How to choose the Best Pillow for Shoulder Pain Relief and 5 pillow recommendations

Written by: Alex Savy
Read 22 minLast updated July 28, 2020

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

Dreamcloud Contour Pillow
Best Overall

Dreamcloud Contour Pillow
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Sleep Artisan
Best for Cool Sleep

Sleep Artisan
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Level Sleep Restore Pillow
Best for Ergonomic Design

Level Sleep Restore Pillow
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Eden by Coop Home Goods
Best for Adjustable Loft

Eden by Coop Home Goods
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Read more about this pillow
EPABO
Best Budget

EPABO
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Our Reviews of 5 Best Pillows for Shoulder Pain Relief

Best Overall - 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.

Best for Cool Sleep Sleep Artisan

Sleep Artisan

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Highlights

  • curved design for better pain relief;
  • comes overstuffed and has a zipper, so you can adjust the height;
  • very breathable and cooling.

Moving further in this list of the best pillows for shoulder pain, and here’s the model by Sleep Artisan. This pillow with a curved design for proper neck and head support is made to cool down even the chronic hot sleeper, and here’s how.

First, the pillow features a blend of natural shredded latex and poly fibers as the filling. These materials are naturally cool and breathable, and little shredded pieces promote airflow inside the pillow for even better heat dissipation.

Second, the cover feels cool to the touch and absorbs moisture very well. Made of natural cotton, hemp, and poly fibers, it’s also washable, so it will easily withstand active exploitation while being easy to maintain.

The pillow has a medium feel and offers you a great hug, which can reduce the shoulder and neck pain in any sleeping position. The concave design helps maintain proper spine alignment and prevent muscle strains.

The Sleep Artisan could be a great choice for those who are looking for a cool and hypoallergenic pillow and don’t mind experimenting with the thickness.

Best for Ergonomic Design - Level Sleep Restore Pillow

Level Sleep Restore Pillow

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Highlights

  • ergonomic support;
  • adjustable loft;
  • comes with a 1-year trial.

This pillow is included in a list of the best pillows for shoulder pain because it literally stands for its name and can restore the natural spine alignment and bring you the much-needed relief and deep sleep.

Here are the basics: 

You can adjust the loft of the Restore pillow by removing one or two of the three memory foam inserts that are packed inside it. The lowest setting suits stomach sleepers; back and petite side sleepers will appreciate the configuration with two inserts, and the largest loft is a must-try for solid side sleepers, especially those with wide shoulders.

Aside from this, the pillow features an ergonomic construction — because it was initially designed to help snorers combat their issue. It has a slight indentation in the center to hold your head, and two levels of neck support (to switch between them, just rotate the pillow 180 degrees). What’s more, it even has ear wells that can cradle your ears when you sleep on your side.

Now, the pillow is encased in a thick, durable polyester cover that feels pleasant to the touch. The cover helps make your sleep cool and wicks away moisture; plus, when it gets dirty, you can just wash it on a gentle cycle to maintain a fresh look.

So, the Restore pillow could be a great pick for many. If you’re a snorer with shoulder pain, this pillow can address both issues and give you a therapeutic sleeping experience.

Best for Adjustable Loft - Eden by Coop Home GoodsCoop Home Goods

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Highlights

  • adjustable loft, great for combo sleepers;
  • incredibly cradling;
  • washing machine-friendly cover.

No one likes having shoulder pain. But when you’re an active or mixed sleeper, things can get even worse. Since all sleeping positions require a pillow with a different height, it may seem nearly impossible to find a model that will be moldable and easy to adjust. That’s why I’ve added the Eden Coop Home Goods in this list of the best pillows for shoulder pain.

This pillow is filled with gel-infused memory foam shreds, so you can expect both exceptional moldability and some cooling during sleep. The Eden contours your head very closely and supports the neutral alignment of the neck in any position.

Depending on your sleep preferences, you can remove some amount of the fill or add it from the extra bag the pillow comes with, to make your pillow firmer or softer. The default feel is medium to medium-firm, which is perfect for back sleepers and heavy individuals.

The outer cover is made with bamboo rayon, which makes it incredibly soft to the touch and cool. It will enhance the breathability of the pillow and help it wick away moisture throughout the night. Besides, the cover really looks nice, which is a plus if you’re not planning to use an additional pillowcase.

 

To sum it up, it’s a comfortable pillow that can be adjusted to any sleeping position while still offering you support and relieving shoulder pain and stiffness.

Best Budget - EPABOEPABO

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Highlights

  • cervical design;
  • adjustable height;
  • available in Standard and Queen size.

Comfortable sleep should be a priority, but it doesn’t mean that you should spend all your money on it. And the EPABO proves you that: its cervical design and incredible pressure-relieving properties come at a very affordable price. I think this is a good reason to include it in this list of the best pillows for shoulder pain.

So, the pillow has a 4.7” loft that can suit most side and back sleepers. However, if you sleep on your tummy or just want your pillow to be lower, you can easily adjust it by removing a piece of foam at the bottom of the central part. This will make the EPABO more suitable for tummy sleeping or users with narrow shoulders.

The cervical design of the pillow removes the pressure put on the shoulder by properly positioning the neck. This may help even with chronic shoulder pain and can bring relief regardless of your favorite sleeping position.

Finally, the EPABO is encased in a quality-made pillowcase with a cute diamond pattern. Along with being pleasant to the touch, the pillowcase absorbs moisture and keeps the pillow breathable. It’s also machine washable, which makes the maintenance a bit easier.

If I didn’t know the real price of the EPABO, I would’ve never thought that it’s a budget-friendly option. The pillow does its job just fine and will bring you relief from your shoulder pain in no time.

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 (2020) 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.

FAQ

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.

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.

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/

Our research

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Pillows Considered

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Hours of Research

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Sleep Experts Consulted

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