Our expert Nadia the Osteopath helps you find the best pillow for avoiding neck pain

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Waking up with neck pain can spell a very long day ahead involving walking like a robot with a perma-grimace and a packet of Panadol Extra. If neck ache is more the rule than an exception (aka from passing out after a big night out!) you have probably yet to meet The One. We mean, of course, the best pillow for neck pain – once you find it, it's life-changing.

“Around 90 per cent of patients that come to me with neck pain are sleeping on the wrong pillow,” confirms the celebrity osteopath and ITV’s This Morning regular Nadia Alibhai, known as Nadia the Osteopath. People hobble into her clinic with locked up necks and shoulders, having slept badly, believing that this is just ‘life’ or 'a bad night’ even though they can barely turn their heads. When Nadia – after using her magic hands to relieve the tension – suggests that they change their pillow, it’s a completely different scenario.

The main issue with many pillows is that – like bad boyfriends or jealous friends – they are spectacularly unsupportive.

“Many pillows don’t support the neck while you are sleeping, causing not just neck pain but general pains, poor spinal alignment, and poor posture,” says Nadia.

The reason they aren’t up for the job? Anything from being too flat to being stacked in a pillow tower that tips your head forward, or even your sleeping position combined with a bad pillow.

“Sleeping on your stomach for a long period with your head twisted to one side without the right pillow support can leave you feeling stiff around your neck as muscles may have contracted or spasmed,” explains Nadia. “Using too many pillows or really flat pillows may also take your neck out of alignment, straining your neck muscles.”

What then is the magic pillow to keep our necks in perfect alignment? “A pillow is very personal to each individual and also comes down to your sleeping position,” says Nadia. “It shouldn't feel too soft or too hard. It should also have some give and be versatile enough if someone changes position through the night.” You can see Nadia with her favourite Woolroom below.

Nadia the Osteopath’s guide to the best pillow to avoid neck pain

Back sleepers need a flatter pillow

“If you sleep on your back, look for a pillow that supports your neck but doesn’t tilt your head forward as otherwise your neck muscles won’t fully relax,” says Nadia who demonstrates the right position in the picture below. Sleeping on a big tower of pillows is a big no-no, as too high a pillow will place pain-inducing strain on your neck.

Nadia demonstrating the right pillow for back sleepers

Side sleepers need a plump but not overly high pillow

“When sleeping on your side, the pillow should completely fill the gap between your ear and shoulder,” explains Nadia, as she shows below. “One that is too thin can leave your head too close to your shoulder, leaving that side of your neck muscle shortening and the other pulling. The same is true if your pillow is too high, leading to you waking with stiffness or tense neck muscles.

Nadia showing the best pillow for side sleeping

Arthritic and stiff necks need a firm pillow

“For a stiff or arthritic neck, look for a firm pillow that gives support,” advises Nadia. “I find hypoallergenic goose-down pillows provide luxurious comfort. The down and feather mould to the contours of your head, neck, and shoulders, providing support where it’s needed.”

Adjustable wool pillows are a good bet for everyone

For tailored neck support, choose a pillow where you can add or take away the filling to adjust the height and firmness. Many wool pillows (no they are not itchy) have stuffing that so you can fluff up when your pillow goes a bit flat. Wool bedding brand (Nadia’s choice) Woolroom will send you more wool stuffing if you need it so your pillow will last a lifetime and never needs to go to landfill. The outer casing is washable and hypoallergenic.

When was the last time you changed your pillow?

Unless you have a lifetime pillow such as a Woolroom one, you may very well need to change yours. Nadia recommends changing your pillow every one to two years when, she says, the pillow starts to “lose support” for your neck.

If you’re worried about the environmental damage of your old pillows ending up in landfill, Nadia suggests donating them to homeless shelters or choosing a cotton, wool, or feather pillow that can be put in compost bins to biodegrade over time.

Your pillow may well be 10% dust mites

Wool, silk, and natural latex are resistant to dust mites but if your pillow is made of standard materials, you probably have a house guest that could be disrupting your sleep, leaving you cranky and creaky in the morning. “The weight of a non-wool pillow can increase by ten per cent after just six months of use, purely because of dust mites and their droppings,” says Nadia.

“Dust mites love dead skin cells, heat, and humidity so cleaning pillows during the spring and summer season is really important.”

Always try before you buy

“I always advise my patients to try the pillow before purchasing, if possible,” says Nadia. “Many online retailers give a 30-to-90-day money-back guarantee, so never feel shy to return if your pillow is causing you pain or discomfort.”

Take advantage of a hotel pillow menu

Various hotels, including The Cadogan in London’s Knightsbridge and the suitably named The Montcalm hotel group allow you to choose from a pillow menu, ranging from soft to firm. Other pillow menus have a choice of materials too. Even if you aren’t staying at a hotel that offers the service, don’t wait until bedtime to test the pillow you are given and ask for a different one if necessary. Or enquire with housekeeping when you check in.

The best pillows to banish neck pain

The adjustable one: Woolroom Organic Washable Pillow, £59.49

This biodegradable and sustainable wool pillow from the Woolroom allows you to add and take away wool from its stuffing, meaning you can adjust the height to provide the perfect amount of support for your neck. Nadia always opts to sleep on natural fibres (wool being her first choice). It’s a material that is naturally hypoallergenic, temperature-controlling, and impervious to dust, mould, and mildew, helping you get a great night's sleep.


The soft yet supportive one: Cosy House Collection Luxury Bamboo Pillow, £49.95

If you love a soft pillow but still want good neck support, Nadia recommends this one from Cosy House Collection. Made from bamboo viscose and filled with polyester, it’s designed to keep your head and neck in the ideal position however you sleep. There’s no need to search for cold spots either, as the material naturally stays cool, helping you achieve a more peaceful slumber.


For stiff and arthritic necks: The White Company Luxury Hungarian Goose Down Pillow, £95

Nadia recommends goose down for stiff necks and this one from The White Company also has the added benefit of feeling just as luxurious as a cosy hotel pillow. Its support comes from having a slightly firmer feather inner core, surrounded by goose down. It is available in three firmness levels.


For allergy sufferers: Saatva Latex Pillow, £247.32

If you suspect allergies are behind your disturbed sleep, Nadia’s favourite pillow is the Saatva Latex Pillow - as a reminder, latex is a naturally hypoallergenic material. It’s available in two heights to keep your body in perfect alignment but does come with a pretty big price tag to match. It’s also softer than the others so may not be suitable if you need maximum neck support.


For back pain and pregnancy: Woolroom V-Shaped Pillow, £97.99

This V-shaped pillow provides extra support for your back, neck, head, and spine, which is why it’s Nadia’s top recommendation for use during pregnancy, as well as for stopping more general neck pain. It can also be used for lower back pain and sciatica when placed between the legs.