Whether your body hurts from sitting in an office chair all day or you’ve been overextending yourself during hard workouts, odds are you’ve experienced back pain before and know what a pain it can be. Thankfully, there’s a legit, low-cost solution to help offset your aches and discomfort—the best pillow for back pain.
Back pain pillows can help you remain comfortable while sleeping or resting, since your muscles are able to relax more easily, explains Charla R. Fischer, MD, an NYU Langone Sports Health orthopedic surgeon. Because TBH, it can be pretty easy for back pain to pop up—even if you haven’t done anything to cause it.
“We take for granted that gravity is constantly bearing down on us while we are standing, lying, or sitting upright,” says Ryan Dinney, DPT, a physical therapist with HPT NYC. When positioning yourself with a quality pillow, though, it prevents this unnecessary muscle stress and even promotes neutral spine alignment, Dr. Fischer says.
The right pillow can also help take pressure off your irritated spine. “Supporting an aggravated spine will help to offload the spine from gravity, thereby allowing for a temporary reprieve,” Dinney says. Got that down?
While this all sounds amazing, you may not want to just get relief and call it a day. Specifically, “if the pain is more than five out of 10, it's a good idea to see a doctor,” Dr. Fischer notes. You certainly don't want to risk making that pain worse or overlooking a serious injury or condition that needs treatment.
Now that you know there are all kinds of benefits to using back pain pillows, it’s time to dive into more details. Here’s how to pick the perfect pillow for your needs, according to the pros.
How do you choose the right pillow for you?
“Everyone is different, so trying out different materials and sizes will help you determine which is best for your body,” Dr. Fischer explains. That said, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
First, know that there are four parts of the spine your pillow can support, Dinney explains: cervical (neck), thoracic (ribs), lumbar (low back), and pelvis. Ultimately, you want to pay attention to what positions provoke and ease pain, and in what specific areas.
And when it comes to pillows for sitting versus those for sleeping, consider this: If laying in bed provides some relief but you have poor posture at work, Dinney says a pillow for sitting at your desk might do better than one under your neck while laying in bed. A pillow used for sleeping should help maintain neutral alignment and comfort depending on your sleep position, Dr. Fischer explains. (Another tip: Consider looking into some of the best mattresses for back pain too.)
You’ll also want to pay attention to the material of the pillow you’re using, regardless of whether you need sleeping or sitting support. When it comes to high-support pillows for back pain, you typically have two main material options: memory foam and down pillows.
Memory foam pillows are super soft and they provide support by filling the gaps created by your body to align the spine, says Jacob Hascalovici, MD, PhD, a board-certified interventional pain specialist and the chief medical officer of Clearing. And this type of pillows are commonly used for both sitting and sleeping.
Down pillows, on the other hand, are made with feathers and provide varying levels of support based on how full the pillows are with different feather amounts, Dr. Hascalovici explains. For quality support, you’d probably want a high-fill down pillow, and down pillows are typically used for sleep.
Again, everyone is different. Test different options—like these ones—and know that sometimes movement and safely building up the muscles in your back can be a key part of your overall treatment plan. Ahead, the best pillow options for different types of back pain.