The 6 Best Orthopedic Pillows for Side Sleepers
If you tend to suffer from neck pain and shoulder pain, an orthopedic pillow is one of the best health investments you can make.
I have to admit, these orthopedic pillows do wonders for my neck. It’s like they know exactly where to target the pain. It’s like they have a little satellite navigation system in there.
Some people were amazed to find problems with the cervical spine (and headaches) almost disappearing after changing their regular pillow to an orthopedic pillow, which provides an aligned neck position – without it bending.
So, which is the best orthopedic pillow for side sleepers? how do you choose one for your needs?
Your pillow is more important than you think. You’ll find everything you need to know below.
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you.
Some people may feel a bit ridiculous paying an above-average price for a pillow.
Whether you are sleeping on your back, your side, or your stomach – the wrong pillow can aggravate or even lead to extreme neck and shoulder pain, headaches, arm numbness, and even sneezing and wheezing.
Plus, your pillow impacts the quality of your sleep and how healthfully you’ll rest and recharge.
- The 6 Best Orthopedic Side Sleeper Pillows (and How to Choose)
- How to Sleep on Your Side – Without Shoulder Pain
- Side Sleeper Pillows FAQ
How Does an Orthopedic Pillow Help Neck and Shoulder Pain?
The goal of using an orthopedic side sleeper pillow is to keep your head in neutral alignment, meaning your head is sitting squarely on your shoulders without bending back or reaching forward. Side sleepers suffering from neck and shoulder pain need a firmer and higher pillow to fill the gap between the ear and outside shoulder.
Sleeping with a too-soft or too-thin pillow will make your head lie too low, creating a downward bend in your neck. A too-thick pillow will create an upward bend.
The ideal neck pain side sleeper pillow provides enough height to keep your spine aligned, but is not too thick to bend your neck upwards out of alignment.
A study conducted by the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine has shown that a cradle pillow with neck support (like the Therapeutica pillow) combines the benefits of standard, cervical, and shoulder pillows, and is most comfortable in terms of head, neck, shoulder, height, and overall comfort.
The 6 Best Orthopedic Side Sleeper Pillows (and How to Choose)
Here are the best side sleeper pillows for neck pain, how to pick a side sleeper pillow, and our detailed reviews (with pros & cons) below:
|Orthopedic Pillow||Bottom Line||Materials||Price|
|Therapeutica Pillow||Best Contoured|
Promotes back sleeping
|Molded foam||✅ $89-$111 at HPFY |
Measure neck size first!
|Comfy Sleep||Best Buckwheat|
|✅ Check Price on Amazon|
|Sleep & Beyond|
MyDual Side Pillow
|Best Eco-Friendly||100% natural Shropshire wool puffs|
|✅ $129-$139 at Sleep & Beyond|
|Saatva Latex Pillow||Best Latex|
|Shredded adjustable Latex|
|✅ $165 at Saatva|
|Coop Home Goods||Best Memory Foam||Shredded memory foam||✅ Best Price on Amazon|
1. Memory Foam Pillows for Side Sleepers – for Support
Memory foam contours to the shape of your head and neck, providing support and helping to maintain proper spinal alignment. They are usually made with synthetic foam, which is firm and durable (though not a natural material).
Memory foam consists of millions of spherical open cells made from polyurethane with additional chemicals added to increase density.
Memory foam pillows are considered “orthopedic” pillows because they are designed to keep your neck and spine aligned, and acquire the shape of the head sleeping on it. They are less likely to flatten.
They are also very helpful for sleep Apnea sufferers, people who tend to snore, and who suffer from lower back pain and insomnia.
Memory Foam Pillows Pros
1. Supportive yet soft.
2. High neck pain-relieving potential.
3. Contoured support.
4. Quiet under all conditions.
5. Won’t clump or shift
6. Low maintenance.
7. Relatively lower price than Buckwheat and latex.
8. Resistance to allergens, anti-microbial
1. Loft/Thickness may not suit your needs, you’ll need to measure your neck size and check that it fits
2. Initial off-gassing, synthetic ingredients.
3. Tend to heat through the night.
4. Average longevity/durability
5. Not “cuddly”
The BEST Memory Foam (Non-Contoured) Pillow for Side Sleepers
The Coop Home Goods Shredded Memory Foam Pillow is possibly the best memory foam (non-contoured) pillow for side sleepers, and here’s why:
1. Though this pillow is made with memory foam, it is shredded so you can fully adjust the height of your pillow, just like with a Buckwheat pillow. It feels like a lumpy flour bag but is not too firm.
2. Contoured memory foam pillows tend to act as heat traps. This pillow allows for greater ventilation and can be custom shaped for all sleeping positions.
4. Made with CertiPur-US Certified visco-elastic Memory Foam.
6. It is hypoallergenic and anti-microbial
7. Guaranteed to not flatten with 5 years warranty
9. It is machine washable.
10. It is made in the USA
Bottom line – this shredded memory foam pillow provides the shapeability and breathability of a down pillow, with the support of Memory Foam.
2. Latex Pillows – for the Natural Materials
Latex pillows tend to be soft yet supportive enough to relieve neck and shoulder pain at night and contour to your head and neck. these pillows are tough. They don’t flatten, they don’t sink, they just bounce back.
Latex (a natural and biodegradable material) does not clump, shift, or develop hollow spots. They maintain their shape and support for 5 years on average with normal use.
Latex Pillows Pros
1. Highly supportive yet soft. For proper alignment, you’ll need an adjustable one!
2. Maintain shape, do not clump, lump, or develop hollow spots.
3. No off-gassing and odors – A high-quality latex pillow is made with 100% natural Latex and an organic cotton cover
4. Hypoallergenic, anti-microbial.
6. Keep cool – they have small holes and interconnecting channels that create a natural ventilation system, allowing heat and moisture to disperse.
7. They are quiet under all conditions.
8. Low maintenance – no need to be shaken or fluffed.
1. Are too dense and heavy to be “cuddly”.
2. May feel like resting your head on a balloon or a big rubber ball.
3. Lower quality pillows may have a rubbery/chemical smell, which goes away after a few days (Or faster if you let it air outside)
The BEST Latex Pillow for Side Sleepers
We admit it’s expensive, but we were looking for the best. Through our research, the Saatva Latex pillow is the best latex pillow for side sleepers with neck & shoulder pain, and here’s why:
1. It is adjustable, so you won’t need to measure your neck size. You can separate the inner pillow from the outer chamber to adjust the pillow’s thickness – depending on how much loft you need.
2. It is filled with 100% American shredded Talalay latex and down alternative.
3. Removable and washable zippered organic cotton cover (certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard)
4. Hypoallergenic and anti-microbial – outer chamber and cover are machine washable.
5. Free airflow – No hot flashes, no moisture.
6. Cushions the shoulder and comfortable
Our runner-up, costing half the price, is the NaturePedic 2-in-1 Adjutable shredded latex pillow – filled with organic shredded latex and covered by an organic cover. It is fully adjustable and has 2 different sides (quilted side/flat side) for a different feel.
3. Buckwheat Pillows – for Tossing and Turning Sleepers
Buckwheat pillows are filled with small, hard hulls that conform to the shape of your head and neck, providing support and helping to maintain proper spinal alignment.
There was a time I thought buckwheat was for making cereal and feeding birds. But then I learned it’s actually a magical filling for pillows that cradles your head and neck like a dream.
These pillows have a zipper, which allows adding or reducing the amount of fill in the pillow – making them the most adjustable pillows you can find.
The curved shape of buckwheat hulls creates airspace within your pillow providing air circulation and breathability. This results in a cool, dry pillow – all night long.
The Buckwheat pillow is made of all-natural ingredients, there is no off-gassing or odors to get rid off.
However, there’s some adjustment period you’ll need to go through. At first, it’s like sleeping on a bag of marbles. Every time you turn over, you hear a symphony of rustling and crunching.
Buckwheat Pillow Pros
1. Generally supportive and contouring
2. High potential for neck pain relief.
3. Adjustable height by adding/removing hulls
4. Good airflow
1. Some noise
2. Too small for some people
3. Too firm for some people, not very cuddly
4. A bit heavy
5. Need experimenting to determine fill quantity.
The Best Buckwheat Pillow for Side Sleepers
Through our research, we’ve found the ComfySleep Buckwheat Pillow (family-owned USA product) to be a good choice for a buckwheat side sleeping pillow.
1. The Husks inside this pillow conform to your head and neck and give you just the right amount of support.
2. It comes with 1 pound extra buckwheat to customize.
3. It’s filled with clean (chemical-free and fumigants-free) buckwheat, grown in the USA, and handmade.
4. Made with organic cotton twill, with an invisible zipper.
5. Good customer service.
6. The pillow stays cool all night
8. Good shoulder support
Though the pillow can make some noise while you toss and turn, the noise doesn’t wake you up and we find it quite soothing actually. Once your head is in position, you won’t move much around anyway.
👉 Cons – We would say that this pillow may feel too small for some people, and the price is not so low. Also, Buckwheat is a type of grass, so if you’re allergic to grass, this may not be the right pillow for you.
Buckwheat Alternative – Wool Puffs
The Sleep & Beyond Dual Side Pillow is filled with highly adjustable pearl-sized puffs of soft and springy 100% natural Shropshire wool, encased in a 100% natural cotton sateen cover.
This 100% natural side sleeper pillow is fully adjustable to any loft you’d like and is ergonomically contoured to align the spine while you sleep.
4. Contoured Pillows for Side Sleepers – for Neck Traction
These things are not messing around. They have ridges, valleys, and peaks, it’s like sleeping on a topographic map of the Grand Canyon.
Also known as cervical traction pillows, contoured pillows have a raised area for the head and a deeper area for the neck, which helps to keep the spine in a neutral position. They are not adjustable and require that you measure your neck and find the right size for you – before you purchase.
Contour pillows are usually firm and might not feel comfortable for some people, but the best ones can actually perform a mild stretch for your neck when you sleep – so you can wake up pain-free in the morning – without any effort.
Best Contoured Pillow for Side Sleepers
Some experts believe that the best pillows for side sleepers with neck and shoulder pain are cervical traction pillows, especially the Therapeutica pillow, which combines standard, cervical, and shoulder pillows – in one full-supporting pillow.
This orthopedic neck pillow gently stretches your neck while you sleep, and keeps your upper spine aligned – no matter your sleep position. It can even help reduce snoring, by keeping your air passages at the optimal height.
If you suffer from a military neck, herniated cervical disc, neck arthritis, or any neck problem – this cervical support pillow can help you ease the pain and even prevent it.
👉 Want to start sleeping on your back? see the best back sleeping pillow for neck pain relief!
How to Sleep on Your Side – Without Shoulder Pain
The compression of your shoulder into a firm, unforgiving mattress, combined with a pillow that is not high enough to align your spine – can restrict blood flow to your arm, resulting in a pins-and-needles feeling and often – shoulder pain or soreness.
To prevent shoulder pain from sleeping on your side you’ll need an orthopedic side sleeper pillow and a memory foam mattress (or a hybrid mattress) that will align your spine and relieve pressure off your shoulder – throughout the night.
I’ve heard some people say it’s more important what you sleep on than who you sleep with 😉
Side Sleeper Pillows FAQ
How Long Do Orthopedic Pillows Last?
The lifespan of an orthopedic pillow depends on the material it is made of and how it is cared for. Memory foam, contoured, and latex pillows may last longer than buckwheat and shredded memory foam pillows. Some manufacturers offer a warranty for flattening of the pillows for up to 5 years.
Can a Pillow Cause Neck Pain?
Side sleepers can suffer from neck pain when they use a soft pillow because the pillow is not high and firm enough to keep the spine aligned. The solution is to change the pillow to an orthopedic pillow, designed to correct spine positioning when sleeping.
What Kind of Pillow Does a Side Sleeper Need?
What is the Best Pillow Height for Side Sleepers?
The best pillow height for side sleepers is the exact size of the neck. This is why you should always measure your neck size before you purchase a contoured pillow. Some pillows’ height is adjustable (such as Buckwheat pillows and shredded memory foam pillows), and some are firm and maintain the same height.
The incredible variety of side sleeping pillows can make your head spin, but now that you’ve seen the most important features of a high-quality side sleeper pillow, the choice is much easier.
The ideal pillows would be fully adjustable, made from hypoallergenic materials, guaranteed to not flatten, and breathable. Our top pick for 2023 is the Coop Home Goods pillow, which excels in all of these parameters.
To your health and happiness,
The Back Pain Relief Products Team
Our team draws sources only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations.
Gordon SJ, Grimmer-Somers KA, Trott PH. Pillow use: the behavior of cervical stiffness, headache and scapular/arm pain. J Pain Res. 2010;3:137-145. Published 2010 Aug 11. doi:10.2147/jpr.s10880
Lee WH, Ko MS. Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. J Phys Ther Sci. 2017;29(6):1021-1024. doi:10.1589/jpts.29.1021