If you have a bulging disc in your neck, you know simple tasks like turning your head can cause considerable pain. Sleeping causes even more issues because you have to toss and turn to find the best position to sleep pain-free.

The right pillow can help alleviate pain and allow you to get the rest you need. Here we’ll review some of the best pillows for bulging discs in your neck.


If Your In a Hurry: Our Editor's Top Picks

What Is A Bulging Disc?

In order to better choose the right pillow, you might want to know more about your condition. In this article, we will answer and explain the following frequently asked questions for better understanding of disc bulging, including:

  • What is a Spinal Disc?
  • Anatomy of the Spinal Disc
  • What is Disc Bulging?
  • What are the symptoms of Disc Bulging?
  • What causes the bulging of disc?
  • How to treat disc bulging?

What Is A Spinal Disc?


According to John Miller, a registered physiotherapist who specializes in musculoskeletal management, spinal discs have a circular shape with a flat top and bottom surface connected to vertebra (see Figure 1 below). These discs separate the bony vertebral bodies supporting each spinal level for movement and provide space for major spinal nerves to exit, going to the limbs. It is also considered pliable and acts as a cushion that absorbs shock for the spine.


Anatomy Of The Spinal Disk?

The top part is a strong ligament called the intervertebral disc that links vertebral bones together, as shown in Figure 1 below. Discs contain annulus fibrosus and nucleus pulposus. Annulus fibrosus has strong exterior layers of multi-directional fibrocartilaginous fibers and is considered the most stable section of the disc.

On the other hand, nucleus pulposus or the fluid component of the disc has a moist jelly-like interior glycoprotein and acts as the major absorber of shock (Medtronic Inc.)

Normal Disk Illustration

Figure 1: Normal Disk Illustration

Anatomy of a Spinal Disk

Figure 2: Anatomy of a Spinal Disk

Size of the spine discs increases as shock absorption intensifies because of the weight and gravity which starts from neck going to lower back. These ligaments of the disc enable movement which has the same activity similar to ligaments in the knee and shoulders.

Disc ligaments can also be injured, it can be an annular tear or disc bulging. Any part of the annulus around the disc can be torn or ruptured.

The annular tear occurs if the disc fibers are ruptured or separate and can sometimes be immensely painful since its fibers send pain signals.

While bulging of the disc happens when the annulus fibrosus gets damaged, the exterior weakens and the nucleus pulposus slips out. (Source: Virginia Spine Institute).



What Is A Bulging Disc?

The neck and spine are made up of bones called vertebrae. As mentioned, these bones are round and stacked right on top of each other. In between these bones, you have discs that are composed of two layers of cartilage as shown in Figure 1 above. There are a tough outer layer and a soft inner layer that help cushion your vertebrae as you move and twist.

A disc bulge (also known as slipping disc or protruding disc) is an injury common to intervertebral disc of the spine which means that the disc material moved from its normal disc space.

Shape and integrity of the spine are also changed which can lead to other problems as shown in Figure 3 below. 


Figure 3. X-ray Image of Disk Bulging

Figure 3. X-ray Image of Disk Bulging

A disc bulge (also known as slipping disc or protruding disc) is an injury common to intervertebral disc of the spine which means that the disc material moved from its normal disc space.

Shape and integrity of the spine are also changed which can lead to other problems as shown in Figure 3 below. 

When the cartilage between your vertebrae bulges out, the disc material inside is squeezed, the pressure on spinal nerves or spinal cord is increased and irritated this is called herniated disc (see Figure 4 below).

Figure 4: (L) Normal Cervical Disk vs (R) Herniated Disk

Figure 4: (L) Normal Cervical Disk vs (R) Herniated Disk

What are the Symptoms of Disk Bulging?

In disc bulging, the fluid component (nucleus pulposus) of the disc leaks out against the adjacent spinal cord or spinal nerves. This event gives rise to a feeling of pain, numbness, and weakness which radiates throughout the shoulders or arms and neck. The intensity of pain can change from dull, stinging and hard to contain or pinpoint, burning and ease of locating. Moreover, pain depends on how the disc is compressing against nerve roots and spinal cord. Symptom and pain vary from what location and type depending on which disc has bulged  (Source: Medtronic Inc.).

Some usual symptoms of disc bulging depending on location (Source: North American Spine by Nobilis Health):

Neck spine area: pain, numbness, burning, tingling, and instability in the upper body area (e.g. neck, shoulders, hands and at times in the head part).

Upper and mid-back spine (uncommon): difficulty in the upper back area transmitting through the chest or stomach which mistakenly identifies as a cardiovascular problem.

Lower back area: numbness, pain, burning, tingling and instability of the lumbar spine, buttocks, legs, and feet.

Furthermore, other people experience difficulty in walking and/ or weight in their legs.  

Rob J. Our Expert

The material that your pillow is made of will also affect your pillow choice. This is mostly going to depend on your personal preference and what feels most comfortable for your neck.

What Causes Bulging Disc?

Dr. Tony Mork from the Back Pain Institute of Miami suggests that in figuring out what causes disc bulging, we may want to start by asking the patient. What is the lifestyle and state of physical activity done most of the time?

Individuals with a sedentary lifestyle and who smokes have a greater chance of having a disc bulging. Imbalances in the musculature, poor posture and also incorrect body position while doing exercising, standing, sitting and sleeping are all considered risk elements in developing the injury. Damaged caused by a direct physical injury like falling or car accidents can add pressure to the disc. 

Being overweight plus having high contact sports or movements is also a big factor as it adds strain and stress on the spine thus reducing the strength of discs. Runners without proper orthopedic support in shoes may also cause disc bulging. Even without the aforementioned factors, the most generally known cause of the problem is aging as it weakens the discs over time together with other risks that can even lead to the development of Degenerative Disc Disease. For example, heavy lifting and weakened muscles throughout the years continuously increase strain on the disc. It can also be genetic or acquired from your parents where other symptoms did appear or not.  


How to Treat Disk Building?

Disc bugling diagnosed patients can be medicated using surgical and nonsurgical treatments to alleviate pain. Treatment still depends on the unique situation of the individual, so it is better to discuss it fully with a cervical spine specialist.

Surgery

Surgical treatments, on the other hand, are suggested if rest, medication and physical therapy did not improve the condition within 6 weeks or there is evident nerve root or spinal cord compression include:

Cervical fusion: Damaged disc or cervical protruding disc is removed and replaces it with a spacer to link together vertical column injured segments in the neck. 

Cervical replacement: Cervical slipping disc is removed, and then the artificial cervical disc is placed to improve movement.

Non-Surgical Methods

Nonsurgical treatments are recommended to those people who don’t have any indications of nerve root compression together with muscle weakness. These treatments include:

Rest

When there is a feeling of pain, take a rest first for a few days as rest can help relieve swelling and give some period of time for back to recover. Stay away from extraneous activity and exercises that needs lifting or bending. Doctors or specialists may recommend bed rest for a short period of time but maintain the movement of muscles and joints to prevent it from stiffening. Application of ice and heat can help alleviate sore at the painful back area.  

Medications

Pain medications from over-the-counter can also help bring down swelling and pain like Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) or Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil). Although, make sure to talk to a specialist if usage will take more than 10 days. Also, note that taking large amounts of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for a long period of time as these can increase heart problem risks or bleeding. For nerve-injured pain medicines such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and amitriptyline (Vanatrip, Elavil) and muscle relaxants can be suggested also to alleviate muscle spasms in back. If over-the-counter drugs did not help, doctors recommend narcotics as short-term alternatives like codeine. 

Physical Therapy

Strengthening muscles supporting the back area can help improve the disc bulging with the assistance of a physical therapist. Some exercises include:

  • Stretching exercises- in order to maintain flexibility of muscles
  • Aerobic exercises- from low to high intensity such as walking, brisk walking or stationary biking
  • Massage
  • Ice therapy for the first 1 to 3 days and heat therapy after the first few days for healing
  • Ultrasound therapy for detection and treatment of soft-tissue damages
  • Electrical muscle stimulator
  • Soft cervical collar (neck brace) or pillow to help ease neck and shoulder pain

What are the Important Considerations when Looking for a Pillow for a Bulging Disc?

These are the important factors you should take into account when you are choosing the best pillow for a bulging disc in your neck or shoulder.

Sleeping Position

We all have different sleeping positions and you will have to choose a pillow that not only supports your sleeping position but as well as protects and cushions your neck.

Woman Side Sleeper

● Side Sleeper- This position will need a firmer pillow that will help cushion your neck in the area between your chin and shoulder.

● Back Sleeper- This position requires a thinner pillow so that your head is not placed at an uncomfortable angle. It is the most recommended sleeping position for individuals with neck and back pains.

● Stomach Sleeper- This position is not recommended for those who have a bulging disc because it can cause more pain issues. Sensitive muscles which protect the neck and back area are having difficulty as the natural curve of the spine gets flat which blocks the air passage. Although, if you have to sleep on your stomach, you will need an extremely thin pillow.

Pillow Type

Cervical pillows have different types depending on their purpose so choosing the type is important to suit your needs. A great example is the travel pillow that is similar to J-Pillow​​​​ which aims to support the head, chin, and neck. On the other hand, other neck support pillow types are more appropriate to be used while sitting and sleeping in bed.

Pillow Size

You need to find the right size pillow for your bed and your body. Pillow sizes before used to be only in one standard size but nowadays there are a variety of sizes to choose from. If you are larger and have broader shoulders or long neck you will need to find a larger pillow. Same goes if you are smaller, you will need to adjust the size of your pillow to your frame. Also, just like the yoga sleep pillow which has an ergonomic design which suits the size of beds.

Pillow material and design

A bulging disc in your neck will require you to look for a little bit different design of pillow. A pillow that has extra neck support or a contour will help cushion your neck and prevent any further damage to your discs. Pillows are usually filled with different materials namely sponge, latex rubber, visco-elastic foam or commonly known as memory foam, feather of down and other synthetic materials. Each material provides various comfort so it’s better to know and rank your preferences.

The material that your pillow is made of will also affect your pillow choice. This is mostly going to depend on your personal preference and what feels most comfortable for your neck.


These types of pillows will also protect your neck while you sleep. Whether that’s by preventing you from moving in a way that could cause pain or more damage or by keeping you in a spot for the best alignment. When you’re sleeping, you aren’t able to protect your neck yourself so you want to choose a pillow that will be able to do that for you.

Rob J. Our Expert


What are the Benefits if a Pillow for Bulging Discs in your Neck?

Aside from allowing you to sleep pain-free and waking up without a stiffness, there are a few more benefits that the right pillow can provide when it comes to dealing with a bulging disc.

It keeps your natural alignment

A good neck pillow will help you keep your neck, shoulder, and spine in proper alignment by supporting the natural curve in the back of your neck which also correct and maintain your overall posture. Good spinal alignment, while you’re sleeping, can prevent further damage to a bulging disc and stop more pain from occurring.

Supports the damaged area

A bulging disc can create a vulnerable spot in your neck. You do not want to hurt the area even more and cause more severe or complicated problems which can further extend to other parts of your body. While a good pillow will keep you in alignment, it will also give you extra support where you need it the most.

The pressure from the extra support of a neck pillow can keep a bulging disc from further slipping out between the vertebrae. It might also provide pain relief by pushing back against the disc and allow you to be more productive in work or better sleep at night.

Protects Your Neck

These types of pillows will also protect your neck while you sleep. Whether that’s by preventing you from moving in a way that could cause pain or more damage or by keeping you in a spot for the best alignment. When you’re sleeping, you aren’t able to protect your neck yourself so you want to choose a pillow that will be able to do that for you.


Other benefits

 Neck pains caused by bulging discs prevents you to have a good sleep at night. Problems in your sleeping adversely affect your life, relationship, and productivity at home, school or work. Stress and tension cause neck problems that are also linked to the correct alignment of the spine. 


Trouble in breathing and blood flowing is also a problem thus, developing pain and discomfort when you sleep. Choosing the right pillow can significantly and noticeably help you sleep better. High quality and proper design are needed to properly align the body, specifically your neck.   


Do I need to be Concerned with the Material of my Pillow?

The short answer? Yes. What your pillow is made of will contribute a lot to the protection of your neck and your ability to sleep comfortably. You can pick from a variety of different pillow materials and each one has their own pros and cons.

For More Customized Comfort: Memory Foam

This material is a very popular choice for pillows and mattresses. Memory foam has the unique ability to mold to your unique contours. This allows memory foam to be highly supportive as well as relieve pressure points that other material might cause. 

Moreover, its material makes it good in mitigation of dust mites, and hypo-allergenic. Memory foam works well in pillows for bulging discs because it will mold around the sensitive area and keep it protected and comfortable.

According to a study as mentioned in Veritas Health, this type of pillow is considered the best in properly aligning the spinal cord. Memory foam will also be a little more expensive than other materials, but it will last a long time.

For A Lower Budget: Poly-Fiber

If you don’t want to spend as much money on a memory foam pillow, you can get one that has a poly-fiber filling. These pillows can still be comfortable and provide good support if they have enough filling. A poly-fiber pillow might not contour to your neck and body, but if that isn’t as important to you these kinds of pillows will work just as well.

Because they are a little less expensive, make sure you are still getting a quality product. You don’t want to buy a very cheap pillow that is going to break down quickly or even worse cause you more neck pain.


Quick Reviews of Some Solid Pillows

EPABO Contour Memory Foam Pillow

best pillow for neck pain discs

The EPABO Contour Memory Pillow has an ergonomic form to allow your neck to remain comfortably in place during the night. It is ideal of back sleepers but can also accommodate side sleepers as well.

The pillow is firm to provide the correct amount of support for individuals who suffer from neck pain.

It's premium fabric and breathable memory form helps the sleeper remain cool and comfortable during the night. 

The pillow is made chemical free and with the highest level of quality. IT comes in Queen or King and is backed by a 100% money back guarantee with 30 days of purchase. 


Desk Jockey Premium Therapeutic Grade Neck Support Cushion

Desk Jockey - neck pillow

The Desk Jockey neck support cushion is made of high-quality memory foam and can be used many different ways. It has a strap on the back so it can be used while traveling in the car or on a plane. It is also great for sleeping at night because it will cradle your head and neck without any pressure or pain.

It has a velour cover that is removable and can be machine-washed. It is small enough to fit in a suitcase or carry-on bag, but still large enough to provide adequate support and pain relief. It is highly durable and Desk Jockey offers a 100% money back guarantee. If you don’t like the pillow or it breaks down, you can send it back for a full refund.

This is a good choice if you are a frequent traveler and need to protect your neck.


Smarter Rest Memory Foam Contour Pillow

Elite Rest Contour pillow

This memory foam pillow features a contour on one side to help support the natural curve of your neck. There are two layers of memory foam in this pillow, the core is high-density support foam and the outer layer 

This pillow will support your neck whether you sleep on your back or on your side. It is covered in a bamboo fiber cover that is hypoallergenic and promotes airflow through the pillow and is machine washable. The memory foam is also made without harmful chemicals or toxins.


Coop Goods Shredded Memory Foam Pillow

This pillow is made with CertiPUR-US shredded memory foam. The shredded memory foam is tiny pieces of traditional memory foam used all at once to help promote airflow and keep the surface of the pillow cooler. It also has a bamboo fiber pillow cover that is removable and washable.

COOP Goods - neck pain pillow

The bamboo fiber cover is also hypoallergenic, dust mite resistant, and antimicrobial which makes this pillow great for allergy sufferers. The shredded memory foam also allows you to adjust the support of the pillow to where you need it most. So if you’re trying to keep your neck stable, you can adjust the pillow to be more supportive there.

You can choose between two sizes, queen and king, to fit your needs. This pillow also has a 5-year warranty to not go flat and it comes with a 30-day money back guarantee.


Snuggle-Pedic Ultra-Luxury Bamboo Shredded Memory Foam Pillow

SnugglePedic - best pillow for neck pain

Snuggle-Pedic is another shredded memory foam pillow that allows you to adjust the support and comfort of your pillow based on your personal needs. It has a bamboo-blend fiber pillow case with Kool-Flow vented technology to help keep air moving through the pillow allowing you to sleep cool and comfortable.

There are three sizes to choose from and all Snuggle-Pedic pillows are made in the US with CertiPUR-US and Eco-friendly Biogreen memory foam, so there are no harsh chemicals used. They offer a 20-year warranty as well as a 90-day no hassle money back refund policy.

Cervical Neck Traction Inflatable Pillow 

Obviously this product is not like the other pillows on this page. You would be hard-pressed to lie on your bed and fall asleep with this product. However for individuals with severe neck pain due to compression on their bulged disk, this may be the only comfort that they can find.

SnugglePedic - best pillow for neck pain

This product fits comfortably for up to a 19" neck and is soft and breathable due to its velvet  plush qualities.  This product has a 90 day 100% money back guarantee.

We suggest checking with your doctor to ensure this product is right for you

The Cervical Neck Traction inflatable pillow is FDA approved and made of the highest quality material. It is simple to use and fully adjustable to the individuals traction requirements.