10 Best Pillows to Get Rid of Neck and Back Pain

Lexie Sachs, Good Housekeeping Institute
·11 min read
Photo credit: slumber cloud
Photo credit: slumber cloud

From Good Housekeeping

A good pillow is key to getting restful sleep, but finding the best one is no simple task. With so many options to choose from, it all comes down to your personal preferences for material and your sleep position. Side sleepers should choose a thick, firm pillow; stomach sleepers need a soft, thinner one; and back sleepers need something in between. The goal is to have your head and neck aligned so that when you’re lying down, your neck isn’t tilting in any direction.

"Patients come to me in pain, and I know their pillow isn't keeping their neck aligned with their spine," says Dr. Darren Pollack, chiropractor and medical director of DASHA Wellness & Spa. "Over time, this wear-and-tear can cause muscle stiffness, tendonitis, nerve pain, herniated discs, and more."

Photo credit: Danielle Occhiogrosso Daly
Photo credit: Danielle Occhiogrosso Daly

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 foam, latex, fiberfill, and down, as well as cooling pillows, organic pillows, pregnancy pillows, pillows to cure neck pain, pillows to stop snoring, and more.

When testing pillows, we check how easy they are to clean and whether they'll actually hold up to laundering. We also look at how well they fit into a pillowcase and how they keep their shape after a weight is placed on them all night. Then we have real consumer testers try them out for in-depth feedback on things like comfort, support, temperature regulation and more. All in all, we reviewed over 3,400 data points to find the best pillows to buy for your bed:

Best Overall Pillow

Coop Home Goods Adjustable Pillow

An ideal balance of soft and firm, this pillow is filled with a blend of memory foam pieces and microfiber clusters that feels surprisingly supportive and plush at the same time. It was the top performer in our most recent test and stands out for coming 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 adjust 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. On top of that, our panel of consumer testers all gave it high scores across the board, even saying it helped improve their sleep quality. Not to mention, it's a bestseller on Amazon with over 25,000 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.

Best Value Pillow

AmazonBasics Down Alternative Pillow 2-Pack

To get the most bang for your buck, you can snag this set of two pillows from Amazon's own brand for a fraction of the cost of other individual pillows. The polyester down alternative fill washed well without shrinkage in our tests, making it a solid choice for people with allergies that constantly need to clean their bedding. This variation has a soft density, so it feels plush and is ideal for stomach or back sleepers that need a flatter pillow. It's also a perfect option for kids, who need a lower pillow to match their smaller frames.

Testers told us they especially liked how soft and fluffy this pillow felt, though some wished it were taller and more dense. If you're looking for more support, AmazonBasics also has a gusseted version that has a higher rise to cradle your head and neck. The bottom line: This one outperformed other pillows on the market that cost over triple its price.

Best Down Pillow

Parachute Down Medium Pillow

For those who prefer the real deal, this luxuriously fluffy pick outperformed all other down pillows in our test. Testers raved about its softness and gave it top marks for comfort. One even described it as "absolutely dreamy" and feeling "like a marshmallow." And you don't need to worry about special care instructions: It held up to repeated washings in our test 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.

Best Down Alternative Pillow

Tuft & Needle Down Alternative Pillow Set

Synthetic down is ideal for a lower cost and easy care, and this one did not disappoint. Designed specifically for side and back sleepers, the poly stuffing is lightweight yet still 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.

Our panel was equally impressed with how it stood up to pressure; one 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.

Best Solid Foam Pillow

Tempur-Pedic Neck Pillow

If you prefer firm support, 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 lower 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 those who prefer firm pillows said it felt supportive and great to lie on. It comes in small, medium and large sizes to properly fit different body types and the outer cover is removable and can be machine washed.

Best Foam Cluster Pillow

Layla Kapok Memory Foam Pillow

This pillow is something you have to feel to believe and it earned the highest overall rating 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 with no soreness. It feels surprisingly plush yet supportive thanks to its innovative blend of shredded memory foam with soft and fluffy kapok (a natural fiber that’s similar to cotton).

The brand doesn't specify an intended position, but it’s not too high or too low and we've found that the structure works with multiple sleep styles or for people who often change positions. The major downside for this one is that it's not washable – not even the cover – so we recommend using a pillow protector to help it last.

Best Latex Pillow

Purple Harmony Pillow

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. Besides its support, testers also loved its breathability and each one highlighted the fact that it stayed cool all night long. They also all agreed that they wanted to continue using it after the test.

The pillow bounced shape perfectly in the 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 tests. 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.

Best Gel Pillow

Blu Sleep Ice Gel Pillow

Unlike regular memory foam, gel foam has a cool-to-the-touch feel that may be preferred by hot sleepers. This one also has ventilation throughout for increased airflow. Testers loved these features, but also raved about the support, softness and overall comfort. A few noted that they thought it was flatter than what they're used to, but still said they slept well and wanted to continue using it.

While this one is scent-free, the brand also makes variations with added oils like chamomile and aloe. The cover is removable, but has hand-wash instructions instead of machine washing. Still, it held up when we cleaned it in the Lab.

Best Adjustable Pillow

Brookstone BioSense Layer Adjust Pillow

To help you find your personal best pillow, this one comes with three separate layers – soft, medium and firm – that you can easily add or remove to customize. The soft layer is down alternative, the medium is down alternative with memory foam pieces, and the firm is solid foam. Holding the layers together is a machine washable polyester cover.

Consumer testers loved being able to play around with the different inserts to find a height and feel that was most comfortable to them. Even though it took some guesswork to decide which layers to use and the right order to place them in, they all loved the concept and said they'd continue using it.

Best Organic Pillow

Naturepedic Organic 2-in-1 Latex Pillow

Made using natural latex from the rubber tree, this pillow is certified organic by the Global Organic Latex Standard. 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, the outer cover washed well, and users said it was comfortable, supportive, and kept them at a good temperature.

The latex fill is shredded so you can add or remove it, plus it's two-sided with different fabrics. One 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.

How do I choose the right pillow for me?

Before you get shopping for a new pillow, here's what to keep in mind as you pick out your best pillow:

✔️Get to know the materials. Your pillow's fill is probably the most important aspect. Here's the difference 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 more plush to lie on while still offering the support of foam.

  • Latex pillows feel similar to memory foam foam, but they're made from rubber trees.

  • Hybrid pillows mix foam and fiberfill so you get the best of both categories.

✔️Make sure it's the right height. There's no one-size-fits-all pillow. When you lie down, your head and neck should be aligned without tilting in any direction 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 search for innovative specifications that come with some pillows, like cooling properties if you tend to overheat, or adjustability if you want to change up the firmness level and height from night to night.

✔️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.

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