The best pillow for neck pain is as straight-forward as one would hope. In fact, the best pillow is going to be different for everyone, but you can easily figure out the one that's best 'for you.' In general, this study shows that some patients with headaches and neck pain can benefit from a neck-supported pillow. The idea is that while there is no one "optimal" posture, if you're spending an extended period in one position, the opposite position (think neck forward versus backward) can become limited or problematic to achieve.
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For many of us, we tend to be on a screen, sitting down and doing some combination of the two with a lot of forward heads and downward looking. While this in and of itself isn't problematic, the amount of time per position is usually the issue. This creates the general discomforts and symptoms we have which is then usually further compounded with our pillows flexing our necks even more. The best pillows for neck pain are the ones you can actually use without pain, sometimes that's none - for a short while. Obviously the goal is to use whatever pillow you want, but sometimes for the short term it can be beneficial to find a long duration stretch into a more upright posture. Think how gravity and relaxation can help to bring your head and upper back closer to the bed as you lay - mattress softness dependent.
When it comes down to the neck pain, headaches and other bodily symptoms the cause is usually not the sleeping position or what you're doing for that time period. It is a cumulative effect of the years leading up to the moment we are experiencing, what have you done for exercise? Did you experience some symptoms one day and over time built a habit of less and less exercise? Did you get busy with work and family and there's just no time to exercise? It's all the same outcome, the symptoms you are experiencing now; which is why it drives me wild when I hear patients took an extra 6 months to get to me because they were told to just rest and try some stretching.
To recap - the best pillows of 2022 and beyond are the ones that let you get a restful night sleep, if you're having neck pain it's probably due to somethings you're doing while you're awake - though a thick pillow can easily force excessive bend which could contribute to symptoms as well. Try these 3 exercises for your neck and symptoms, if you're also having jaw pain, then these exercises should ease those as well.
Jarred Tobin PT, DPT