What is an Orthopedic Pillow?

Lou Paun

Good sleep is necessary for the body to restore itself and maintain good health. People who suffer from disrupted sleep or who are always tired when they get up may benefit from using an orthopedic pillow. These pillows are believed to have therapeutic value for many sleep problems. Some types of pillows are used to help support or correct sitting position and relieve back and neck pain.

An orthopedic pillow is a less costly alternative to a sleep apnea mask for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea.
An orthopedic pillow is a less costly alternative to a sleep apnea mask for those with mild to moderate sleep apnea.

Orthopedic pillows are firmer than ordinary pillows and are shaped to support the body in a position that will let the sleeper get the best possible sleep. The type of orthopedic pillow is chosen to correct particular kinds of sleep problems.

Back sleepers often place an orthopedic pillow under the knees.
Back sleepers often place an orthopedic pillow under the knees.

The wedge pillow is shaped like an isosceles triangle with very long sides. It is used to raise the sleeper’s head and upper body from a horizontal position. This often helps reduce acid reflux symptoms. When the position of this orthopedic pillow is reversed, it elevates the legs and feet.

The contour pillow, also called a cervical pillow, is used to reduce frozen shoulders, headaches, and neck pain. It also helps keep the sleeper’s airway open, which reduces problems with sleep apnea and snoring. This type of orthopedic pillow has a curved shape that supports the head, neck, and shoulders.

The knee pillow has an hourglass shape and is placed between the sleeper’s legs. It holds the sleeper in a straight side sleeping position. Back sleepers place this orthopedic pillow under the knees. The pillow reduces strain on the spine, which relieves lower back pain.

The body pillow is very long with a gently curved shape. It is used by people who sleep on their sides. This orthopedic pillow supports the sleeper’s body from the head to the knees.

The lumbar pillow has a half moon shape. It is used to support the lower back while seated. This kind of orthopedic pillow is especially helpful for reducing lumbar pain.

The neck pillow has a horseshoe shape that supports the neck. It is used while the sleep is sitting up, usually when traveling. This orthopedic pillow is also called a travel pillow.

An orthopedic pillow is firmer than an ordinary pillow so that it can provide more support. Some types of pillows achieve this with a special kind of dense, firm foam. Pillows filled with buckwheat hulls are also popular.

People who think they would benefit from an orthopedic pillow should experiment with different kinds of pillows. Usually a trial period of one week is enough to determine whether or not a particular orthopedic pillow will alleviate the problem.

Lumbar support pillows can be used to prevent lower back pain.
Lumbar support pillows can be used to prevent lower back pain.

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Discussion Comments


Has anyone tried both a foam and a buckwheat orthopedic support pillow and can compare the two for me?

I'm looking for an orthopedic pillow that will help with neck stiffness. I've not had an orthopedic pillow so I'm not sure what would be best.

A friend of mine uses a buckwheat one and likes it. I did take a look at hers but the material seemed a bit too hard for me. I think I'm looking for something that's soft enough to be gentle, yet firm enough to support my neck. Would a foam pillow be best for that?

Are there other kinds of orthopedic pillows out there made from different ingredients?


@burcinc-- You should also try an orthopedic knee pillow. Those are great too. I felt the same way about my knee pillow when I first started using it.

It wouldn't have occurred to me to buy an orthopedic pillow if I didn't have health concerns. So I know what you mean about it seeming unnecessary. But it is a necessity and the cost is completely worth it.

I have a herniated disc in my lower back which causes me back pain from time to time. I saw one of those commercials on TV for orthopedic pillows and they were talking about the knee pillow. I decided to give it a shot.

I was surprised, it works quite well. I sleep on my back as well as on my sides. I use the knee pillow throughout the night. When I change positions, I have to make sure that I re-position the pillow. But that's okay because it helps my back.


I didn't think that I needed an orthopedic support pillow because I thought that only people with certain health conditions use them. And it's more costly than a regular pillow. But when I was over at my parent's house for the holidays this year, my mom gave me a contour orthopedic pillow to sleep on. It made such a difference! I had never been so comfortable while sleeping before. I had a great night's sleep while I was there.

When I got back home, I bought a contour pillow myself and have been using it since. I love how this pillow fills in the gap between my back and head. My neck doesn't feel strained and I never wake up with neck pain.

I wish I had started using an orthopedic pillow before. I will never go back to a regular pillow again!

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