In addition to sleep position, personal preference and comfort are key considerations for finding the right pillow. As with many treatments for neck pain and stiffness, finding the right pillow is often a process of trial and error.

See Best Pillows for Different Sleeping Positions

When determining personal preference, the following features should be considered:

  • Cervical pillows, also sometimes called orthopedic pillows, have a distinctive shape. There is a higher area where the neck is supported, then the pillow dips where the head is supported. The pillow may be made with memory foam. For some, these cervical pillows are more comfortable if they are turned upside down—so the concave side is flipped to face down at the mattress. These pillows tend to draw strong reactions, with some people enthusiastic about the results and others finding them uncomfortable.
  • Feather pillows can be easily manipulated to offer support where it is needed. This can be especially helpful for those who change sleep positions frequently.
  • Memory foam is designed to conform to the head, holding it in place.

Whatever pillow is selected, it should be flexible enough to move with the body. The body should not have to adapt to the pillow.

Finally, for those recovering from a neck injury or flare-up of a cervical spine condition, different types of pillows may be more comfortable at different stages of the recovery, so it is a good idea to have multiple pillows to choose from to allow for change.

See Different Types of Pillows


Neck Comfort Is Key

Neck pain and pillow use has not been extensively studied by medical researchers. The variety of pillows studied and the number of participants has generally been limited.

Without clear medical evidence supporting one type of pillow over another, personal comfort and pain management are the best guide. If the pillow is uncomfortable or results in pain or stiffness, it is time to try a new or different type of pillow.

See How to Treat a Stiff Neck After Sleeping


Selecting the best pillow may take some time. Discount and department stores offer an array of pillow options in many price ranges. Shoppers should be open to trying out different types, and check the store return policy before buying to be sure the pillow can be returned if it doesn’t work out.

Ron Miller is a licensed physical therapist with more than 20 years of experience specializing in spine care. He helped develop the physical therapy department at the NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, where he focuses on manual therapy, spinal stabilization, and therapeutic exercises.