The Best Pillows to Get Rid of Neck and Back Pain

·18 min read
Photo credit: slumber cloud
Photo credit: slumber cloud

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A comfortable and supportive bed pillow is key to getting restful sleep, but finding the best pillow for you is no simple task with so many types of pillows to choose from. The good news is that pillows are highly personal, so you can narrow the field down based on your individual preferences for material and your sleep position.

When it comes to pillows, "it’s important that your neck stays ‘neutral,'" says Dr. Niamish Baxi, a physiatrist focusing on spine care and musculoskeletal medicine at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. "It should not be flexed forward, extended back, or rotated. Being in these positions will put a strain on the joints in your cervical spine as well as the muscles surrounding it." To help stay in the proper position all night, side sleepers should choose a thick, firm pillow; stomach sleepers need a soft, thinner one; and back sleepers need something in between.

Over the past several years, the experts in the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Textiles Lab have tested over 100 different pillows made of materials like down, foam, latex and fiberfill as well as cooling pillows, organic pillows, pillows to cure neck pain and pillows to stop snoring. All in all, we reviewed over 3,500 data points between Lab and at-home consumer evaluations before making these picks.

Our top picks:

We most recently reviewed this article in July 2022 to ensure all of our recommendations were in stock and and reflected accurate pricing. You can learn more about how we test and how to pick your perfect pillow at the bottom of this article.

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Best Overall Pillow

Coop Home Goods Adjustable Pillow

  • Fill materials: Memory foam/polyester down alternative blend

  • Firmness level: Medium-firm

An ideal balance of soft and firm, this pillow is filled with a blend of memory foam pieces and microfiber clusters that feel surprisingly supportive and plush at the same time. It's suitable for all positions because it comes with extra stuffing that you can add or remove at home to create your own perfect height. Just be cautious when you're adjusting the fill; it can get a bit messy and it's not something you'll want to redo on a regular basis.

It's machine washable so you can easily keep it clean, and it immediately bounced back to shape after our Lab's pressure tests. It's also a best-seller on Amazon with over 30,000 five-star reviews from users who call it the "best pillow ever." And if you're a hot sleeper, the brand's Eden pillow has the same construction, but with cooling gel added to the memory foam.

Tester notes: Our panel of at-home testers all gave it high scores across the board, unanimously saying it was better than the pillows they had previously used and that it helped improve their sleep quality. One tester described it by saying "it wraps around my head and I sink into it," while another told us she was "able to comfortably switch from side to back to stomach and still feel supported and comfortable."

READ OUR FULL REVIEW: The Coop Original Pillow Is the Best Pillow We've Ever Tested

Best Value Pillow

Amazon Basics Down Alternative Pillow 2-Pack

  • Fill material: Polyester down alternative

  • Firmness levels: Soft or medium

This Amazon-branded pillow offers the best bang for your buck: It's sold as a pair and outperformed other styles on the market that cost over triple its price. And even though its polyester down-alternative fill helps it cost less, it still washed well without shrinkage in our tests, making it a solid choice for people with allergies that constantly need to clean their bedding.

This pillow feels fairly plush and is ideal for stomach or back sleepers that need a flatter design. It's also perfect for kids, who need a lower profile to match their smaller frames.

Tester notes: Users told us they especially enjoyed how soft this pillow felt, with one noting "I like how fluffy this pillow is and how well it maintains shape after continued use." Though some wished it were taller and denser, they gave it good scores for allowing them to wake up without soreness.

Most Comfortable Pillow

Layla Kapok Memory Foam Pillow

  • Fill material: Memory foam/kapok blend

  • Firmness level: Medium-plush

With comfort you have to feel to believe, this one is surprisingly plush yet still supportive thanks to its innovative blend of shredded memory foam with soft and fluffy kapok (a natural fiber that’s similar to cotton, but feels silkier). The fill is also adjustable so it works with multiple sleep styles or for people who often change positions.

It easily bounced back to shape after we applied weights in our tests to mimic a head lying on it overnight. Just note that because the pillow uses a grey pattern on its outer cover, it may be visible under white pillowcases.

Tester notes: It earned the highest overall ratings from our consumer testers. They gave it perfect scores for comfort, support and overall satisfaction, plus they said it kept its shape and had them waking up without feeling sore. A tester highlighted how she was able to stop using two pillows by switching to this one, while another summarized, "I like the softness, how supportive it feels and how it is moldable."

Best Pillow for Side Sleepers

Tuft & Needle Down Alternative Pillow Set

  • Fill material: Polyester down alternative

  • Firmness level: Medium-firm

Designed specifically for side and back sleepers, the poly stuffing is lightweight yet still significantly firmer than other down alternatives. It aced all of our Lab's evaluations, including pillowcase fit, shrinkage after laundering and how well it kept its shape after we applied weight. This is especially important because side sleepers need their pillow to keep its shape all night for proper alignment.

On top of that, it uses a synthetic down alternative, which is ideal for easy care and a lower cost. In fact, this set of two pillows cost less than other individual ones. The fill also prevents it from feeling too dense, which can sometimes be a downside to pillows made for side sleepers.

Tester notes: Our entire panel was impressed with how it stood up to pressure, and a user told us it "kept its shape better than any other pillow I've ever used." More importantly, they all rated it supportive and comfortable to sleep on. One even called out its luxurious attention to detail, saying it had "excellent quality with good materials and stitching."

Best Pillow for Back Sleepers

Purple Harmony Pillow

  • Fill material: Latex and elastic polymer material

  • Firmness level: Medium

Not too firm and not too plush, this pillow has Talalay Latex on the inside that's surrounded by Purple's signature elastic grid material, which is super popular for its ability to feel equally soft and supportive. It also comes in three heights to fit a range of body types and combination sleepers.

The pillow bounced back to shape perfectly in our Lab tests, even after weights were left on top for eight hours. Only the cover is machine washable, but it held up to our laundering evaluations. And though it's pricey, the brand offers a 100-night trial so you can sleep on it for a few months to make sure you love it.

Tester notes: At-home reviewers praised its support, shape retention and breathability, with each one highlighting the fact that it stayed cool all night long. They also agreed that they wanted to continue using it after the test. As one tester summarized it: " I stayed cool all night and the texture of the pillow was very soft and supportive."

Best Pillow for Stomach Sleepers

Home Decorators Collection Down Surround Pillow

  • Fill material: Down and feathers

  • Firmness level: Medium

This style from Home Depot's brand is unique with its double-pillow design: there’s an inner chamber of feathers for support surrounded by an outer layer of down for a soft, fluffy feel. It has a medium-density that's designed to work for a variety of sleep positions, but our testers noted that it has a lower profile, making it more suitable for people that sleep on their stomachs.

The entire pillow is machine washable and it didn't shrink at all in our tests, despite showing some signs of wear. It also bounced back to shape well after we applied pressure for an extended period. The down is certified by the Responsible Down Standard for traceability in the supply chain, and the outer cover is made of cotton. It's also a Good Housekeeping Seal holder so it's covered by our limited warranty.

Tester notes: Testers raved about its softness and highlighted how plush it felt while they were sleeping. Some wished it had more support and prefer taller models when sleeping on their stomachs and backs, but it's ideal for anyone that doesn't need the height. Plus, testers found it to be versatile beyond just sleeping: "I liked using it as an extra pillow to prop up with before bed while reading or watching tv," one told us.

Best Down Pillow

Parachute Down Medium Pillow

  • Fill material: Down

  • Firmness levels: Soft, medium or firm

For those who prefer the real deal, this luxuriously fluffy pick outperformed all other down pillows in our test. It was a tester favorite, kept its shape well and fit nicely into a pillowcase. And you don't even need to worry about special care instructions: It held up to repeated washings without showing signs of wear.

Besides this medium density, it's also available in soft and firm, and the down fill has been certified as responsibly sourced. Its outer cover is a cotton sateen with double stitching around the hem to make sure the down doesn't poke through during use.

Tester notes: Testers raved about its softness and gave it perfect scores for comfort and overall satisfaction. One even described it as "absolutely dreamy" and feeling "like a marshmallow." They also gave this pillow high marks for support and staying at a comfortable temperature throughout the night.

Best Foam Pillow

Tuft & Needle Original Foam Pillow

  • Fill material: Foam

  • Firmness level: Medium-firm

Tuft & Needle makes our list again, but this time for its foam pillow. It's made with solid foam instead of foam clusters for a more supportive surface, but it has ventilated holes to make it breathable along with graphite and cooling gel to prevent overheating. The brand describes the feel as "squishy while remaining supportive" and we fully agree based on our evaluations.

In Lab tests, it bounced back to shape immediately after we applied pressure. It fit fairly well into a pillowcase but is just a bit smaller than other pillows so there's a slightly loose fit. Only the cover is machine washable, but it laundered well without any shrinkage.

Tester notes: It was a top-rated pillow from sleep testers, who gave it perfect scores for comfort and keeping its shape. Plus, testers unanimously said it felt like an upgrade from the pillows they normally use. Its praise included comments like, "this pillow was firm enough that it kept its shape, but felt overall soft" and, "it was comfortable in multiple sleeping positions and the perfect level of firmness."

Best Latex Pillow

Naturepedic Organic 2-in-1 Latex Pillow

  • Fill material: Shredded latex

  • Firmness level: Medium

Made using natural latex from the rubber tree, this pillow is certified organic by the Global Organic Latex Standard. The latex fill is shredded so you can add or remove it, plus it's reversible with different fabrics on each side. On one side there's a stretchy, smooth material that's designed to conform to the shape of your head and neck, while the other has a fluffy quilted side filled with PLA batting to make it feel plush.

The best part is that you don't have to sacrifice quality for sustainability: It earned high scores in both Lab and consumer tests. The pillow kept its shape after pressure was applied and the outer cover washed well.

Tester notes: Users said this pillow was comfortable, supportive and kept them at a good temperature. They all enjoyed the versatility between its adjustable fill and two-sided design, with one saying, "my initial reaction was just 'wow!'" based on the quality craftsmanship. Another told us, "this is literally the greatest pillow I have ever slept on."

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Best Pillow for Neck Pain

Tempur-Pedic Neck Pillow

  • Fill material: Memory foam

  • Firmness level: Firm

If you need firm support to alleviate neck pain, this is the pillow for you. It's been on the market for years now and has stood the test of time thanks to its solid memory foam that's ergonomically designed to give back and side sleepers proper alignment. Unlike most other pillows, the shape is contoured so it’ll fit the curve around your head, neck, and shoulders.

It also has a slimmer profile so it won’t feel too high, though it does fit pillowcases a bit awkwardly. Still, it held up to our pressure tests and it comes in small, medium and large sizes to properly fit different body types. The outer cover is removable and can be machine washed.

Tester notes: Those who prefer firm pillows said this one felt supportive and great to lie on. "It fit around my neck and shoulder perfectly," noted one. Another called out how it sinks in very slowly to mold to individual shapes. Just note that it's much firmer than others, so it's certainly not ideal for everyone.

Best Pillow for Lower Back Pain

Noble Lower Body Pillow

  • Fill materials: Wool, latex or a mix of both

  • Firmness level: Varies

Most pillows are for your head, but if you suffer from back pain then it's a good idea to consider a body pillow as well. This unique style is triangular shaped and keeps your hips and spine aligned: It goes between your legs if you're a side sleeper or underneath them if you're a back sleeper.

It's pricey, but it uses quality materials including your choice of a wool, latex or hybrid fill. It's also adjustable and comes with extra fill so you can personalize the height to your body, and it held up to wash testing in the Lab so you can expect it to last over time.

Tester notes: From pregnant users to those with injuries, all testers said they had relief from pain or discomfort while sleeping with it and woke up without feeling sore. As an added bonus, they enjoyed its versatility, with one saying, "I liked using this pillow to sit up and read in bed as a backrest."

Best Cooling Pillow

Slumber Cloud UltraCool Pillow

  • Fill material: Polyester down alternative

  • Firmness levels: Soft/medium or medium/firm

This down alternative pillow stands out for its temperature-regulating cover that's made with Outlast viscose, which stores and releases body heat to prevent you from overheating while you sleep. Unlike other cooling pillows that feel instantly cool to the touch, this one works all night long to help keep you at a comfortable temperature.

Besides its cooling features, this pillow also aced Lab evaluations when we looked at how well it keeps its shape after use, how well it holds up to washing, and how well it fits into a pillowcase. Even if you're not a hot sleeper, this one's a great choice because it proved to be long-lasting.

Tester notes: Our panel unanimously said this pillow kept them at a comfortable body temperature all night, and they also gave it high marks for keeping its shape during use and overall comfort while sleeping. One tester told us, "I was very skeptical about the cooling claims of the pillow and was so pleased to find them to be true! The pillow never became hot like my own pillows do."

Best Gel Pillow

Allswell Gel Cooling Pillow

  • Fill material: Gel and memory foam

  • Firmness level: Medium

Unlike regular memory foam, gel has a cool-to-the-touch feel that may be preferred by hot sleepers. This pillow features a thick layer of cooling gel on the surface with a breathable cover. While it can't regulate body temperature all night like some of the other technologies on the market, it certainly delivers on the instant cooling effect.

The pillow cover is removable and machine-washable for added convenience. Plus, it fits nicely in a Standard size pillowcase, although the blue gel might show through some pillowcases.

Tester notes: Our reviewers raved about the overall comfort and how well this pillow kept its original shape after continued use, giving it perfect scores for support. A few noted that they thought it felt firmer than what they're used to, but they still slept well and wanted to continue using it. They also appreciated its cooling effects, with one praising its "constant cooling" feel.

How we test pillows

All pillows are evaluated in the Good Housekeeping Institute's Textiles Lab. First we check the care labels to see how easy they are to clean (PSA: some are not machine washable!), then we wash them five times to see whether they'll actually hold up to laundering. We also look at how well they fit into a pillowcase and we perform support and recovery tests that mimic the pressure from your head lying on it all night: A weight is left on the pillow for an extended period then we measure how quickly it returns to its original shape.

In addition to Lab testing, we also have real consumer testers try them out for in-depth feedback on things like comfort, support, temperature regulation and more. Testers are assigned a pillow based on an initial survey to make sure they're getting a good match, then they're given weeks to sleep on it before providing both scored and open-ended responses.

What type of pillow is most comfortable?

While there are many types of pillows to choose from, the fill is the most important aspect when it comes to comfort. Here are the key differences between the most common options:

  • Down pillows tend to be the fluffiest, but a combination of down with feather may be firmer and less expensive.

  • Down alternative pillows can still feel soft and offer good support, but they're usually made with synthetic fill so they're more affordable than down.

  • Memory foam pillows are thicker and often firmer. You can choose from solid memory foam or memory foam clusters, which feel plusher to lie on while still offering the support of foam.

  • Latex pillows feel similar to memory foam, but they have more of a bouncy feel with less contouring. Another difference: latex foam is typically made from rubber trees.

  • Hybrid pillows mix foam and fiberfill so you get the best of both categories – i.e. supportive yet plush.

How do I pick the right pillow?

After picking your favorite fill, before you get shopping for a new pillow, here's what to keep in mind as you pick out your best pillow:

✔️ Make sure it's the right height. There's no one-size-fits-all pillow. According to Dr. Baxi, "Your ears should be aligned with your shoulders and your chin faced forward." To achieve this alignment, you'll need to factor in your body size and how you sleep. Here's how to pick your height:

  • Body type: Larger-framed people should use a taller pillow, whereas smaller bodies need something flatter. Medium frames can use something in between.

  • Sleep position: Side sleepers need a higher and more supportive pillow, while stomach sleepers should opt for a lower and softer style. Back sleepers (or anyone who switches positions through the night) should opt for a pillow that's somewhere in the middle.

✔️ Take a look at special features based on your preferences. You can browse for innovative specifications that come with some pillows, like cooling properties if you tend to overheat, or adjustability if you want to personalize firmness level and height.

✔️ Consider any recent health changes. Physical shifts (like weight fluctuation, new aches and pains, or other changes in your body as you age) affect the type of support you need, according to Natalie Dautovich, Ph.D., an environmental scholar at the National Sleep Foundation. If your previously-loved pillow is no longer feeling great, consider trying something new.

✔️ Don't overlook care instructions. Before purchasing a pillow, check the care label to make sure you're willing to wash it as recommended. Most are machine washable, but some are dry clean only, have removable covers, or only allow spot-treating. Your pillow will last longer if you wash it two to four times a year, and if you use a pillow protector to keep it clean and safe from wear.

Why trust Good Housekeeping

Lexie Sachs is the Executive Director of the Textiles, Paper & Apparel Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Fiber Science from Cornell University and more than 15 years experience in the textiles industry, including merchandising and product development for home products. Lexie joined Good Housekeeping in 2013 and has extensively tested all types of bedding —including mattresses, sheets, pillows, comforters and more — using specialized lab equipment and with hundreds of testers.

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