What kind of pillow should you use?

One of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is “what kind of pillow do you recommend?” If you’ve ever suffered with neck or shoulder pain, you’ve probably wondered this yourself and have bought just about every kind of pillow out there. Years ago I went through a similar pillow hunt. My conclusion is easy on the neck, shoulders, and wallet.

If you go into any fancy bedroom furniture section, you’ll find those memory foam pillows that promise to give you better sleep, make your dreams beautiful, make your pain melt away and cure your inability to do long division. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen that happen for myself or others. Often, the curves they put into the pillows don’t conform properly to the way your head and neck actually articulate — particularly if you’re a back sleeper. That lump they put in to, supposedly, cradle your neck actually tends to put too much of a curve into your neck. It only took one night with my memory foam pillow years ago to develop a stiff neck (in addition to the sore shoulder I was trying to heal!).

If you’re a side sleeper, these can be an okay (but rather pricey) option.

I tried a down pillow for a while a few years back as well, and the feathers flattened down too much to use the pillow while sleeping on my side. By the time I woke up every morning, it was almost like I was using a newspaper to pad my head.

What I’ve found tends to work best for me and most of the people I come in contact with is a standard, boring, regular old pillow. A standard, boring, regular old pillow is generally quite versatile. You don’t want a super puffy one and you don’t want a super flat one. You want one that’s a few inches thick and won’t completely “deflate” once you put your head on it. With a regular old pillow, you can sleep on your side with support for your head and you can sleep on your back with some support for your head, neck, and shoulders.

You read that right. Your shoulders. Lying with a pillow under JUST your head and neck does put things out of position. Just think about how you would stand up straight against a wall. The back of your head would touch the wall, right? When you lie in bed, you’re looking for a similar alignment. If you stick a pillow just under your head, you’ll be forcing your head and neck out of alignment. So your pillow should come under your head, neck, and shoulders. For a wonderful demonstration of this, check out this video by Esther Gokhale:

Once you’ve slept a night with your regular old pillow, leave a comment below to let the internet know what you found!


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.

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