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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.

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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 are effective in eliminating or reducing chronic lower back pain.

Like electric heating pads, infrared may use battery packs or plug into a wall outlet. These products usually have features such as 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 will need to throw them away once they have cooled down.

Gels or liquid pads

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

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

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.

The following are some heating pads available to buy online.

Please note, the writer has not tested these products. All information is research-based.

Thermotex Platinum Far Infrared Heating Pad – All Purpose

Thermotex offers several varieties of infrared heating pads, including the Platinum Far Infrared Heating Pad. The company states that this product will penetrate up to 2.36 inches (in) into the affected area within 20 minutes. The pad contains three 3 x 8-in inserts to provide heat.

The company claims it can help benefit pain in several body areas, including the back, shoulders, neck, and hips. Thermotex provides instructional videos to show people how to use the heating pad on different parts of the body.

ThermaCare Heat Wraps

ThermaCare offers several sizes of heat wraps that use a chemical reaction to create heat. The company designs each size pad to fit specific areas of the body. The pads are suitable for the back, neck, muscles, joints, and menstrual cramps.

A person applies the pads to their skin and can wear them for up to 8 hours. They are available in boxes of one or more.

CLIK CLAK Reusable Heating Pads

Clik Clak sells various packs of gel heating and cooling pads for use on various parts of the body. This product includes pad sizes suitable for larger areas, such as the lower back, and smaller areas, such as the shoulders.

People must snap the pad to heat it. When the pad cools down, people can place it in boiling water for 20 minutes to refresh. The company does not state how long the pad stays warm.

GENIANI Extra Large Electric Heating Pad

This product is suitable for back and menstrual pain. This product has an automatic shut-off timer, and people can choose from low, medium, or high heat. People must plug this pad into an outlet.

The company states that the heating pad is machine-washable. The company offers a 5-year warranty and states that the product is Health Savings Account (HSA) and Flexible Savings Account (FSA) eligible.

GoHeat Cordless Sunbeam Heating Pad

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

This pad has three heat settings: low, medium, and high. It has an integrated pad for hands-free use, which is adjustable and can extend to 55 in. The pad covering is 100% polyester and is machine-washable.

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 is 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, being careful to set 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 does not have any 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 for 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 to do so.

There are several types of heating pads available to buy online. A person 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.