The use of heat therapy as pain relief dates back to 500BC when the ancient Greeks and Egyptians used the sun to help treat illnesses.
Throughout the years, hot stones, springs, thermal baths and volcanic hot air caverns were all used to cope with pain. The Arthritis Foundation describe how:
Applying a heated compress is one of the oldest, cheapest, and safest forms of complementary therapy. Research has shown that heat treatments can loosen stiff joints and relieve achy muscles.
A thermal bath each day isn’t really practical (sadly!), however luckily there are plenty of readily available heat pad products that you can enjoy in your own home.
We’ve taken a look at the market and handpicked a selection of some of the best heat pads available today.
Our Top 12 Heating Pads: The Hot List
Looking at each heating pad closely, we’ve highlighted the key features to help you make your decision.
Further down the article you’ll also find a handy buying guide that includes a brief explanation of each feature and answers a number of frequently asked questions.
Types of Heating Pads
There are a number of different types of heat pad available, whether you’re looking for one for a key part of your body, an option for when you’re out and about or a specific heating method to target a certain kind of pain.
For Different Parts of the Body
Neck / Back / Shoulders
Across the marketplace there are a variety of heating pads available targeting neck and shoulder pain. These tend to be contoured to your neck and designed to drape around your shoulders or hug your neck.
Back and Spine
XL Heating Pads are available to help treat back pain when you require full coverage along your spine or across your lower back. Smaller pads are also available if you want to target a key area that is causing you pain.
Knee support heat pads are also available if you want to target heat around your knee.
With Different Heating Methods
Electric heat pads heat the surface of the skin and can reach high temperatures, they don’t require recharging and work when connected to the mains.
Infrared heat pad claim to deliver deeper and more penetrated heat than traditional electric heating methods, as they don’t just heat the surface of the skin.
Moist heat pads like infrared can penetrate deeper in to the skin and increase tissue elasticity. They are often used when skin dehydration is a concern, so for example for patients with dry or ageing skin.
Heat pads that are heated in the microwave, generally filled with wheat and natural remedies such as lavender, are often a more affordable option.
Non-Electric Heating Pads
Such as Snappy Heat Pads (link to Amazon listing), which require no charge, you simply snap the metal plate which then generates heat, are ideal for travelling.
For When You’re Out and About
Travel Heating Pad
Normally supplied with a handy storage bag, a travel heat pad can be folded away easily.
USB Heating Pad
Though not considered a strong option due to the temperatures they reach and the poor quality materials they tend to be made from, USB heating pads offer an alternative to carrying a bulky heat pad with power cord when travelling.
Cordless/Rechargable Heating Pad
Not just for out and about, but also at home if you want to sit somewhere but don’t have access to a plug, a cordless/rechargeable heating plan can offer just the solution.
Features of Heating Pads – What to Consider
Choosing the heat pad that is right for you can be tricky with so many different options available. See below some of the many different features on offer so you can work out exactly what product you’re looking for:
Auto Shut Off
Any product that you use in your home that heats up is obviously a danger if you forget to turn it off, or if you simply fall asleep using it.
See what auto shut off function the heat pad offers, if any, and the length of time it will stay on before automatically switching off.
Consider as well if a short auto shut off may frustrate you if you’re looking to use a heat pad for a consistent period of time.
Different heat pads offer different timer functions, giving you the ability to easily control how long your heat therapy lasts.
Size of Pad
Depending on the size of the area you want to treat there are a number of different sizes of pads available. Smaller pads for targeted pain relief and larger pads for treating wider areas such as the spine.
Number of Heat Settings
Each pad will boast a number of different heat settings, so check out the one you want before committing. Memory functions are available on some pads so they can remember the heat settings you use regularly.
Heat up Time
If you’re looking for a heat pad that you can use quickly in a morning then heat up time may be important to you. There are some that can heat up in seconds and others that will take a little longer.
Different fabrics are used on the cover of the heat pad to distribute the heat effectively so it’s worth doing a little research before purchasing.
Length of Power Cord
Some heat pads boast about a longer power cord which may not seem a major consideration, however if there’s a location you’ll want to use your pad regularly consider if there’s a plug socket available close by.
Again, if a long power cord isn’t going to quite reach or if you want to use your heat pad on the go then a wireless capability could be desirable.
Considering the temperature that the pad can reach to ensure that it satisfies you and the level of heat you’re looking for.
The method use to heat, whether it’s electric, infrared, microwave or some other form of non-electric heat. Consider what is right for your condition.
Who Benefits from Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy is used to treat a number of different conditions:
Studies have shown that heat therapy can give arthritis sufferers some relief from their pain. Particularly with those suffering from arthritis in the hands, heat therapy was found to have short term benefits when used daily. However for certain forms of arthritis it can have a negative effect so it is worth checking with your doctor before you try any form of heat therapy.
As fibromyalgia pain isn’t caused by inflammation, heat therapy is the perfect option for symptom relief, helping to relax tender muscles within the body and improve flexibility. Here are a number of different ways you can apply heat to your joints.
Heat therapy or heat pads are useful in the treatment of muscle spasms. However professionals advise waiting at least 72 hours after spasms start to allow inflammation to go down. Moist heat is also recommended over dry heat due to the risks of dehydration.
The American Cancer Society suggests heat therapy as a non-medical treatment method to help stimulate the skin and offer relief from day to day pain. However it isn’t recommended for those undergoing radiation treatment.
Lower Back Pain
The American College of Physicians recommend heat therapy as a treatment for lower back pain as in recent studies it has been shown to offer daily relief from pain.
How does a heating pad work?
Are infrared heat pads better than electric heat pads?
Electric heat pads heat the surface of the skin and do penetrate it to an inch or just over, however infrared pads penetrate it deeper right to the bone and help increase your circulation to encourage your injury to heal faster.
It depends on the type of pain you have as to which is most appropriate for you.
How hot does a heating pad get?
Heating pads vary depending on the style of pad and brand that you go for. However dry heat pads tend to range between 140°F and 160°F with the hottest pads in the range getting up to 175°F.
Moist heating pads can reach higher temperatures, up to 180°F, as they are normally used by trained professionals, however there are options you can buy to use in the home.
Is a heating pad good for back pain?
Yes heating pads are recommended for back pain, however of course you should check with your doctor to see if it’s the right course of treatment for you.
Heat therapy can relax the tension in the back that is causing the pain and block the pain signals to the brain, providing partial relief from the discomfort.
Is a heating pad good for menstrual cramps?
Is a heating pad good for arthritis?
Yes and no. For certain forms of arthritis a heat pad is perfect as it relaxes the muscles, particularly for those suffering from arthritis in the hands.
Is a heating pad good for sciatica?
Are heating pads safe to use during pregnancy?
Opinions are quite contradictory when it comes to using a heat pad during pregnancy.
In early stages many professionals advise against it, however in the second and third trimesters heat pads that reach a moderate temperature are advised for treatment of pain, as long as they’re only used for a short period of time.
To be sure speak to your doctor before trying any form of heat treatment.
Will a heat pad reduce swelling?
Can you sleep on a heating pad?
Who is a heat pad not suitable for?
From looking at the advice of various manufacturers and professional bodies, below is an example of some conditions and situations where a heating pad is said to not be suitable.
However this isn’t a comprehensive list (nor does it constitute medical advice) so it is important to always check with a medical professional before beginning treatment.
- Do not use on any parts of the body that are swollen, injured or inflamed
- Do not use on a child under the age of 8
- Do not use if you are not sensitive to heat
- Do not use if you may not be able to react to over-heating (e.g. diabetics, persons with skin changes related to illness or persons with scarred skin in the area where the pad is to be applied)
- Do not use when under the influence of drugs or alcohol
How much do heating pads cost?
Heating pads vary hugely in cost, from just a few dollars for a disposable heat pad, right up to a high end product that could be as much as $1000. Most heat pads on average, seem to sit around the $50 to $200 mark.
So heat looks like a great option for many different conditions, and with such a variety of products to select from, what are you waiting for!
- Bierman, W. (1942) The History Of Fever Therapy In The Treatment Of Disease. [Online] Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1933808/pdf/bullnyacadmed00550-0069.pdf [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- Ingraham, P. (2016) Heat for Pain. [Online] Available from: https://www.painscience.com/articles/heating.php [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- Heat for Pain (see footnote 2) ↩
- Doheny, K. (2017) 10 Ways to Relieve Period Cramps. [Online] Available from: https://www.everydayhealth.com/treatment/womens-health/ways-to-relieve-period-cramps/ [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- Kambach, B. J. (2015) Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint. [Online] Available from: https://www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/alternative-treatments/applying-heat-vs-cold-arthritic-joint [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- Applying Heat vs. Cold to an Arthritic Joint (see footnote 5) ↩
- Laser Spine Institute . (2018) Using hot and cold therapy to treat sciatica. [Online] Available from: https://www.laserspineinstitute.com/back_problems/sciatica_sciatic_nerve_pain/treatments/ice-and-heat/ [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- King, T. L. (2017) Is it safe to use a heating pad for sore muscles during pregnancy? [Online] Available from: https://www.babycenter.com/404_is-it-safe-to-use-a-heating-pad-for-sore-muscles-during-preg_1245286.bc [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩
- Sambrook, J. (2017) Heat and Ice Treatment for Pain. [Online] Available from: https://patient.info/health/painkillers/heat-and-ice-treatment-for-pain [Accessed 20 April 2018]. ↩