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Heating pads are a form of heat therapy to soothe muscle and joint aches and pains. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and heating mechanisms.

A quick look at the best heating pads

Heating pads offer topical heat therapy to different parts of the body. These products may help soothe aching muscles and joints and relieve pain. Research suggests that heat therapy decreases pain and increases blood flow, metabolism, and connective tissue elasticity.

Heating pads come in various sizes and types, including electric, infrared, chemical, and liquid or gel pads.

Heating pads provide a form of heat therapy. Applying heat to an area with inflamed joints or muscles can improve circulation since heat dilates the blood vessels.

How a heating pad works depends on its heating mechanism. The following are some common types of heating pads and how they work.

Electric

An electric heating pad uses internal coils to produce various levels of heat based on the user’s setting.

Though many models plug into a wall outlet, others use a battery pack for power. Battery-powered products may be more convenient for people who require a heating pad on the go. Many electric heating pads come with an automatic shut-off timer to prevent injury.

Infrared

Infrared heating pads also use electricity. However, infrared products convert electricity to infrared light, which produces heat. Older research notes that infrared units effectively eliminate or reduce chronic lower back pain.

Like electric heating pads, infrared may use battery packs or plug into a wall outlet. These products usually have differing heat levels and automatic shut-off timers.

Chemical pads

Chemical pads rely on a chemical reaction to create temporary heat. Some chemical heating pads warm up automatically once a person exposes the product to air. Other products may involve squeezing the pad to release heat.

These pads are often available in packs and adhere directly to a person’s skin or clothing. Chemical heating pads are often single-use, and people need to throw them away once they have cooled down. This makes them a less eco-friendly option than other types of heating pads.

Gels or liquid pads

Gel or liquid pads typically need heating in a microwave before they release heat. Depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, people can wear these pads inside clothing or directly on the skin.

These products are often reusable. People will need to reheat the pads in a microwave before using them again.

Medical News Today chooses products that meet the following criteria:

  • Price: MNT will choose products available for a wide range of budgets.
  • Features: MNT selectsproducts with useful features, such as an auto-shutoff, overheating protection mechanism, or adjustable straps.
  • Suitability: MNTselectsproducts to suit a range of needs, such as portability and extra temperature functions.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best infrared heating pad: Thermotex Platinum Far Infrared Heating Pad

Price: $259

Thermotex states that its platinum far infrared heating pad provides infrared wavelengths that penetrate up to 2.36 inches (in) into the affected area within 20 minutes.

The company claims that the pad can alleviate pain in different parts of the body, including:

  • the neck
  • the shoulders
  • the back
  • the hips

Thermotex provides instructional videos on how to use the heating pad on different parts of the body.

Key product features

  • Accessories: three heat inserts measuring 3 inches (in) x 8 in
  • Product weight: 2 pounds (lbs)
  • Shipping dimensions: 15.5 × 8 × 6 in
  • Warranty: 1-year warranty on parts and labor

Pros

  • alleviates pain from carpal tunnel syndrome
  • alleviates joint pain
  • helps with neck pain
  • provides lasting deep heat

Cons

  • expensive
  • Velcro strip may not provide sufficient security

Best chemical heating pad: ThermaCare Heat Wraps

Price: From $11.29.

ThermaCare heat wraps heat via a chemical reaction. A person applies the pads directly on the skin and can wear them for up to 8 hours. The pads are thin and flexible, meaning a person can wear them underneath clothing and during exercise.

The company designs different-sized pads to fit specific areas of the body. The pads may help to alleviate the following types of pain:

The pads are available in boxes of one or more.

Pros

  • available in different sizes
  • provides relief for different types of pain
  • discreet and comfortable

Cons

  • some customers complain that the product was defective

Best gel heating pad: CLIK CLAK Reusable Heating Pads

Price: $39.99

To use Clik Clak’s reusable gel heating pads, a person simply snaps the pad to heat it.

When the pad cools, a person can place it in boiling water for 20 minutes to reheat it. The company does not state how long the pad stays warm.

A pack of Clik Clak’s reusable gel heating pads contains pads in different shapes and sizes for use on different parts of the body. Larger pads may be suitable for areas such as the lower back, while smaller pads may be suitable for use on smaller joints.

Other features include:

  • a one-click design
  • construction from plastic material that retains heat

Pros

  • plastic material that is resistant to wear and tear
  • lightweight
  • suitable for full-body pain relief
  • no electricity required

Cons

  • may be too hot to apply to skin immediately
  • may stay warm for only a few minutes

Best electric heating pad: GENIANI Extra Large Electric Heating Pad

Price: $29.97

The Geniani extra large electric heating pad plugs into an outlet. It has adjustable heat settings, with low, medium, or high heat options. The copper wire covers the entire heating pad and protects it from overheating.

Other features include:

  • an automatic shut-off timer
  • extra large size to target different muscle groups
  • a soft microplush machine washable cover

The company offers a 3-year warranty and states that the product is Health Savings Account (HSA) and Flexible Savings Account (FSA) eligible.

Pros

  • a machine-washable design
  • comes with automatic shut-off
  • compatible with HSA and FSA payments
  • a warranty period of 3 years

Cons

  • some reviewers comment that the product can short out
  • some reviewers comment that the product may not get hot, even after 20 minutes
  • some reviewers report that the product stopped working after a few uses

Best cordless: GoHeat Cordless Sunbeam Heating Pad

Price: Starting from $92.49.

The GoHeat Cordless Sunbeam Heating pad features a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, allowing people to use the product on the go. The battery lasts up to 4 hours on a single charge when using the product on a low heat setting.

Additional product features include:

  • three heat settings; low, medium, and high
  • an integrated strap for hands-free use, adjustable up to 55 in
  • a machine-washable 100% polyester pad covering
  • dimensions of 2.7 x 2 x 4.5 in

Pros

  • battery-operated
  • machine-washable cover
  • a practical option for use “on the go”

Cons

  • some customers criticize the customer support service
  • some reviewers note that they received a defective product
  • the price tag is high

Best microwaveable: SuzziPad Microwave Heating Pad

Price: $28.99

This heating pad contains flaxseeds, millets, and clay beads. The product has the potential to deliver both heat and cold therapy. For heat therapy, a person can heat the pad in the microwave for 90 seconds. For cold therapy, a person can store the pad in the freezer for 4 hours.

The product is double-sided; One side is soft to the skin, and the other has a breathable design that provides intense heat therapy.

The company claims that the product can help to alleviate the following types of pain:

  • joint pain
  • muscle tightness
  • inflammation

Pros

  • skin-friendly
  • options to provide either heat or cold therapy
  • suitable for persons who have undergone shoulder surgery

Cons

  • some customers report an unpleasant smell after heating
  • some customers report that the product tore after a few uses

Best weighted heating pad: Comfytemp Full Weighted Heating Pad

Price: $39.99

The Comfytemp Full Weighted heating pad weighs 2.2 lbs. It contains a micro-glass bead filling, and the beads are evenly distributed.

The company claims that the additional weight of the heating pad allows it to it close to the body, alleviating muscle cramps and pain more quickly than non-weighted pads.

The company states that a person can spray water onto the pad for a moist heat therapy effect.

Additional product features include:

  • three adjustable heat settings; low, medium, and high
  • a handheld controller
  • a 2-hour automatic shut-off feature
  • a stay-on function that offers the option of receiving continual heat
  • a machine-washable design

Learn about the best weighted blankets here.

Pros

  • machine-washable
  • has a shut-off feature and a stay-on feature
  • weighted to offer compression, which may help to alleviate pain

Cons

  • may feel too heavy for some users
  • may not provide enough heat

Best heating pad with controller: Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL Heating Pad

Price: $34.99

The Pure Enrichment heating pad has an LCD controller that allows people to choose between six heat levels. The heating pad also features InstaHeat technology for rapid heating.

This pad is suitable for people with muscle tension in the abdomen, back, shoulders, and legs.

Other product features include:

  • microplush material
  • automatic shut-off technology
  • a weight of 1.3 lb
  • dimensions of 23.5 x 11.5 x 0.5 in
  • FSA and HSA compatibility
  • a 5-year warranty

Pros

  • an auto shut-off feature that prevents overheating
  • compatible with FSA and HSA payments
  • 5-year warranty

Cons

  • product provides inconsistent heat
  • returns are not available

The table below provides a comparison between the eight heating pads:

PriceWeight (lbs)Dimensions (in)Main feature
Thermotex$259215.5 × 8 × 6infrared
ThermaCarefrom $11.291-4 varieschemical
CLIK CLAK$39.995.9711.57 x 11.42 x 2.32 ingel
GENIANI$29.971.3412 x 24 inelectric
GoHeatfrom $92.491.052.7 x 2 x 4.5 incordless
SuzziPad$28.993.079.8 x 7.99 x 3.39microwavable
Comfytemp$39.992.8924 x 12 x 0.39weighted
Pure Enrichment$34.991.2523.5 x 11.5 x 0.5LCD controller

A person looking for a heating pad may consider the following criteria:

  • Use: A person should check which muscle groups the product targets. They may also consider looking for products that have the potential to provide both heat and cold therapy.
  • Price: A person should check the product’s cost and any additional shipping fees. People living outside the United States may have to buy additional adapters if they opt for an electric heating pad.
  • Automatic shut-off: When purchasing an electric heating pad, people should opt for a product with an automatic shut-off safety feature. This prevents the product from overheating.

Heat and cold therapy can provide pain relief. According to the Arthritis Foundation, people may use one or the other therapy depending on their condition. The heat from heating pads loosens stiff joints and muscles, and ice or cold therapy helps swollen and painful joints. People with joint pain can alternate between hot and cold therapy but must wait a couple of hours between each application.

Other research shows heat therapy can help relieve menstrual cramps. Heat can reduce muscle tension and relax the surrounding abdominal and pelvic muscles. This may help reduce pain due to muscle spasms.

The increased blood circulation can also help reduce fluid retention and swelling, reducing any pain due to nerve compression.

Heat therapy may also help:

A person should not use heat therapy if:

  • the affected area is warm to the touch
  • they have an open wound
  • they have nerve damage in the area

Learn more about heat therapy.

Heating pads provide topical heat therapy to specific areas of the body. They can ease symptoms of muscle and joint aches and pains.

A person may also find using a heating pad before exercise beneficial. The Arthritis Foundation suggests using a heating pad before physical activity to warm joints and muscles for a better stretch.

Researchers found that alternating between heat and cold therapies and using medications alleviated the participant’s lower back pain.

However, heating pads can pose health risks. In a 2012 study looking at different heat therapy modes, including heating pads and gel packs, researchers found that gel packs accounted for over 50% of reported burns in their study of patients hospitalized for burns from heating devices. Electric heating pads accounted for about 17% of all cases.

This study took place in a hospital in Korea and may not represent other studies that look at the causes of more minor burns.

When using an electric heating pad, a person should start on the lowest setting and work their way up, carefully setting a timer to avoid leaving it on too long.

For any heating pad, a person should follow all instructions for their device. Manufacturers may instruct a person to use protective covers and provide instructions on how long a person can use the pad.

Another potential issue from electric heating pads is electrical fires. Though many come with automatic shut-offs, a person should always check that their pad has no obvious signs of wear and tear or damage before plugging it in.

The following are some frequently asked questions about heating pads.

Are heating pads safe to use while sleeping?

A person should not sleep with a heating pad. However, lying on a heating pad for a short time before sleeping may alleviate pain and aid sleep. It is essential to follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions when using a heating pad.

Are heating pads good for back pain?

Studies show that heating pads can help a person find relief from chronic back pain. In an , researchers found that moist heat was more efficient than dry heat, but both alleviated pain.

Some companies sell moist heating pads. People should never attempt to moisten a heating pad unless the manufacturer states it is safe.

There are several types of heating pads available to buy online. People can use heating pads on various areas of their body to ease muscle and joint aches and pains.

Heating pads may also be beneficial for menstrual cramps. The heat encourages blood flow and reduces fluid retention.