In Search of the Perfect Pillow

Perfect Pillow

Perfect Pillow

How Should You Select the Best Pillow to Avoid Neck Pain?

One of the biggest complaints we’ve been hearing from our clients is how much neck and shoulder pain they have been experiencing during their sleep! Quickly followed by the most common question we get asked “can you recommend a good pillow for sleep?”

Looking at the situation, there are tons of things that could be contributing to this:

  • Stress from pretty much everything
  • More hours than usual looking at your phone
  • Poor desk setup at home compared to what you have at work.
  • Working out differently than you are used to.

Let us start off by saying, there is no one perfect pillow for everyone, the best thing you can do is find the best pillow for you and your body.  Most people know that their current pillow is not doing the trick because they wake up with a stiff neck, neck pain, or a headache.

Related Topic: Why Poor Sleeping Habits Lead to Alzheimer’s or Dementia…

Over the past 18 years of being PTs we too have dealt with our fair share of neck issues since our early 20’s.  So, believe us when we say, that we have searched far and wide for that elusive “perfect pillow”.

Over the years we have tried a cervical roll, gel pillow, air pillow, water pillow, feather pillow, Tempurpedic pillow, buckwheat pillow, and our current pillow (read to the end to find out which it is).

There are a tons of pillow options on the market, but unfortunately, most people take a trial and error approach until they find what they think is a suitable pillow. It helps to get a professional opinion about how to go about finding the right pillow, instead of relying on the opinion of friend or coworker who is basing their advice on what works for them and their body type.  That may not be what works for you. A few things need to be considered when it comes to figuring out if a pillow would work for you.

So, to help break it down for you and help you understand what all considerations you need to take up so that you chose the right pillow – below are the top 3 things we consider when recommending a pillow to our client’s.

3 Things to Keep in Mind


When we are not moving, our joints prefer a neutral position.  A neutral position minimizes stress on certain parts of the joint and minimizes the potential for muscles surrounding the joint from becoming overloaded and tense. Whether you sleep on your side or on your back, your head needs to be in a good alignment in relation to the rest of your spine.

If you are lying on your back and your pillow is too high, it will excessively flex (bend forward) your head in relation to the rest of your spine, which may lead to more load on your spinal discs and overstretching of ligaments and muscles in the back of the neck. If the pillow is too low and doesn’t provide enough support for your head, it will excessively extend (bend back) your head in relation to the rest of your spine leading to overloading of the neck joints. To understand the influence of the pillow height, take a closer look at these pictures and explanations.


If you are lying on your side and your pillow is too high, it will excessively side bend your head leading to overloading of the neck joints and excessive muscle tension.  The same is true if your pillow is too low and not giving adequate support.


Quick Test: Have someone take a picture from the side at the height level of your ear and analyze as to whether your pillow is too high, too low, or just right.


Neck Support

The second important consideration when it comes to finding the right pillow is finding a pillow that will adequately support the entire contour of your neck.  As you see in the example below, the entire neck should be supported by your pillow. If it does not, it will be difficult for your neck to be fully relaxed during a full night’s sleep.

Related Topic: 6 Reasons Why You’re Always Feeling Tired… (And How To Prevent It)

There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a pillow is giving adequate support.  The shape of the pillow, the density of the pillow and the height of the bottom part of the pillow will be a factor.  As well as, the size and shape of a person's neck and shouldersNeck SupportQuick Test: If your hand or someone else’s hand can easily fit between your neck and the pillow, the pillow is not giving you adequate support.


Lastly, take into consideration the overall comfort of the pillow.  What is the material made of? What is the quality of the pillow? Is it noisy when you move around? Does it breathe or will it make you hot?  If you narrowed it down to 2-3 pillows, mimic your sleeping position (side, back, etc.) and compare them to see which feels more comfortable. It should be clear if you are listening to your body.Comfort

On a side note, if you are a stomach sleeper, you should try to get out of that habit because it is the one sleeping position that causes the most problems. But if you insist, then we recommend you might want to go for soft and flat pillow so that your neck does not stretch too much and get uncomfortable.

Quick Test: Listen to your gut.  Listen to your body and get a sense of the overall feeling you have when you have tested out a pillow or comparing between two pillows.

So, as you can see there are a lot of considerations to consider when it comes to finding the “perfect pillow” for you.  It really comes down to the size and shape of your body and finding a pillow that will contour to your body type.

Our recommendation

Pillowise is the one brand that is usually our first choice. We have found this brand of pillow to provide all of the three considerations in mention for our clients. It was actually introduced to us by a client who had come across it when he was on his search for the “perfect pillow” and it’s the pillow that we use at home and when we’re traveling.  The reason why we love this pillow is that a person’s body measurements and preferred sleeping position are taken into consideration to determine the best pillow match.

These pillows currently cannot be found in stores and are only found through health professionals (physical therapists) who carry them.

If you are waking up with a stiff neck or with neck pain, that is probably a good sign that you don’t have the right pillow. Keep alignment, neck support and comfort in mind when you are shopping around for pillows.

And finally consider all essential elements that any conscious customer will about buying any product like reviews, warranty, support and even cost differences.

We hope this advice helps you in your search to find the “perfect” pillow for YOU!

Dedicated to your health,

Dr. Oscar Andalon

Latest posts by Oscar Andalon, DPT, STC, MTC, CSCS, CF-L1, MWOD, USAW, FMS/SFMA (see all)

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