Pillow Talk - Selecting the Best Pillow to Avoid Neck Pain
Insights To Help Get You Back To Your Life.

About The Author

Share This Post

Pillow Talk – Selecting the Best Pillow to Avoid Neck Pain

Authored by Dr. Colin Haines, MD. August 24, 2021

There’s nothing better than resting your head on the pillow after a long day — unless you’ve selected the wrong pillow. With 70% of Americans experiencing neck pain at some point in their lives, this is a topic we revisit often. But finding that perfect pillow seems both as difficult and rewarding a task as finding the fountain of youth! This is especially true for those suffering from neck pain. So how do you choose a pillow that is right for you? Here are my tips for choosing the right pillow for a restful, pain-free night’s sleep.

Understanding Why Spinal Alignment Matters When Sleeping

It is important to understand that the spine is divided into three main sections — the neck (cervical spine) is at the top, followed by the mid-back (thoracic spine) in the middle, and finally, the low back (lumbar spine) is at the bottom just above the sacrum and tailbone. Each of these three sections (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) has a natural curve in opposite directions when looking from the side profile view. Together they create your spinal alignment. If one or more of these curves decrease in size over time (due to a normal aging process, chronic poor posture, or as a result of a traumatic event), overall malalignment can result. This can lead to difficulty maintaining that horizontal gaze, which can be painful and cause muscle fatigue. Therefore, it is very important to do what you can to maintain good posture during the day and while you sleep.

Determine Your Sleep Position

Since the shape of our bodies can vary tremendously, you can imagine that the size of our spinal curves will differ too. And in correlation with those two factors, our preference for sleep position will vary from person to person as well. Some people prefer to sleep in one particular position for their whole night’s rest, either on their back, side or on their stomach. While others move around when they sleep and need a pillow that can be used no matter what position they are in.  

So first determine which position(s) you sleep in, then imagine how the natural curve in your neck needs to be supported in that particular position. For example: if you sleep on your back, you need enough support in that reverse ‘C’ curve to support this area while you sleep. The right amount of support will keep your eyes looking at the ceiling. While too much support will force your chin to your chest, which is a posture we need to avoid!  

Picking Out the Correct Pillow

Once you feel comfortable with your understanding of your sleep position and maintaining spinal alignment, then I recommend going to a reputable site that reviews hundreds of pillows to create a “best of” list, such as Forbes. There you will find a breakdown of the advantages of each of the top pillows they found, based on consumer reviews. These pillows usually range in price from about $40-$100. They have a variety of materials, such as memory foam, down feathers, cooling mesh, ventilated gel, organic filling, and even water pillows. Some are adjustable, and others come with different size options. There are even some that come with a money-back guarantee, which is especially nice because you can try it out a bit before you decide if it’s right for you.

Does the Pillow Choice Really Make a Difference?

While most quality pillows last between 1-3 years, your spine needs to last you a lifetime. Purchasing a new pillow is an investment worth making. The correct support for your specific spine is what will keep neck pain at bay. There is no ‘one pillow fits all’, and your back and neck will definitely thank you when you wake up every morning feeling refreshed and recharged for the day ahead of you. 

If you do start to feel the aches and pains from sleeping on a bad or worn-out pillow, make sure you make it a priority to find a new one. And if that new one still doesn’t help you out like it should, schedule a consultation with one of our physicians at Virginia Spine Institute. We can make sure there are no underlying issues or conditions that have been left untreated. 

There is just nothing better than a good night’s sleep. Waking up feeling well-rested and refreshed not only starts the day off right but may also give you that extra energy boost to engage in other healthy habits, like exercising and eating well. Getting a good night’s rest should happen every night, so don’t let back or neck pain stop you from getting that.

Dr. Colin Haines is a board certified spine surgeon and the Director of Research at Virginia Spine Institute. Dr. Haines performed the world’s first combined endoscopic and robot-guided spine surgery. His patient success has earned him a national feature on The Today Show and WebMD, and Top Doctor recognition in consecutive years.. Learn more about Dr. Haines.

Schedule Your Consult


Reviewed by: Dr. Colin Haines, MD.

Reviewed by: Dr. Colin Haines, MD.

About The Author

Dr. Colin Haines, MD

Share This Post

Other videos on this topic

Find out Why Patients are Traveling to Virginia Spine Institute to Get Their Life Back

Hear Why Patients Chose Virginia Spine Institute to Get Their Life Back

As Seen On Fox 5’s ‘Good Morning DC’: VSI Patient Shares Why She Made Her Spine Health a Priority

The Today Show Features Patient Who Found Relief to Chronic Pain at Virginia Spine Institute

As Seen on ABC News: Virginia Spine Institute Among 1st in the World to Perform Augmented Reality Surgery

As Seen On Good Morning Washington: Dr. Haines Discusses Working From Home Tips for Parents and Kids

Self Isolation Side Effects Addressed by VSI Doctors – Featured on CBS Affiliate WLKY Louisville

Overcoming Back Pain: New Patient Process

Tips to Alleviate Back Pain While Working from Home

The Risks of Waiting to Get Spine Treatment

As Seen on WUSA9: How to properly set up an at-home work station to avoid back pain

Common Causes for Neck Pain

Common Reasons to Visit a Spine Surgeon

Dr. Schuler Provides Hope for Those Suffering With Back or Neck Pain.

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?

What is a Lumbar Spinal Fusion?

What is Flatback Syndrome?

Adult Scoliosis Treatments

What is Spinal Stenosis?

What is Spondylolisthesis?

What is an Annular Tear?

What is Sciatica?

What is a Lumbar Disc Replacement?

Tips to Avoid Back Pain During the Winter Months

FOX 5 DC: On Boosting Your Immune System Amid Coronavirus Fears

3 Most Common Causes of Back Pain

4 Sleep Tips To Protect Your Back

Advances in Motion-Preserving Surgery for Neck Pain and Cervical Spine Conditions

Spine Conditions That Cause Neck Pain

What To Expect After Spine Surgery

3 Ways to Keep Your Spine Healthy

3 Options for Your Artificial Disc Replacement

Spinal Champion, Rita

Spinal Champion Omar’s Medical Diagnosis & Treatment

What is a Disc Herniation?

Avoiding & Treating Constipation After Spine Surgery

EMG for Diagnostic Testing

Sacroiliitis: Back Pain, Hip Pain, or Radiating Pain

Cortisone Injections for Spinal Conditions

Dr. Schuler Performs First M6-C™ Artificial Cervical Disc Replacement in DC-Metro

Spine Surgeon Dr. Schuler Becomes a Spine Surgery Patient. Follow his journey…

What is Scoliosis?

Surgical Scoliosis Treatments

The Spine Surgery that Helped Tiger Woods Get Back on the Golf Course

What is an Artificial Disc Replacement?

What To Bring To The Hospital Before Surgery

When Is Spinal Surgery Necessary For Back or Neck Pain?

When You Should See a Specialist for Back or Neck Pain

When To Call Your Doctor After Surgery

WUSA9 ‘Great Day Washington’ on World Spine Day

Schedule Your Consultation