Say Goodbye to Restless Nights With the Best Pillows for Shoulder Pain
Tossing and turning? Dream on.
Published Apr 19, 2022 1:00 AM
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Reading up on Domino’s shopping guides is like having your own personal product concierge. We do the tedious part—deep-dive research, hands-on testing, and tapping experts for advice—so all you have to do is hit “add to cart.” That’s why we call them Simply the Best.
It’s easy to get caught up in the design details of your home—adding a gorgeous antique headboard or a plush shag rug—while failing to take function into consideration. This is especially true in your bedroom, a space you retreat to at the end of the day to disconnect from the world and relax. That’s why comfort should be priority number one, especially for those of us who are side sleepers and, as a result, more prone to shoulder issues.
“When it comes to choosing pillows, it’s important to not only look at what might be supportive for your neck and shoulders, but what is the most comfortable individually and what matches your preferred sleeping position,” says Dr. Leonidas Scantalides, a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist at On Point Sports Care. “You’ll want something that provides enough support to fill in the contours of your neck while keeping a neutral (not too flexed/extended and/or rotated/side bent) head position that creates space for your shoulder to move freely.”
With this guidance in mind, we rounded up seven of the best pillows for shoulder pain, ranging in size, material, price, and—perhaps most important—firmness level.
- Best overall: Avocado Organic Luxury Plush Pillow
- Best value: Overstock Sandwich Foam and Bamboo Pillow
- Best memory foam: Irving Home Collection Gel Memory Foam Pillow
- Best cotton: Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow
- Best hybrid: Silk & Snow the Pillow
- Best quick adjust: Brooklinen Marlow Pillow
- Best engineering: Honeydew the Scrumptious Side Sleeper Pillow
Best Overall: Avocado Organic Luxury Plush Pillow
Sizes: Queen, king | Firmness: Medium-soft | Cover: Cotton | Fill material: Natural latex, wool, silk, and mohair
What we like:
- 100-night trial, 1-year warranty
- Pillow is made with natural, sustainably sourced Talalay latex
- Naturally breathable and moisture wicking
- A splurge
Why we chose it: Avocado is not just a superior fruit—it’s a superior bedding brand offering this luxurious pillow that checks all the boxes.
We’re in awe of Avocado’s commitment to producing eco-friendly products that not only deliver on sustainability but also on performance. Every detail of this ultra-plush pillow has been taken into consideration, from its neck- and shoulder-conforming Talalay latex core to its soft organic cotton cover. It even boasts a blended mohair, wool, and silk layer (hot sleepers, take note!) to help regulate temperature, control humidity, and increase airflow so that you can fall asleep and stay asleep with ease. Despite the significantly higher price point (yes, it’s really $200 per pillow), Avocado is a company you’ll feel good about investing in.
Best Value: Overstock Sandwich Foam and Bamboo Pillow
Sizes: Standard | Firmness: Medium | Cover: Polyester and bamboo | Fill material: Memory foam
What we like:
- Wallet-friendly price point
- Adjustable lofts for varied sleepers
- Cover is machine washable
- Less dense memory foam than others on the market
- Once opened it’s nonreturnable
Why we chose it: Affordable and practical, this pillow is proof that you don’t have to shell out too much money for a good night’s rest.
This completely customizable “sandwich”—aka adjustable layered pillow—is made of malleable, pressure-relieving foam and will cost you less than $40. It conforms to the natural curves of your head, shoulders, and neck, allowing you to adjust and remove three different lofts (from a 4.7-inch loft to 3.5 inches) so that it contours with precision. While the dynamic memory foam isn’t as dense as most mainstream models, it does maintain its shape and comfort, even though the year’s coldest months turn lower-quality alternatives into bricks. And don’t let the concave silhouette of this pick turn you off; it rightfully deserves a spot on your bed.
Best Memory Foam: Irving Home Collection Gel Memory Foam Pillow
Sizes: Standard | Firmness: Medium | Cover: Polyester | Fill material: Memory foam
What we like:
- Will keep you cool
- “Ice silk” waffle fiber on cover
- Nonadjustable pillow size and shape
Why we chose it: Dealing with night sweats and shoulder pain? This pillow prioritizes breathability as much as comfort.
This pillow takes everything we love about memory foam—a cushiony material that cradles your head, molds to your body, and is never in need of fluffing—and enhances its breathability. A ventilated inner layer, open cell technology, and urethane-infused gel all work together to keep its waffled surface a few degrees cooler than a standard pillow. It’s a bit firmer compared to others of the same fill, so you’re less likely to come out of alignment when you sleep. Plus: Wayfair makes it easy to remedy any shipping issues, thanks to top-notch customer service available for online chat or by phone, from 8 a.m. to midnight.
Best Cotton: Eli & Elm Cotton Side-Sleeper Pillow
Sizes: Standard | Firmness: Customizable | Cover: Cotton, polyester, and spandex | Fill Material: Latex and polyester
What we like:
- U-shape designed specifically for side sleepers
- Can customize the firmness level
- Can purchase a custom pillowcase
- May need to purchase additional fill for a firmer pillow
Why we chose it: A soft cotton shell with removable filling can be tailored to your firmness needs.
The shape may be unusual, but it might just be what you’re missing, especially if you suffer from chronic joint or muscle soreness. All side sleepers should seriously consider a “U”—it’s specifically designed so you can slide your arm underneath to hold your head up at night. But the real standout feature might just be its customizable insert; you can easily remove some of its latex and polyester filling to adjust the height and accommodate your unique body proportions.
Best Hybrid: Silk & Snow the Pillow
Sizes: Standard | Firmness: Customizable | Cover: Cotton | Fill material: Memory foam and microfiber
What we like:
- Combines perks of memory foam and microfiber
- Feels the most like a fluffy down pillow
- Can accommodate all types of sleepers
- Can feel lumpy
- The bulk of neck support is only in the middle
Why we chose it: Memory foam and soft microfiber offer the best of both worlds.
While most popular fill pillows are made from recycled scrap foam, Silk & Snow utilizes brand-new material that is CertiPUR-U.S. certified—a long-winded way to say it’s free from potentially harmful carcinogens—that’s still just as comfortable. If you’re looking for a pillow that resembles the fluffiness of down but without the goose feathers, this is the one for you. The combination of memory foam and soft microfiber not only supports your head but looks just fine out on your bed without a pillowcase. It’s also designed for all types of sleepers so that anyone can maintain perfect alignment (and experience fewer chances to wake up in pain) as they nod off for the night.
Best Quick Adjust: Brooklinen Marlow Pillow
Sizes: Standard, king | Firmness: Medium to firm (customizable) | Cover: Cotton | Fill material: Memory foam and polyester
What we like:
- Zipper adjustment for firmness
- Easily fits in most pillowcases
- 1-year return policy
- A bit firm overall
Why we chose it: Marlow more than lives up to the hype—and a sneaky-smart zipper makes adjustment lightning quick.
We know that for many readers, a choice in pillow must be certifiably organic and vegan. Brooklinen delivers on this promise, offering a range of bedroom options that boast sustainable materials. Its latest launch offers a convenience-catering innovation we can’t help but call attention to. Sure, while this pillow is pretty standard with what it has to offer, its zipper firmness adjuster will save you from having to remove or add some of its fillings (unzip for extra fluffiness or fully zip things up for an extra-firm bounce) to achieve the perfect fit.
Best Engineering: Honeydew the Scrumptious Side Sleeper Pillow
Sizes: Queen, king | Firmness: Customizable | Cover: Cotton | Fill material: Memory foam
What we like:
- Copper-infused foam for cooling and antibacterial properties
- Made by hand
- Can run a bit warm
- Prone to flattening
Why we chose it: Honeydew’s meticulous attention to detail—each pillow is constructed by hand—makes it feel like so much more than a generic pillow.
The Scrumptious Side Sleeper Pillow lives up to its name by providing a product that is downright delicious…for your shoulders, at least. Its copper-infused foam fill is not just comfortable but cooling (and antibacterial for those who sweat a lot!). Even its adorning ribbon is, per the company, “far more than just decorative.” In fact, its fabric is “specifically chosen for its unique ability to maintain the structure of the pillow perfectly,” making it an investment that is special.
How We Chose These Products
Everyone needs a pillow, but not all of them target shoulder pain. We relied on physical therapy experts like Scantalides to share their short list of tried-and-tested brands that accommodate those with sleep-deprived joint and muscle issues. We took the most popular and highly reviewed pillows for a test-spin to check them out in person and see how they impacted our sleep, while also keeping characteristics like fabric quality and eco-conscious efforts in mind.
Our Shopping Checklist
There are a plethora of pillow options marketed toward shoulder pain sufferers, but only a few that Scantalides would recommend. If searching on your own, shape is one of the top features to consider before investing in one. C-shaped memory foam and contoured cushions are a great start, as these tend to form best on a neck. As far as shapes beyond the standard rectangle, these are the only ones that Scantalides has found to alleviate aches and strains.
It’s not just side sleepers who experience shoulder pain; Scantalides recommends U- and C-shaped pillows for anyone who could use a bit more neck and shoulder support. To note: While some brands offer pillowcases to match these unique designs, many may not be the ones you display on a well-made bed.
Cover and Fill Material
“This is completely dependent upon personal preference, though most fill materials that target shoulder pain will be made of memory foam, either intact or shredded,” explains Scantalides, who suggests looking for a machine washable cover so that you can easily maintain the hygiene of your pillow.
Firmness and Size
“If using a non–memory foam pillow, a good medium-fill pillow should provide enough firmness to fill the contours of the neck without propping the neck in an awkward position,” offers Scantalides. As far as size goes, however, he generalizes that the surface should be large enough to fully cradle the head even if a sleeper rolls over or flips back and forth throughout the night.
Getting comfortable is just as much about the right pillow or set of sheets as it is the position you prefer to lay in: side, back, or front facing on your stomach. But being in the same spot all night long sometimes appears as stiffness or soreness come morning. According to Scantalides, here’s probably why:
- Side sleepers have a tendency to have their bottom arm raised over their head, which may cause a similar awkward position of their rotator cuff (RTC) tendons, causing some irritation.
- When you sleep on your stomach, you typically have one or two arms in the up position near your head. This position may cause some strain on your RTC tissues (especially if it’s already irritated).
- Sleeping on your back is actually more ideal in the long run; you have a bit more options with your arms, so you’re less likely to lock them into an awkward position or an uncomfortable situation of prolonged compression.
Scantalides answers your burning questions about finding the right pillow to remedy your shoulder pain.
Q: How do you arrange pillows to relieve shoulder pain?
If using non–memory foam pillows, one should have enough support under the head and an additional pillow to hug with both arms so that there is no empty space for the shoulders and the rest of the arms.
Q: Why is memory foam so good for shoulder pain? Is it my only option?
Memory foam pillows are great to reduce shoulder joint and neck irritation, as it helps cover all contours of the head and neck and parts of the upper back. Some alternatives are medium-fill down pillows. If one has an allergy to down, there are some good alternatives with medium- to heavy fill.
Q: Is my shoulder sore because I prefer to sleep on my side?
For side sleepers, typically the shoulder that is underneath us can get a little compressed in the joint, as well as sit in an awkward way in our scapulothoracic joint (our shoulder blade and upper back area). This possible compression and awkward position could irritate our RTC tendons and labral tissue (a type of cartilage that assists in absorbing compression and gives stability to our ball and socket joint).
The Last Word
Since you spend a significant portion of your life in bed, it’s important to invest in a pillow that will have you sleeping soundly and not waking up with random bouts of soreness around your neck and shoulders. To keep your tossing and turning to a minimum, and your night more relaxing and rejuvenating, you need one of the best pillows for shoulder pain—because, frankly, we could all use a bit more of the latter when it comes to catching up on quality z’s.