The Best Pillows For Shoulder Pain, According To Experts

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The best pillows for shoulder pain provide some — but not too much — support for the head and neck while allowing you to maintain a neutral alignment. With cloudlike fibers and shredded latex known for its contouring properties, the Saatva Latex Pillow is our top choice, as it is likely to suit a variety of sleepers. However, “personal comfort is the determining factor,” says American Physical Therapy Association spokesperson Colleen Louw, MPT, MEd. “You want to provide support to the head and neck without straining the tissues or muscles in the shoulder.”

Orthopedic shoulder and elbow surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Sonntag, D.O. and double-board-certified anesthesiologist and interventional chronic pain management physician Dr. Christopher Annis, M.D. both note that while a pillow alone isn’t often the direct source of shoulder pain, it can exacerbate the pain from an underlying condition. “So ultimately, a bad pillow can cause shoulder pain, and a good pillow can help alleviate it,” Sonntag says. Ahead, the best pillows for shoulder pain including options for all budgets, and in various loft heights and firmness levels.

With an entire content library dedicated to mattress and bedding guides, the Forbes Vetted team knows a thing to two about the benefits of good sleep and how to make every night better than the last. In addition to hours of research, we also personally test a ton of sleep products, including the Leesa Original Hybrid Mattress and the best pillows for side sleepers.

The writer of this story, Bre Richey, has almost a decade of experience covering sleep, kitchen products and parenting. She’s broken down the reasons why you should choose a king-size versus a queen-size mattress, rounded up the best soft mattress toppers and more. In addition to Forbes Vetted, her work has been featured on the Chicago Tribune, the New York Daily News, the Hill and other outlets.

Finding the right pillow to alleviate your shoulder pain is highly personalized and based on a ton of factors, including where your pain generator originates. For expert insight on choosing the best pillows for shoulder pain, I interviewed several sources.

I relied heavily on our experts’ advice when selecting the best pillows for shoulder pain. For example, after getting feedback from our medical experts who have hands-on knowledge about shoulder pain, I knew that some of the most important attributes to consider are filling and firmness level.

Annis says, “Most importantly, you may have to try one or two pillows before you figure out which one is right for you.” So, the majority of pillows on our list have a generous trial period and warranty. We also continue to update this story regularly to ensure all the information is always up to date. This story was last updated by Bre Richey in April 2024.

Because each person has unique needs, no specific loft size recommendation is suitable for all. However, both Annis and Louw agree that a pillow that allows you to maintain a neutral spinal alignment is best. So, your ideal loft height varies depending on your size and sleeping position. While Annis notes a general lack of literature on the topic, “A 2021 article in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine showed that a pillow height of 7 to 11 centimeters of the ‘unloaded central part of the pillow’ along with a cooling surface was optimal.”

Each expert interviewed agrees that a firm pillow is more helpful than their plush counterparts. Louw notes, “You should avoid sleeping on your stomach and try to sleep on your back or on the side of the shoulder not in pain or injured, with the other shoulder and arm properly supported. A medium or firm pillow is best in those positions.” Annis and Sonntag agree that you should look for “ones that are made with a slightly firmer material, but are not overly firm and will adjust to the pressure of the head depending on position.”

“Pillows that allow for an individual’s body habitus to keep a neutral alignment have been shown to offer the best support,” says Annis. “That said, U-shaped and B-shaped pillows have a contour design that keeps the head-neck-shoulder complex in a manner similar to natural, comfortable dimensions.”

When looking for a pillow that best supports your shoulders, Louw says, “The shoulders must rest in a position where the joint stays open and blood can flow freely. When blood supply is compromised, pain will typically return and wake people up.”

Alongside a firmness level that adjusts to your weight without sinking in too much, finding the best pressure relief for your shoulder pain is highly dependent on your sleeping position. Annis notes that the average individual unconsciously changes their posture about 24 times per night. “If one’s shoulder pain is caused by a primary shoulder pathology such as rotator cuff issues or arthritis, sleeping supine is best. However, if the shoulder pain is coming from a cervical spine issue, then sometimes keeping the neck in a neutral alignment by lying on one’s side provides better rest.”

Louw concurs that side and back sleeping are typically the best positions to relieve pressure. “The most important thing for shoulder pain is that it rests in a ‘soft’ position — keeping the shoulder and elbow up in the same plane so the shoulder cannot roll forward or downward, which keeps blood flowing and cannot be ‘tweaked’ off from blood supply.”