Best Pillows for Back Pain

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on June 07, 2022
3 min read

The right pillow can be your ally when you're trying to get relief from back pain. There are plenty of types to choose from, but the key is finding one that gives your back the support it needs.

Most people who have back pain feel it most in their lower back. This is a complicated area of the body where a number of joints, muscles, and spinal disks interact. It's sometimes tricky for doctors to pinpoint the exact source of pain in the lower back.

There's evidence that many types of back pain come from an unhealthy curve in the spine. Pillows that offer "lumbar" support" -- meaning those that you place only against the lower part of your back -- may help maintain the right shape to your spine. This can help some people treat their pain.

One study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science shows that people who used a lumbar pillow every day for 2 weeks had a much greater drop in pain than people who didn't. They also saw an improvement in range of motion.

If you spend a lot of time sitting -- whether at a desk or in a vehicle -- using a lumbar pillow to support the back's natural curve can help. A small pillow, or even a rolled towel, can help give your back the support it needs.

A fairly thick pillow -- one about 3.5 inches thick -- is best for keeping your spine's natural curve. But many people find that a thick lower-back pillow like that is uncomfortable because it pushes their lower body forward.

A lumbar pillow that has "cut-outs" at its base may help solve this problem. These cut-outs make room for the tissues that bunch up at the top of your buttocks and the base of your back when you sit down. The extra room of the cut-out keeps the pillow from pushing your lower body forward while still supporting the natural curve of your spine.

A study in the journal Chiropractic & Manual Therapies shows that this kind of pillow improved comfort among people with low back pain.

People come in different shapes and sizes. To make sure that your pillow supports your lower back without pressing into your waist or upper back, find one with adjustable straps. These allow you to attach your pillow to your chair at the perfect height.

A pillow with an adjustable thickness, such as one that blows up or deflates as needed, may be ideal.

Research shows these adjustable pillows may be more helpful than non-adjustable types because you can change the level of lumbar support.

When you have low back pain, there's evidence that the best sleep position is on your side -- with your knees bent. In this position, if you place a pillow between your knees you can help relieve pressure and improve your comfort.

If you prefer to sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your stomach, put a pillow beneath your hips. These pillows can help you keep a proper and healthy spinal curve, which can relieve and prevent back pain.

When it comes to back pillows, there's no good evidence that a specific firmness or type of material works best for every person. Finding the right pillow calls for a little trial and error. But the research suggests the benefits of this search are worth the time and effort.