Shoulder pain is relatively common, with around a quarter of us likely to experience it at some point in time. Those with shoulder problems often require physical therapy, surgery, and other forms of treatment to deal with the pain.

However, replacing your pillow might help you relieve some of your shoulder pain. Today, many pillows have been designed to support the neck and head, helping to alleviate shoulder pain. The right pillows can reduce pressure on your shoulders and the surrounding areas.

If you're suffering from shoulder pain, this guide is perfect for you. We've done some research on the best pillows for shoulder pain and our top picks are below. But before we get to the pillows, here's what you need to know about shoulder pain.

What is shoulder pain?

Any pain around the shoulder joints, tendons and muscles is classed as shoulder pain. Sometimes, you may experience pain in this area due to problems in other parts of your body like the lungs and neck. This is known as referred pain. Often, this unexplained pain doesn't change when you lift your shoulder, neck, or arm.

Shoulder pain that comes from the joint worsens when you move the arm or shoulder and engage in certain activities.

What causes shoulder pain?

The primary cause of shoulder pain is rotator cuff tendinitis. The rotator cuff comprises a group of four small muscles and tendons holding the arm in the shoulder socket. 

This occurs when the rotator cuff muscles become trapped under the shoulder joint. As a result, the tendons become damaged or inflamed, causing shoulder pain.

Other causes of shoulder pain include:

  • Arthritis - Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms that affect the shoulder joints. Pain happens when the cartilage wears down on the socket or ball sides of the shoulder joint.
  • Frozen shoulder - This happens when adhesions (abnormal bands of tissues) build up in your joint, limiting shoulder motion. The tendons, muscles, and ligaments inside your shoulder become stiff, causing pain and difficulties moving your arm.
  • Fractures - If the bones around the shoulder area (clavicle and humerus) are cracked or broken, you might experience shoulder pain. Sometimes, the shoulder might sag, especially when you break the collarbone.
  • Separation and dislocation - Bruising, swelling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the shoulder can often follow separation or dislocations.
  • Bursitis - This happens due to a swollen and irritated bursa (a fluid-filled sac cushioning the joint). Bursitis is caused by repetitive shoulder motions, a fall, or another injury.

What to do if you wake up with shoulder pain

Certain sleeping positions, such as sleeping on your side, put stress on your shoulders, causing pain. When you sleep on one side all night, the chances of shoulder pain is high, which explains why some people wake up feeling pain in their shoulders. 

Waking up with pain can impact your daily activities. For some, it usually goes away on its own after some time. So when you wake up with pain, give a day to see if it goes away. During this period, the shoulder should be at rest. Additionally, you could use ice therapy, a bandage or wrap, as well as anti-inflammatory medication to treat your shoulder. 

If the pain doesn't go away, book an appointment with your doctor or a physiotherapist. Treatments your healthcare provider may recommend for your shoulder pain include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Injection of corticosteroid, an anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Surgery (if all other forms of treatment don't work for you)

What to do if you're suffering from ongoing shoulder pain

If you've been experiencing shoulder pain for an extended period, there are certain things you can do. The activities and actions are meant to complement your doctor's prescriptions to help speed up recovery:

  • Find a better sleeping posture - Try to switch to a better position while sleeping. You can try other sleeping positions that do not put excess pressure on your shoulder muscles and tendons.
  • Medications - Visit your doctor or therapist if you need help to reduce the pain. They may recommend medication depending on the severity. 
  • Exercises - Range of motion exercises will help avoid a frozen shoulder, especially if you're dealing with tendinitis.
  • Massage - Massage therapy is one of the best ways to deal with ongoing shoulder pain. The treatment provides immediate relief to pain in your shoulders. 

How to choose a pillow for shoulder pain

You can easily prevent shoulder pain by replacing your pillow with the right one. But how do you choose the right pillow for shoulder pain? 

Pillows come in various shapes, sizes, and designs to suit individual needs. Some are designed for comfort and luxury, while others have some health benefits. 

1 - Pillow size

Pillows come in 7 recommended size standards, including:

  • Small
  • Standard
  • Super standard
  • Queen
  • King
  • Euro
  • Body

Standard pillows are usually the most common and the least expensive. The queen pillow is the second most common and is ideal for those who turn and toss while sleeping. King pillows make for good backrests and headrests.

The long body pillow is the perfect choice for shoulder pain and is also great for side sleepers and those who are pregnant.

2 - Pillow shape

It's essential to consider the surface design of your pillow. Pillows can either be even (flat) or curved (orthopaedic) when it comes to shape. 

Traditional flat pillows have an even form and lie flat on the mattress. Modern curved or orthopaedic pillows come with a specifically contoured shape and are a great choice for shoulder pain.

3 - Pillow loft

The thickness of the pillow when not in use is what we refer to as pillow loft. The loft is measured in inches and broken down into 3 categories:

  • Low loft - measures less than 3 inches
  • Medium loft - measures between 3 to 5 inches
  • High loft - measures above 5 inches

In addition, you can adjust the loft of some pillows. This means you can modify the pillow's loft by adding or removing the filling to get your desired loft. The correct pillow loft depends on mattress type, sleeping position, head size, shoulder width, and more.

4 - Pillow position

How you sleep and use your pillow affects pillow choice for shoulder pain. People place their pillows in different positions while sleeping. 

If you consider different positions, make sure the pillow you choose makes you comfortable. Also, you should go for one that keeps your spine straight.

What pillow materials are best for shoulder pain?

The best pillow materials for shoulder pain are ones that provide adequate support for your neck, head, and shoulder. This allows your neck and head to remain upright and aligned with your spine. You should never buy a pillow that shrinks too much or loses shape too quickly as it will trigger shoulder pain. 

Pillows are made from different materials, but not all are right for your shoulder pain. Some of the best pillow materials for shoulder pain include;

Memory Foam

The shredded or solid pieces of memory foam soften over time with the body's heat. Shredded pieces provide an adjustable loft and allow close conforming, helping to alleviate pressure and pain in the shoulders and around the neck. Although memory foam pillows can be more expensive, they provide comfort and relief for any shoulder pain sleeper.

Goose & Duck Down

Goose down pillows and duck down pillows have goose or duck feathers from the inner plumage. Its exceptional softness and lightness alleviate tension and pain in your shoulders. The adjustable loft offers support to stomach and back sleepers. However, if you want more firmness from your pillow, this might not be your ideal choice. 

Hollowfibre

These are made from polyester microfibers and are light and soft. This should be your perfect choice for a pillow material if you have allergies, as it is often hypoallergenic. The material is cost-effective compared to down, making it an excellent choice for people with shoulder pain. However, these pillows may not provide the proper support for shoulder pain - make sure you research which hollowfibre pillow is perfect for you as there are different firmness options.

Feather 

Feather pillows feature the outer feathers of geese and ducks. The pillows are lightweight, have an adjustable loft, and have a slightly longer lifespan than down. However, goose feather pillows and duck feather pillows might not provide the needed support for your neck and shoulder. But if you prefer a softer pillow, this is your ideal choice.

When it comes to choosing the best pillow material for shoulder pain, everyone has their preferences. It's best to choose one that maintains its shape for an extended period. 

What is the best pillow shape for shoulder pain?

Apart from the standard rectangular pillows, some other shapes are great for alleviating pain in the shoulder. Those to consider are curved and circular pillows as well as speciality pillows designed for specific conditions such as back pain, shoulder pain, pregnancy, and more. 

Generally, the best pillow shape for shoulder pain sufferers is the curved or circular shape. Curved pillows have a high-level section that fills the space left between your neck and the surface of your mattress, supporting the neck and shoulder.

However, standard pillows are still a good option for shoulder pain sufferers, as long as you position them correctly. 

What is the best pillow position or arrangement for shoulder pain?

Pillow arrangement or positioning is a strategy that varies from person to person. Let's look into certain angles and pillow configurations that can help to reduce shoulder pain.

Side with a pillow in the armpit

If you're a side sleeper with pain in one shoulder, try to avoid sleeping on the affected side. Instead, place a pillow under the armpit of the affected shoulder and make sure the shoulder remains upright. Place another pillow between your legs and another against your stomach. The fourth pillow should come beneath your head. This pillow arrangement promotes spinal alignment and helps relieve pain.

Side with a pillow between the knees

Pregnant women often prefer this pillow position. Placing a pillow between the knees improves spinal alignment for side sleepers by minimising pressure in the hips and lower back.

Side with a pillow under the back

If you're a side sleeper with broad shoulders, you're likely to have poor alignment. This happens because your lower back and hips don't get the same cushioning. To even out the spine and minimise pain, place a thin pillow under your back and hips.

Back with pillow armpit

Back sleeping is the best position for those with shoulder pain as it promotes even spinal alignment without exerting any additional pressure on your shoulders. Place your pillow in the armpit beneath the shoulder to help prevent shoulder soreness and stiffness.

Which is the best pillow for shoulder pain?

By now, you should have a clear idea of what to look for when choosing a pillow for shoulder pain. Our list below goes through some of the best pillows for shoulder pain available at Sleepseeker. 

Best pillow for shoulder pain overall

Choosing the best pillow to reduce your shoulder pain depends entirely on your sleeping position. For front sleepers, you need to choose a soft pillow. The Snuggledown Hungarian Goose Down Soft Support Front Sleeper Pillow, for example, keeps front sleepers in the right position, keeping the neck and spine aligned. There are also other Slumberdown pillows to choose from, including anti-allergy options. 

If you're a back sleeper, you might find a medium pillow best for your sleeping position. Slumberdown, Snuggledown and the Scandinavian Feather Co all have great options to consider. 

Firm pillows are best for side sleepers and again, the choices are endless. It really does depend on what you want! Hollowfibre and memory foam pillows are the best options as they offer more support. 

Best budget pillow for shoulder pain

There are many budget-friendly pillows available that can help relieve shoulder pain, making it easy to find the perfect solution. Hollowfibre pillows are often a slightly cheaper option, and you can choose soft, medium or firm to suit your sleeping position. 

Slumberdown pillows, in particular, have some great options if you're limited by budget. Pillows range from super support pillows all the way to luxury pillows for a more comfortable night's sleep. 

Best pillow for side sleepers with shoulder pain

Side sleepers are better with firm support pillows, and this is something that the Slumberdown Supper Support Firm Support Side Sleeper Pillow provides. Available as a pack of 2, 4 or 6 pack of pillows, this pillow ensures your head and neck stays in the perfect position. 

The Snuggledown Side Sleeper Firm Support Pillow is another option to consider. These are great for avoiding neck stiffness and come in 1, 2 and 4 packs. 

For those who struggle to regulate temperature during their sleep, the Slumberdown Memory Cool Firm Support Side Sleeper Pillow is a great choice. The non-allergenic pillow keeps you cool while supporting the head, neck and spine in side sleepers.

Tips for shoulder pain sufferers

Shoulder pain can be unbearable at times. The pain can cause discomfort and stop you from sleeping. However, there are various things you can do to help relieve or eliminate the pain. If you're suffering from shoulder pain, here are some expert tips and advice for you:

  • Do some shoulder exercises like stretching your arms
  • Get a massage
  • Choose the right mattress and pillow
  • Seek physical therapy
  • Practice good posture (both sleeping and seating)
  • Take breaks while performing repetitive tasks
  • Use ice after exercising
  • Rest your shoulders when you feel pain
  • Seek medical help when the pain gets worse

Frequently asked questions about pillows for shoulder pain

Can a body pillow help with shoulder pain?

Absolutely. Body support pillows can help to relieve shoulder, neck, back, and hip pain. They also relieve joint pressure and promote proper spinal alignment for stomach and side sleepers.

Can the wrong pillow make shoulder pain worse?

Yes, it can! If a pillow doesn't provide enough head and neck support, you're likely to experience new or worsening shoulder pain. This includes a pillow that easily loses its shape or flattens over a short period. A good pillow should promote spinal alignment, support the head and neck and stabilise the affected shoulder. 

Can a mattress topper help with shoulder pain?

If your mattress sinks deeply or is very stiff, a mattress topper might help change the firmness and reduce shoulder pain. However, the topper might not provide the needed support and pain relief on its own. You still need a pillow to make it work perfectly.

Can a pillow give you shoulder pain?

The wrong pillow can make your shoulder pain worse, especially if it isn't correctly positioned or appropriate for use. You should place the pillow in a way that provides support to the intended parts, like the neck region.

What helps shoulder pain while sleeping?

Good sleep posture, sleep hygiene, and correct pillow use help shoulder pain while sleeping. Also, the right choice of pillow for shoulder pain will help support your neck and shoulder, alleviating pain while sleeping.

If you need help choosing the right pillow for your neck pain or want to explore our other bedding, get in contact with our team. We also stock duvets, pillow protectors and wellbeing bedding products that can help to improve sleep.