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How to choose the Best Pillow for Shoulder Pain Relief and 6 pillow recommendations

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Written by: Alex Savy
Read 22 minLast updated on August 20, 2021

Nagging pain in your shoulders can easily ruin your sleep and wreck your mood, it’s a fact.

But what if I told you that you could minimize painful sensations or completely get rid of them if you just replace your pillow? Yes, this small bedding accessory — when selected based on your body needs — can do wonders.

So, sit down and check out my reviews of the best pillows for shoulder pain as well as a buying guide below, which will hopefully help you find the perfect fit.

A Quick Preview

GhostPillow
Best Overall - Editor’s Choice

GhostPillow
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Saatva Latex Pillow
Best Natural Latex Pillow for Shoulder Pain

Saatva Latex Pillow
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Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep
Best Memory Foam Pillow for Shoulder Pain

Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep
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Zoma Pillow
Best for Pinpoint Support

Zoma Pillow
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Vaya Pillow
Best Budget Pick

Vaya Pillow
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Dreamcloud Contour Pillow
Best for Effective Contouring

Dreamcloud Contour Pillow
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Our Reviews of 6 Best Pillows for Shoulder Pain Relief

Best Overall - Editor’s Choice — GhostPillow

GhostPillow

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Highlights

  • shredded memory foam filling for effortless thickness adjustments;
  • proprietary Ghost Ice cover for improved air circulation during sleep;
  • close conforming to aid weight redistribution and tension alleviation.

What gives the GhostPillow the right to be among the best pillows for shoulder pain is its smart design. This model is adjustable, which means it can work for pretty much any sleeping style. You can tailor the GhostPillow to your specific needs by unzipping the cover and either adding or removing the shredded filling. And here’s the best part: the memory foam bits are super adaptive. They can cradle your shoulders and redistribute the pressure, thus reducing the pain levels.

Another characteristic I really appreciate is the cover material. The GhostPillow feels so cool to the touch that I didn’t even want to put a pillow cover on. Combined with the breathable filling, it makes the GhostPillow suited for hot sleepers seeking something temperature-neutral.

Best Natural Latex Pillow for Shoulder Pain — Saatva Latex Pillow

Saatva Latex Pillow

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Highlights

  • 45-day return window for improved customer satisfaction;
  • dual-layer construction to achieve a balanced combo of support and padding;
  • natural latex core to promote proper pressure redistribution.

Looking for the best pillow for shoulder pain but don’t want to deal with potential foam off-gassing? Then you might want to consider a natural latex pillow by Saatva. This model is 100% safe even for sensitive sleepers (take it from me, a person who regularly deals with environmental allergies and can’t stand even a bit of chemical smells). Additionally, latex does an excellent job of reducing tension from one’s neck and shoulders. Naturally, less pressure build-up often means less pain too.

Aside from the latex core, the Saatva pillow also uses a layer of microdenier fiber. It’s a type of polyester that is much finer (and thus, more breathable) than regular poly-fiber. This layer of padding is quite thick and cradling. It gives the Saatva pillow a rather balanced feel, offering gentle cushioning for the neck and shoulders. At the same time, it does not compromise the supportive properties of the latex core. Which is probably why the Saatva pillow made me feel super comfortable in all sleep positions.

Best Memory Foam Pillow for Shoulder Pain — Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep

Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep

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Highlights

  • open-cell Bio-Pur filling for increased breathability and cooler sleep;
  • medium loft to accommodate a wider range of sleepers;
  • zippered cover for easy cleaning.

I would like to start this review of the best pillows for shoulder pain with the Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep, and there are more than enough reasons for this choice. First of all, this model delivers targeted support thanks to its adaptive filling material. As a result, the Comfort Classic can contour the curves of one’s neck and shoulders. This leads to reduced tension and consequently, less pain. I tested the Amerisleep pillow sleeping on one side and the back, and I felt pressure-free all through the night. This proves that my neck and shoulders were properly supported.

I was also surprised that this pillow did not make me sleep warmer than usual. That’s the trick Amerisleep’s Bio-Pur filling does. This plant-based foam is very breathable thanks to its open-cell structure. As a result, it allows for proper air circulation and cooler sleep. Chances are, you won’t have to flip this pillow to sleep on the colder side.

Best for Pinpoint Support — Zoma Pillow

Zoma Pillow

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Highlights

  • ventilated cover for extra breathability and cooler sleep;
  • proprietary MicroCushions to guarantee proper support and adaptive cradling;
  • 10-year warranty for long-lasting customer protection.

When searching for the best pillow for shoulder pain, it’s crucial to get something that could effectively prevent tension build-up. And the Zoma pillow can do that easily thanks to its MicroCushions fill. It is highly adaptive and cradling, which can lead to fast relaxation and pressure relief. I mean, the second my head touched this pillow, I felt completely tension-free.

And since the MicroCushions filling is very adaptive, this pillow is easy to adjust according to your sleeping style. For example, I could fluff it up a bit and make it loftier when sleeping on one side. For back sleeping, I redistributed the filling evenly to make the Zoma a bit flatter. Needless to say, this shape-shifting pillow should work for a wide variety of sleepers and different sleep positions.

Best Budget Pick Vaya Pillow

Vaya Pillow

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Highlights

  • 10-year warranty for unparalleled customer protection;
  • shredded memory foam filling to achieve effective cradling and tension alleviation;
  • adjustable height to offer more comfort variations to different types of users.

Who says the best pillow for shoulder pain has to cost a fortune? The Vaya pillow is here to prove otherwise. This model can boast of exceptional quality, smart construction, and a very attractive price tag. The Vaya pillow does not sacrifice comfort for affordability. It offers just the right amount of support to keep the neck and the shoulders aligned while gently cradling them. As a result, the Vaya made me feel weightless and with zero tension in my shoulders all through the night.

Another thing that sets the Vaya pillow apart is the 10-year warranty it comes with. That’s something no other model on this list can compete with (except for the Comfort Classic Pillow by Amerisleep). Such an impressive warranty cover means the manufacturer stands behind their product’s quality. And to tell the truth, the Vaya pillow does seem very well-made. The fabric feels sturdy, the stitching is extra neat, and the pillow has a rather solid feel to it overall.

Best for Effective Contouring — Dreamcloud Contour Pillow

Dreamcloud Contour Pillow

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Highlights

  • adjustable height;
  • contoured design;
  • washable cover.

If you have chronic shoulder pain, you might need a pillow that would be able to relieve it on a daily basis. And this model by Dreamcloud can do just that. Its contoured design prevents strains in your neck and shoulder and supports natural spine alignment in any position.

The 7-inch loft feels right for most back and side sleepers. However, you can adjust the pillow by removing or adding one or several memory foam inserts.

The cradling effect makes the Dreamcloud one of the best pillows for shoulder pain. It’s possible thanks to the soft and responsive memory foam that instantly molds to your body and quickly adjusts as you’re shifting between positions. The foam is pretty dense, too, so you can expect a long lifespan.

Finally, the pillow is easy to maintain. To refresh it, you should simply take away the cover and wash it on a gentle cycle, then dry on the lowest setting. The cover feels soft to the touch and seems pretty well-made, so it can withstand years of active use.

Overall, the Dreamcloud would be perfect for mixed side and back sleepers who may have stiff shoulders. It can instantly relieve the stiffness and promote deep relaxation and faster doze-off.

Why Does Shoulder Pain Appear?

Before we dive into the details of choosing the right pillow for shoulder pain, let’s try to understand this condition a bit better and see why a simple change of a pillow might help you deal with it.

The shoulder is a complex yet very fragile joint. If one of the numerous tendons and deep muscles, that support the shoulder joint, gets inflamed or injured, painful sensations and limited mobility may be experienced.

Now, all the causes of shoulder pain can be divided into two large groups: medical and non-medical. 

Medical causes include:

  • tendinitis;
  • tendon tears;
  • Impingement and Instability;
  • joint dislocation;
  • swollen bursa sacs;
  • Arthritis;
  • spinal cord injuries.

Also, if you have problems in the cervical spine, the pain may spread into your shoulders.

Most of the medical causes result in chronic shoulder pain and require doctor supervision.

Non-medical causes are typically connected to such things as:

  • Posture problems. According to Bulas (2021) from the Buffalo Rehab Group, continuous spine misalignment during daily activities may cause some nerves in the cervical and chest regions to get squeezed. These nerves go through the upper body, so when they become pinched, you may start to experience shoulder and arm pain.
  • Repetitive actions and shoulder joint load. If you work with your hands, your shoulders might get overly tired and start to hurt. An older study in 2002 suggests that workplace repetitive actions are highly intercorrelated with shoulder pain.
  • Unsuitable mattress or pillow. When your pillow and mattress don’t support your body properly, your shoulders may go out of alignment, which might lead to pain and stiffness.

"Even if you think a non-medical cause might be causing your shoulder pain, we recommend asking your doctor about it. They may be able to rule out medical causes and recommend pain remedies." says Debra Henline Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI. 

Does Your Sleep Position Affect Shoulder Pain?

The way you sleep can either give you the best shut-eye in your life or turn you into an aching and grumpy human being. When it comes to choosing a good pillow for shoulder pain relief, your sleeping position should be the first thing to consider.

So, let me briefly explain to you how each sleeping position affects your shoulders:

  • Back sleeping. This sleeping position is considered the healthiest for your spine, as it helps maintain proper alignment and relax all the muscles. Speaking of shoulder pain, sleeping in the supine position on a slightly elevated surface — say, by using a wedge-shaped pillow — may decrease the pressure on the scapulae and reduce shoulder pain, even if they are caused by arthritis or another chronic condition. The optimal firmness level for back sleepers with shoulder pain is medium.
  • Side sleeping. There’s a hypothesis that the lateral sleeping position is the most detrimental to your shoulders. When you sleep on your side, you literally put your body weight on the shoulder. And if you’re a large sleeper — or, if your mattress is on the firmer side — your shoulder will have to withstand even more pressure. The good news is, if you choose a thick and firm pillow, the impact of the body weight on your shoulder belt will decrease, helping you sleep comfortably. Note that the width of your shoulder’s matters — your pillow should fill the space between your head and the mattress surface completely.
  • Stomach sleeping. This position has a highly negative impact on your lower back and neck. Since overstrained neck muscles and pinched nerves in the cervical spine may indirectly affect shoulders, it’s better to avoid stomach sleeping at all. If you can’t do so, at least use a thin and moldable pillow to ensure that your neck won’t be awkwardly curved.

Mixed sleepers can monitor what sleeping positions they choose more often and choose the pillow based on that.

 

Best and Worst Types of Pillows for Shoulder Pain Reviewed

Most of the manufacturers today update their pillow line-up from time to time, which can turn the process of finding the best pillow for shoulder pain into a daunting task.

I’ve got a pro tip for you.

Start with defining the materials!

That’s what never changes. Here are the most common materials used in pillows, listed starting from the one that works for shoulder pain most effectively:

  • Solid latex. A solid chunk of latex may offer the right amount of comfort and support for your head and neck, and it’s actually claimed the best pillow for neck and scapular pain relief, according to a recent study.
  • Solid memory foam. Solid memory foam is cradling and comfortable. Such pillows are particularly great for those sleeping on the side. Although most of them have a fixed height, some models come with removable inserts, which allows you to adjust the loft for your comfort.
  • Memory foam shreds. Standard viscoelastic or gel-infused shredded foam is the most popular filling for pillows. There are several reasons for that: this material has all the advantages of the standard memory foam, such as pressure relief and moldability, but it won’t disappoint you with poor thermoregulation. Also, shredded memory foam is fluffier and can adjust to your head shape better than the solid foam chunk.
  • Latex shreds. Very similar to the previous material, latex shreds can be made either from natural latex or latex blends. The latter is not so different from the standard memory foam and has roughly the same features and downsides. Natural latex shreds, on the other hand, can offer you much cooler sleep, as well as better durability and moldability, which could be a plus for individuals with chronic shoulder pain or those who are prone to hot sleeping.
  • Buckwheat hulls. Odorless, hypoallergenic, and breathable, buckwheat hulls can mold to your head and neck and give you great pain relief. It may take time to get used to their specific feel, as the hulls may seem a bit too rigid at first. Not everyone likes this.
  • Natural down and fiberfill down alternatives. Natural and synthetic down pillows are incredibly lightweight and fluffy. They create a soft cocoon around your head and neck, adapting to your body temperature so that you wouldn’t sleep hot. However, studies found that feather and down pillows might be the least effective for users with shoulder and neck pain because they’re too soft and moldable and may not provide the needed support.

Bottom line?

I’d recommend you go for shredded memory foam or latex. You will be able to easily fluff such a pillow and adjust it to get the comfort and shoulder pain relief you want.

Things to Consider When Shopping for a Suitable Pillow for Shoulder Pain

Finally, let’s add some final touches to the idea of your perfect pillow, which you have probably formed in your mind by now. 

Here are a few more things you should consider tailoring your choice to your sleeping needs:

  • Adjustable loft. Pillows with the regulated height and firmness level are the best, in my opinion. You can adjust them to any sleeping preferences in minutes, which lowers the chances of waking up with shoulder pain. 
  • Gusset. A gusset is a piece of fabric around the perimeter that allows you to make the pillow higher. This may result in better pain relief for side sleepers who are more prone to experiencing shoulder pain. Pillows with a gusset can also distribute your head’s weight better. Aside from that, they often come with an adjustable height. You may want to choose models with mesh gussets for additional air circulation during sleep.
  • Firmness. Now, I have mentioned how your sleep position could be connected with your pillow’s firmness level earlier. But let’s sum it up. Side sleepers typically need a firmer pillow that won’t give in under their head’s weight, causing misalignment. Stomach sleepers benefit the most from a thin, soft pillow that won’t create awkward curves in their neck, thus straining shoulder muscles. Back sleepers are recommended to use medium firmness to keep their shoulders relaxed.
  • Thermoregulation. Low temperatures make sleep more restorative, which can help you heal faster and reduce shoulder pain, especially if it was caused by an injury. Give your preference to natural materials or choose gel-infused synthetic foams that have a better cooling effect than non-infused ones.
  • Pressure relief. When it comes to shoulder pain, one of the sleepers’ priorities should be pressure alleviation. After all, when there’s no tension build-up, the pain levels may drop as well. Pressure-relieving pillows for shoulder pain should be able to gently cradle the head, neck, and shoulders while allowing the tension to spread out evenly. In this case, memory foam and latex models usually perform the best.
  • Size. The size of the pillow can play a crucial role for active and combination sleepers. Such users typically require larger pillows in order to enjoy proper support. After all, moving around during sleep can mean that sometimes one’s head, neck, and shoulders can end up on the edge of the pillow (or even on the mattress). And that could lead to misalignment and thus, aggravated shoulder pain.

F.A.Q.

What type of pillow is best for shoulder pain?

Specialists recommend cervical pillows made of cradling materials, such as memory foam or latex to relieve shoulder pain.

Can a pillow cause shoulder pain?

Yes, if it doesn’t suit your sleeping style or body type. For instance, if the pillow is too firm, it can cause extra pressure on the shoulders, which often leads to pain. And an overly soft pillow could cause misalignment. This, in its turn, may also affect the pressure build-up in the shoulder.

What is the most important consideration when it comes to choosing a pillow for shoulder pain?

The right combination of support and pressure relief is the most crucial aspect. A good pillow for shoulder pain has to correspond with your sleeping style (in terms of firmness). At the same time, it also has to redistribute the tension evenly by adapting to the shape of your body.

Conclusion


A properly chosen pillow may help you significantly reduce or completely alleviate shoulder pain and bring back painless sleep into your life.

To make the most of your purchase, make sure to choose a pillow made of latex or memory foam, preferably with solid filling, or the one with an adjustable loft. Cooling gel infusions and a breathable cover will also improve your sleeping experience.

As for me, I already know which pillow I would love to use every single night - the GhostPillow. This model has everything to ensure pain-free rest. It uses adaptive shredded foam that adjusts to the sleeper’s body and thus, redistributes the tension properly. This, in its turn, aids pain alleviation. Additionally, the GhostPillow allows for loft adjustments, which means it could work for any sleeper type. And as a nice bonus, this model sleeps cool and can boast of impressive quality. To me, that sounds like an ideal set of features.

How about you? Have you picked your personal favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

References

Hviid Andersen, J., Kaergaard, A., Frost, P., Frolund Thomsen, J., Peter Bonde, J., Fallentin, N., Borg, V., & Mikkelsen, S. (2002). Physical, psychosocial, and individual risk factors for nect/shoulder pain with pressure tenderness in themucsles among workers perfoming monotonous, repetive work. Spine 27(6), 660-667. https://journals.lww.com/spinejournal/Abstract/2002/03150/Physical,_Psychosocial,_and_Individual_Risk.17.aspx

Bulas, M. (2020). Is posture the cause of your shoulder pain? https://buffalorehab.com/blog/is-posture-the-cause-of-your-shoulder-pain/


OrthoInfo (n.d.). Shoulder pain and common shoulder problems. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shoulder-pain-and-common-shoulder-problems/

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