Is your pillow suitable?

A lot of patients ask us if their pillow is suitable for them. This is particularly crucial for neck pain, shoulder pain and headache suffers as the type of pillow they use will impact their problem. Here are some signs that would suggest you might want to hunt for another pillow!

  1. Pressure/discomfort on the shoulder you are lying on
  2. Sleeping with you hand under the pillow ( the pillow is probably not high enough for you)
  3. Having to repeatedly bunch the pillow into the hollow of your neck (not enough support or density)
  4. Waking with neck, shoulder pain or headaches. Particularly if it is worse than when you went to bed
  5. Tossing and turning through the night because you are uncomfortable

The next hurdle is working out which pillow is suitable for you.

What pillow is best for me?

A lot of people have a cupboard full of pillows that they have tried and don’t like. The reality is you need to trial a pillow for several nights to know it suits you. We keep 2 styles of pillows at Lifecare Cottesloe Physiotherapy.

Another tip is if you are staying at a hotel or friends house where you find the pillow is really comfortable, take the pillow slip off and write down the details of the pillow. Some hotels even sell the pillows they use. If you’ve looked for a pillow you have probably found that there is an overwhelming array of pillows out there! There are many different shaped pillows and even more variation in the materials they are made from.

Here are the factors you need to consider when you are looking at pillows.

  1. The material the pillow is made from
  2. The shape of the pillow
  4. The cost of the pillow

1. Pillow Material

The more dense and comforting materials are usually made from memory-foam or latex. If you have a soft mattress or “pillow-top” you are more likely to suit a more dense material.

The advantage of these pillows is they don’t lose support through the night. Fillings such as feather/down and microfibre are more mouldable (ie. fit into the curve of your neck) however they may lose their shape though the night unless they are compartmentalised (ie. has 2 or 3 separate compartments).

2. Pillow Shape

The shape is either a regular rectangle shape or some form of contoured or compartmentalised pillow that moulds to the contours of your neck. Pillows that provide support to the curves in your neck, ie. contoured pillows, in theory, are more likely to be comfortable.

We find that a lot of neck pain patients do find the contoured memory foam pillows comfortable, though certainly not everyone does.

There are also some contoured pillows that you can take a “core” out of that changes the shape and also the height of the pillow. This can be very useful.

3. The Height

The height of the pillow is probably the most crucial factor. In theory the middle of your head should be in line with the rest of your spine when you are lying on your side. If you are lying on your back, your head should be supported in the same alignment as if you were standing up straight.

In my experience many people who sleep predominantly on the sides, are lying on pillows that are too low. If you are only comfortable lying with your arm under your pillow, it’s probably too low. Try sleep with a folder towel or soft blanket under your pillow. Try different heights to see what is optimal for you. Some pillows will come overfilled and allow you to take filling out to adjust thee height of the pillow.

Remember when you are choosing a pillow that the softer filling such as down ans wool will squash down more than the higher density pillows.

I would highly recommend choosing a pillow from a bedding shop that has a good range that you can “test drive” on a bed and if possible, lie on it for 10 minutes to see if it’s comfortable. Choose a bed that is similar density to your own bed.


You can spend anything from $5-$250 on a pillow. The cheapest pillows are the regular-shaped polyester pillows. They provide the least amount of support but plenty of necks are very happy with them.

If you difficulty finding a comfortable pillow, you will more likely find a higher quality filling +/or shaped pillow that suits you. Expect to pay somewhere in the $70-$150 range. If you think that you are spending an average 7-8 hours a day on it (ie. approximately 1/3 of your life!) I think it’s worth investing in a pillow that is comfortable for you.