8 Best Travel Neck Pillows for Pain-Free Snoozing
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Taking care of your neck
If you have neck pain, whether it’s constant or comes and goes, you’re in good company. An estimated 30 percent of adults in the United States experience neck pain, though that rate may be as high as 50 percent, according to research published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Neck pain has become increasingly common as the world becomes even more reliant on technology. Let’s just say that staring at screens for the majority of the day isn’t doing us any favors.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your neck, whether or not you’re currently dealing with pain. If you’re a frequent traveler, this means investing in a quality neck pillow that can help keep your neck muscles in line and prevent chronic pain.
What causes neck pain?
Clearly, falling asleep while sitting upright means your neck muscles relax and your heavy head will slump over, straining the supporting scaffolding in your neck and upper back. That could lead to an incredibly stiff neck, but there could be other contributing factors to your neck pain—and they can play a role during travel:
Staring at your phone for hours
You may have heard of the term tech neck, which describes the pain that results from staring at a smartphone or laptop for long periods of time.
“Excessive time spent with manual activity in front of the body, with eyes focusing on manual manipulation, causes excessive forward head posture, which can result in muscle spasm, neck joint overload, and disc degeneration,” says chiropractor Lev Kalika, owner of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in New York City.
Poor vision or eye fatigue
Get this: Eye strain may behind your aching neck. “If you are straining your eyes to see something, whether it be the road, your screen, or even reading letters, that strain will eventually progress to your neck and can often be the cause of chronic neck pain,” explains Dustin Martinez, Los Angeles-based chiropractor.
It’s a common component of life—and a major part of travel. A whopping 60 percent of U.S. adults reporting that they feel plagued by stress, according to a Gallup poll. “Stress causes excessive muscle tone and alteration of breathing, which in turn can lead to all sorts of musculoskeletal complaints,” says Kalika.
Qualities to look for in a travel neck pillow to reduce neck pain
For the best travel neck pillow, focus on a few key elements that will help reduce your neck pain. Important features include foam springs, side support, and (naturally) a portable size.
Foam spring: Like Goldilocks, you want to bypass pillows that are too soft or too hard. What’s considered “just right”? Aim for a travel neck pillow that’s springy.
“You can check it by the pinch rebound test, where you pinch the pillow with your fingers to see how well it rebounds back,” Kalika says. “If you have a hard time pinching the pillow, it is too hard, and if the rebound is absent, the pillow is too soft.”
Side support: “Side support is important because you want to make sure that when you fall asleep and your head is turned to the side it’s still going to be supported by the pillow,” Kalika says. “Actually, a good-quality pillow with side support creates a stopper to excessive neck rotation during sleep and sort of rebounds your head slightly back to neutral.”
Portable size: This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating: Pick a neck pillow that’s the right size for your travel arrangements. “Pillows come in many shapes and sizes, some easier than others for travel,” says Martinez. “I recommend using a neck pillow that makes sense for your travel situation. You want it to be functional.”
The best travel neck pillows to reduce neck pain
And now for the fun part: shopping. We asked experts to tell us about the best travel neck pillows for supporting the neck and cutting down on pain. Keep scrolling to shop the neck pillows they recommend.
via amazon.comTravelrest Nest Memory Foam Travel Neck Pillow
“Memory foam pillows like this one provide great side support for the neck and create curve support unique to each individual,” says Kalika. “This one also packs down a little bit, comes with a travel bag, and has a machine-washable cover.”
It comes in two color options: blue and gray.
via amazon.comTrtl Travel Pillow
It may be called a pillow, but Trtl’s product is more of a pillow-wrap hybrid. Internal support holds your head in position, and the wrap loops around to cradle your neck. It’s Martinez’s favorite travel neck pillow for pain. “It’s lightweight, machine washable, and you can change its shape to fit you,” he says. “The wrap feature offers total support of your neck, regardless of your sleep position, and also keeps you warm on an airplane, thanks to its fleece inner lining.”
The adult size comes in four colors, while a children’s size comes in two color patterns. Another plus: it weighs just half a pound, so it won’t add much heft to your travel bag.
via amazon.comAlpaca Memory Foam Travel Pillow
“Alpaca neck pillows can ease neck pain because they are made of high-quality memory foam, and they hold up the chin against the head in a head-nodding position, which is good for the neck,” explains Kalika. “They also pack down into a compact size, can fit any size neck, and they come with a travel bag.”
via amazon.comPoint2Points Twist Memory Foam Travel Pillow
If you’re looking for a travel neck pillow that you can contort into just about any shape to find your position of relief, Point2Points’ bendable pillow is a great option. “The shape of this pillow also supports a healthy spinal curvature,” says Martinez. It’s also simple to clean (it’s machine washable) and comes with a drawstring bag for storage on the go.
via amazon.comNapFun Neck Pillow for Traveling
This NapFun memory foam pillow springs back into form in just five seconds and is designed for comfort and portability. Martinez likes that it has side support and an adjustable drawstring that ensures the pillow closes tightly around your neck to hold your head in place. “This shape will minimize your risk of a sore neck and falling asleep in an undesirable position,” he says.
It comes in four colors and with an option to purchase a matching sleep mask and earplugs.
via amazon.comBCozzy Chin-Supported Pillow
The biggest perk of this BCozzy chin-supported pillow is that it offers extensive side support, according to Kalika.
“It is firm enough for support but also soft enough for comfort, and it puts the head in a nodding position, which is better for spinal alignment when you’re sleeping,” he says. “It can also double up for more thickness.”
It comes in 14 fabrics of varying colors and patterns.
via amazon.comMLVOC Travel Pillow
For the price, you can’t go wrong with this top-rated MLVOC travel pillow, which curves around your neck with a memory foam material that bounces back into place after five seconds. Its outer layer is made up of a soft magnetic therapy cloth, and inside are tiny microbeads. Bonus: it’s machine washable. It’s the most popular travel pillow on Amazon, with more than 9,000 five-star ratings.
via amazon.comTallgo Travel Pillow
Here’s another budget-friendly option. Tallgo’s travel pillow is constructed with high-quality memory foam and has an ergonomic design that protects the neck. The drawstrings at the front tighten the pillow’s “arms” to ensure it wraps tightly around your neck. The pillow cover zips off easily and can be thrown into the washing machine after each trip. It comes in four colors and includes a travel bag.
Next up, check out these bed pillows that help you get the best sleep ever.
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Neck Pain"
- Lev Kalika, DC, owner of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy in New York City
- Gallup: "In U.S., Life Ratings Plummet to 12-Year Low"
- Dustin Martinez, DC, Los Angeles-based chiropractic physician