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What is a Knee Pillow?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 23, 2024
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People who typically sleep on their side are familiar with the discomfort that can result from resting one knee on the other while sleeping. It is not only uncomfortable at the time, but can lead to further pain in the hip and lower back, because of the unnatural positioning of the knees. The knee pillow is an orthopedic pillow designed to ease pain in the back, hip, and knee areas. This is accomplished by placing the pillow between the knees at night, keeping them separate and thereby reducing strain on the hipbones.

Most knee pillows are either hourglass shaped, or have a rectangular form. A knee pillow with an hourglass shape tends to stay in place overnight fairly well, because of how it contours to the general shape of the knees and legs. Since a rectangular knee pillow does not have this advantage, some models are available which include a fabric strap, which wraps around one leg to keep the pillow in place. The strap attaches to the pillow cover, which is machine washable.

Another interesting design variation of the knee pillow is one which has an hourglass or butterfly shape on both sides, but can open up in the middle. This type actually has hinges on it to allow the pillow to open up and be placed flat on a bed. When open, this kind of knee pillow can be used for head and neck support, or for leg elevation. In this way, this kind of knee pillow can be used by a person who sleeps on his back as well as someone who sleeps on his side.

One type of specialized knee pillow is the kind made of Memory Foam™. Memory Foam™ is a material made of polyurethane, with additional chemicals that increase its density and thickness. It has the property of being able to conform to body contours exactly, because of its amorphous nature. This effect is visible, for example, when a person presses his hand into the foam and then removes it. For a short time after, the foam “remembers” the hand and maintains the impression made by it.

This type of material is well-suited to use in knee pillows. Its ability to contour exactly to a person’s body keeps the pillow in place overnight, as well as providing the correct amount of support wherever it is needed. Memory Foam™ was originally developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States. It was never actually used by the space program, but has since found use in numerous orthopedic and medical applications.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1000256 — On Jul 25, 2018


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You can check us out here:



Have a great day!

By anon1000188 — On Jun 25, 2018

True story. My knee pillow from cush comfort was a deal breaker for my problems.

By candyquilt — On May 01, 2012

@anamur-- I don't know about which kind is best, but I don't really recommend the memory foam knee pillows.

Some people like them but the one I bought recently didn't work for me. It was too soft and the pillow would literally become flattened from the weight of my knees. So it didn't support my knees as well as it should have.

Every memory foam knee pillow might not be this way. But if you get one that's of different material, you might be better off.

And if you're on a very tight budget, why don't you use a nice fluffy regular pillow between your knees? I've done that before and it worked better than my memory foam knee pillow. Paying more doesn't necessarily make something better in my opinion.

By SteamLouis — On May 01, 2012

@anamur-- I like the contoured knee pillows, also called the butterfly pillow.

I think these are the most comfortable because your legs fit into it perfectly. Mine also has a strap that I attach to my leg. So if I move from one side to another, I don't have to re-position the pillow. Plus, butterfly pillows can be separated and used under your knees or legs while sleeping on your back too like the article said. So it's multi-functional.

The knee wedge pillow is put under your knees when you're sleeping on your back, not your side as far as I know. So it won't work if you sleep on your side. But if you always sleep on your back, then that won't be a problem.

By serenesurface — On Apr 30, 2012

On some nights when I'm sleeping on my side, I feel discomfort with my hip and legs. It feels like the leg on top puts too much weight and pressure on the bottom one. And my hip hurts from sleeping on my side too much.

I really want a knee pillow. I've heard good things about it but I'm not sure if it's worth it. The ones I've seen so far are pretty expensive. I didn't even pay so much for my regular pillow and I'm not even sure if I'll be comfortable using it. So I'm holding out for now, until I find a good deal.

By the way, does anyone have any recommendations for the type of knee pillow that's best? Is the wedge pillow better or the butterfly one?

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