What Is a Bolster Pillow? Is It a Pillow Or a Prop?

Do you have a bunch of pillows strategically placed on your bed just for looks? Your answer is likely yes, and we’re pretty sure that there’s a bolster pillow somewhere in that mix. 

Pillows come in different sizes, each with its own distinctive design and features that add vibrancy to a room’s appearance.

Bolster pillows are used for a variety of purposes ranging from medical to daily utility. This article will provide you with detailed answers to the question: “What is a bolster pillow?”.  

We’ll explain how a bolster pillow adds value both functionally and aesthetically. Sleeping with a bolster pillow can provide you with optimal cushioning and comfort.

What Exactly Is a Bolster Pillow?

Bolster pillows are long, firm, narrow and cylindrical pillows filled with either cotton or fiber for back support. A great feature of bolster pillows is their round and long structure that offers form and function. Similar to a neck roll but larger in size, bolster pillows come in different sizes and fabrics.

The Origin of Bolster Pillows

Bolster pillows are often found on the edges of armchairs or couches, and are often used to enhance the decorative accent of a room. But bolsters were used as more than just an aesthetic touch in their earlier days.

The word “bolster” comes from the 12th century Old English term “Belg Bag.” The origin of bolster pillows can be traced to Southeast Asian countries, where they were used for physical and emotional support.

Initially designed to be hugged while sleeping, bolster pillows were often referred to as a “Hugging Pillow.” People in countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia have various bolster pillows lying around their houses, and they are used for multiple purposes. In fact, the first Indonesian president proudly announced bolsters as part of their national identity.

While the Indonesians recognized the bolster pillow as a “Hugging Pillow,” they were known as the “Dutch Wife” during the Dutch colonial era. The term was coined in the 17th century during the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Other traditions suggest that the bolster pillow was given the name “Dutch Wife” and “Bamboo Wife” because traditional bolsters were fashioned out of bamboo by wives so that their husbands didn’t get lonely when they traveled far from home.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Bolster Pillow

Here are five important things you need to consider before purchase a bolster pillow:

Easily Foldable

A bolster pillow should be easily foldable in a V shape to provide you with needed back support during your sleep.  

Easy Cleaning and Maintenance

You need to launder a bolster pillow to maintain its longevity and functionality. Since there’s not a standard size for bolster pillows, you can choose a size, material and color that best suits you. 

Most bolsters come with a zippered exterior that can be taken off and easily washed. However, most decorative bolster pieces aren’t always equipped with a zipper, so be careful with such bolster pillows.


Bolster pillows are made of cotton, synthetic blends or foam. Foam bolster pillows are often the most durable (although there’s not much difference) and comfortable as compared to the cotton and synthetic ones. 

Like most other pillows, bolster pillows should also be replaced after a year or two at best.


If you’re buying a bolster pillow for a specific purpose such as spinal alignment or back support, make sure the pillow you buy delivers on that front. 

If it’s just an addition to your pillow pile, go for a larger bolster to ensure it matches your existing furniture.

Fits the Style Theme

Bolster pillows can accentuate the style of your room. Pick a color and pattern that either contrasts or goes along with your interior spaces for aesthetic upkeep.

Physiological Benefits of a Bolster Pillow

When appropriately used, bolster pillows help alleviate and prevent undue muscle and ligament pressure. Here are some of the known medical benefits of bolster pillows:

Orthopedic Benefits

Bolster pillows are firm, which is why they offer great body support. If you’re a back sleeper, a bolster pillow will help you curve your back properly when you place it under your knees. This will relieve pressure, tighten the muscles and resolve your back issues.

People with hip and shoulder problems can also use bolster pillows (preferably while sitting on a chair) to alleviate their back and neck pain. 

Sitting with a bolster pillow on the floor is better than sitting on a sofa since it’ll straighten your spine much better, thereby boosting your spine muscle health.

Posture Correction

Incorrect body posture can result in muscle and ligament strains. People who work for hours at a stretch sitting in front of a computer can deal with hunchback issues.

Constantly being bent forward results in bad body posture and puts undue pressure on your neck and shoulders. Sleeping with a bolster pillow will straighten your back to a great extent and will relieve the stored tension.

Upset Stomach

Surprising as it is, if you have an upset stomach due to gas, sleeping on top of the bolster pillow and rolling from one side to another will make you feel better in just a few minutes.


A bolster pillow is a therapist’s best friend. Depending on the patient’s condition (it could be spine remodeling, body alignment, or any other problem), the therapist places a bolster pillow in, near or under the concerned body part to release muscle pressure.

Workout Session

Bolster pillows have become great workout assistants. People who practice yoga can easily use a bolster pillow in place of a yoga mat.

These pillows also give your routine workouts a boost by helping leg raises and sit-ups and for maintaining your balance during a workout session.

Maternity Support

The long and cylindrical design of bolster pillows improves balance during pregnancy. As a matter of fact, it’s the most preferred sleeping assistance among pregnant women who face difficulty in sleeping comfortably.  

Are Bolster Pillows Versatile?

Bolster pillows are dynamic and highly versatile, and serve you in more than just one way.

Decorative Appeal

Every living room demands some color and style. These unique cylindrical-shaped pillows can give your room a luxurious accent thanks to their firm, solid layered form. Add multiple bolster pillows to your living room to break the monotony of your plain couch, adding elegance to it.

Daily Utility

Bolster pillows can also be used as:

  • An armrest while you read your favorite book
  • A footrest to help you loosen and relax your leg muscles

Bottom Line

Bolster pillows are not your typical polyester, linen or leather pillow; they dive deeper. No matter where you sleep, bolster pillows will make you feel relaxed from the minute your head is on one. Since they provide back, neck and shoulder support, as well as act as armrests or footrests, they are a great example of what is achievable when visual appeal is paired with support.

Featured image courtesy of Pinterest.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top