ergonomic Contour Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleepers (Purple)
Ergonomic option
Rating
-
Buy on Amazon

Best overall choice: Cozyplayer Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow

Sale
Ultra Pain Relief Cooling Pillow for Neck Support, Adjustable Cervical Pillow Cozy Sleeping, Odorless Ergonomic Contour Memory Foam Pillows, Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleeper
  • REVOLUTIONIZE YOUR SLEEP WITH THE INNOVATIVE HOLLOW CONCAVE DESIGN - Tired of waking up with neck pain and discomfort? Look no further! By combining the benefits of a traditional bed pillow and a contour pillow, Our ergonomic hollow contour pillow is here to transform your sleep experience. The hollow concave surface, tilted at a 15-degree angle, skillfully cradles your head, while maintaining the natural curve of your neck and aligning your spine flawlessly. Wake up feeling refreshed!
  • EXPERIENCE UNINTERRUPTED, BLISSFUL SLEEP WITH OUR VERSATILE PILLOW - Engineered with meticulous precision, this innovative neck pillow features six unique contour zones specifically designed to embrace the natural curvature of your body. Each contour zone works harmoniously to address targeted pressure points, it provides full support to your neck, shoulders, and arms, effectively alleviating your neck pain and muscle stiffness. No longer will you have to compromise on the quality of your rest.
  • EMBRACE HEALTHY SLEEP WITH PREMIUM MEMORY FOAM & COOLING PILLOWCASE - Unlike 90% of support pillows, Cozyplayer utilizes the Q-Max 0.4 Arc-Chill cooling pillowcase, which instantly reduces skin temperature by 5℃! Additionally, the pillowcase fabric utilizes a highly dense 3D mesh design, offering excellent breathability. Our pillow core is made of 98% breathable memory foam, which is non-toxic, odorless, and certified by OEKO-TEX, CertiPUR-US, and ISPA. Sleep soundly and stay dry all night!

This pillow’s hollow, concave surface gently holds your head, and the six contour zones maintain the natural curve of your neck. It will comfortably support your neck, shoulders, and arms. 

The cooling pillowcase reduces your skin temperature. The core is made of 98% memory foam, which is non-toxic and odorless. According to the latest research, neck traction of 15° is ideal, and Cozyplayer allows you to achieve this. 

To achieve improved contouring, rotate the pillow 180 degrees or remove the bottom insert. We also offer you a risk-free 100-night trial period with this product.

What we likedWhat we didn’t like
The adjustable cervical relief this pillow provides is just what I needed.

This pillow stays refreshingly cool.

The pillow is odorless.
You need also to purchase the insert if you are a side sleeper.

The shape is too awkward to fit into a pillowcase.

I hurt my ear on the plastic bit in the middle of the pillow.

Best Seller/Amazon’s choice: Osteo Cervical pillow for neck Pain relief

Sale
Osteo Cervical Pillow for Neck Pain Relief, Hollow Design Odorless Memory Foam Pillows with Cooling Case, Adjustable Orthopedic Bed Pillow for Sleeping, Contour Support for Side Back Sleepers
  • 【STOP! THE NECK PAIN & SLEEPLESS NIGHTS ARE OVER!】After years of discomfort, you've found salvation at last! Meet the game-changer in the pillow industry, all-new ergonomic pillow with US patent – Osteo! The unique design of the hollow center is what sets it apart! The special hollow center cradles the head, helps maintain the natural cervical curve and alignment of the vertebrae in your neck, aims to maintain good blood flow to your neck and head, relieve pressure and remove muscles tension.
  • 【THE BEST INVESTMENT OF YOUR REST & HEALTH!】 Did you toss and turn all night? Did you wake up with neck cramps or back soreness? The wrong pillow may worsen headaches, neck pain, shoulder and arm numbness, notes surgeon Andrew Hecht, MD. Osteo neck pillow provides all of the curves, divots and angles needed to help to relieve pressure which has a more refined thoughtful contour design than others, fits side, back, and stomach sleepers. Choose us, choose better sleep and a healthier future!
  • 【HOT SLEEPERS & ALLERGY SUFFERERS, REJOICE!】Osteo neck support pillow uses 3D mesh fiber pillowcase that allows heat to escape and fresh air to cycle in. You can rest assured that you will own a cooling and sweet dream! If you're sensitive to smell and want a natural and odorless pillow, Ostoe sutera pillow is the answer! We didn't take any shortcuts on the quality of our materials. All of our memory foam pillows are CertiPUR-US certified and Oeko-Tex approved, without any harmful substance!

The unique hollow of this pillow supports your head and keeps your spine, neck, and vertebrae in natural alignment. It promotes good blood flow to your neck and head, relieves pressure, and prevents muscle tension. The 3D mesh fiber pillowcase allows heat to escape and fresh air to circulate. 

Osteo offers two different thickness options. Move your bed pillow 180 degrees to sleep on a higher or lower contour. The removable insert at the bottom of the pillow also provides more height choices.

What we likedWhat we didn’t like
It’s perfect for side sleeping.

I can sleep on my back or side with this pillow.

Excellent head support.

It feels soft but firm.
The pillowcase is not the same standard as the pillow.

I had to air it for 3 days due to the odor.

I found the pillow too firm.

More than 3000 bought in the past month: Polovo Neck Pain Memory Foam Pillow

Sale
Cervical Pillows Memory Foam Pillow - Neck Pillows for Pain Relief Sleeping - Ergonomic Contour Bed Pillow for Side, Back & Stomach Sleepers
  • 【Patented Ergonomic Design Neck Pillow】: Memory foam pillow is firm without being hard, supportive yet soft. Neck pillow features a unique butterfly shape design that provides special armrests for your arms. It supports along the curves of your body, aligning your neck and spine for comfortable breathing. No more visits to the chiropractor for neck pain.
  • 【True Cooling Pillow】: Cervical neck pillow is made of customized cooling ice silk fabric, containing 50% ice silk material, combined with skin-friendly, breathable and soft air layer fabric. This cervical pillows for side sleepers can reduce your heat in few minutes. In summer, it will allow you to have a cool night, and a refreshing, comfortable dry morning without any stickiness!
  • 【100% Premium Memory Foam】: Side sleeper pillow is made of CertiPUR-US certified memory foam to ensure safety and quality. Bed pillow features a perforated design provides better air circulation, keeps dry. With the feature of rebounding within 3-5 seconds, provide moderately soft neck support experience, allow your neck and head to completely relax and eliminate tension and stress.

This memory foam pillows rebounds after 5 seconds in the absence of pressure. It is designed with two adjustable heights to support your neck and head in any sleeping position. It also comes with a breathable, skin-friendly pillowcase with excellent moisture absorption. This cervical pillow cradles the contours of your head, neck, and shoulders to relieve pain and reduce pressure for a good night’s rest. It is suitable for all ages. 

What we likedWhat we didn’t like
This pillow is just the right size and firmness.

This product has the perfect contours.

The height is ideal.

I liked that the cover is removable for easy cleaning. 
I wish it were thicker and firmer.

I found it difficult to sleep on my side with this pillow.

Ergonomic option: Keepmov Cervical Memory Foam Pillow 

Sale
KEEPMOV Memory Foam Pillows - Cervical Neck Pillows for Pain Relief, Ergonomic Contour Pillow for Side Back Stomach Sleepers (Purple)
  • 【Shoulders & Upper Back Have Targeted Support】: Memory foam pillow is firm without being hard, supportive yet soft. You can breathe more freely when you laying in the dip in the center. Cervical pillow fits the curve of your neck and shoulders perfectly gives your neck that amount of support. Head, neck and spine alignment, easily stretch the shoulder muscles. Neck pillow for sleep pain relief improves sleep and rejuvenates the body.
  • 【Ergonomic Design Contour Pillow】: KEEPMOV cervical memory foam pillow is a dream come true for those seeking pain relief during sleep. This ergonomic pillow caters to various sleeping positions, making it versatile for side, back, and stomach sleepers. Its memory foam construction provides excellent support for the neck and shoulders, alleviating discomfort.
  • 【100% Premium Memory Foam】: Side sleeper pillow is made of CertiPUR-US certified memory foam to ensure safety and quality. Bed pillow features a perforated design provides better air circulation, keeps dry. With the feature of rebounding within 3-5 seconds, provide moderately soft neck support experience, allow your neck and head to completely relax and eliminate tension and stress.

This lilac pillow comprises high-quality memory foam, evenly distributing the pressure on your head and neck. The ergonomic design gently stretches your neck and spine. The pillow’s central head area relieves pressure on your head, and the soft sides ease pressure on your face and ears. 

It suits all sleep positions. 

The high-density memory foam provides good air circulation, and the double-layer silk pillowcase with zipper is removable and machine washable. 

What we likedWhat we didn’t like
The pillow is soft but supportive.

The pillowcase is soft.

The cover stays cool all night.

The pillow holds its shape.
It took three days for the smell of the foam to fade.

One customer felt that the pillow should be broader.

To Summarize:

There are many options if you are looking for a firm or soft pillow. For neck pain sufferers, the choice is more complicated.

2021 research review suggests that pillow height and shape reduce neck pain and promote spinal alignment. So, it makes sense that when purchasing a special pillow, you choose one that could help alleviate your neck pain and give you a good night’s rest.

Some Disadvantages of Buying a Special Pillow:

  • They are usually not ideal for sleeping on your stomach.
  • These pillows often are more expensive than standard pillows.
  • It might be challenging to travel with these pillows as they take up space in your luggage.

Having mentioned the negatives, it is still worth investing in a specialized pillow.

Some Disadvantages of Buying a Special Pillow:

What to Look for in a Pillow: 

  • Loft: If your head and neck are placed too high or too low, it can cause neck discomfort. 

Here are some pillow height suggestions. Although researchers have not proven the recommendations below, more evidence is needed.

Low loft: about 3 inches or less in height: most suitable for back sleepers.

Medium loft: about 3–6 inches: most suitable for stomach sleepers.

High loft:  over 5 inches and most suitable for combination and side sleepers.

Some studies suggest that biological males might need slightly thicker pillows than those recommended for biological females. 

  • Shape retention: Some materials keep their shape better and longer. So you won’t have to keep buying new pillows often. Memory foam and latex are firmer and should remain in their original shapes longer than less costly materials such as microfill and polyester.

Denser materials are usually more durable than fillers, making up softer pillows. Many companies offer adjustable fills for their pillows so that people can add to or take away from the pillowcase, allowing them to create the optimal pillow height for themselves.

  • Firmness level: It’s best to try different pillows. Experimenting will ensure you end up with a pillow with the appropriate support. 

Side sleepers may prefer a medium or firm pillow because a soft pillow makes their head sink into the pillow too much, bringing their spine out of alignment. A firm pillow, for instance, from latex, may cause you some discomfort at first but may eventually help to keep your spine stable during the night. Rubber and spring pillows are more durable than feather pillows, which can become lumpy and uncomfortable.

So, Which is Better – a Firm or a Soft Pillow for Neck Pain? 

The reply to this question is that each person has to make their own decision. Our body shapes and sizes are different, so it isn’t easy to generalize and provide one final answer.

What to Look for in a Pillow

What the Research Shows

Unfortunately, there is little definite agreement in the research. One review of five studies published in 2006 concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to recommend specific pillows for neck pain.

An earlier research study examined the effects of water-filled pillows, roll-shaped cushions and standard-shaped pillows on the subjects’ sleep quality. This research found that a water-filled pillow lessened morning neck pain and allowed better rest than a roll pillow or standard model. A different investigation discovered that a roll-shaped pillow positively influenced and decreased chronic neck pain.

Some people prefer a dense pillow because they appreciate the support it gives them. They generally find their neck pain is less the following morning when they sleep with this type of pillow. Others find that a soft pillow is more comfortable. 

We recommend testing different pillows until you are satisfied with one that helps you sleep better. The only thing that seems clear from the research is that keeping your spine stable and in its natural alignment during the night is beneficial. 

When you find the pillow that does that for you, you can give input to the longstanding question: is a firm or soft pillow better for neck pain?

Disclaimer: Last update on 2024-07-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.

This content is provided solely for educational reasons and should not be seen as medical guidance. It’s important to consult with a healthcare expert prior to making any changes to your health regimen, including dietary adjustments or the use of supplements.

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