It is a well-known phenomenon that if you sip a cup of hot coffee, soak in your warm bath or cozy up in your heated blanket; you will feel soothed instantly. The unexpected wave of ease and comfort is not your imagination because heat can help relax tense and stiff joints and muscles.
Plenty of experts suggest the use of products like heating pads or hot gel packs to relieve arthritis and chronic pain for injuries like sprains, strains, and bruises.
Whenever your muscles ache or feel sore, often the culprit is lactic acid. Your body produces this chemical when your muscles don't receive sufficient oxygen. If the blood flow to your damaged muscles decreases, the lactic acid accumulates in this area.
The application of heat to an aching area tends to facilitate the flow of blood to this spot, which removes the buildup of lactic acid waste and lowers your pain.
What Is A Heating Pad
A heating pad is a padding or cushion used to warm up parts of your body to relieve and manage pain. Application of a heating pad causes your blood vessels in the aching area to dilate and enhances perfusion to your targeted tissue.
A heating pad is a great source of relief for sore backs and necks. Applying heat can lower pain in overexerted or strained muscles.
How Is A Heating Pad Made
Usually, heating pads are made up of fabric carriers secured with insulated resistance wires. The assembly of heating pads includes appropriate electrical connections and thermostats encased in protective envelopes, which are often waterproof.
Then an external layer of flannel or other appropriate fabric is applied to the product to give it an overall pleasant appearance and a comfy surface for easy application to your body to treat a variety of ailments.
How Does A Heating Pad Work
The application of a heating pad to your sore muscles and joints allows the heat to stimulate the sensory receptors in your body and helps to prevent the transmission of various pain signals to your brain which instantly and effectively relieves your pain.
Even people who suffer from chronic pain often find heating pads comforting as they considerably lower their pain.
A heating pad reduces the tension in your muscles by gradually improving tissue elasticity which relaxes the painful knots, which quickly eases your pain through soothing and sedation of pain-irritated nerve endings.
The deep heating helps increase the blood flow to aching areas; this brings plenty of nutrients to your injured areas and flushes out any injured debris, which expedites your healing rate.
The deep heat generated by a heating pad also helps promote a much quicker healing rate through the stimulation of your metabolic rate. In simpler words, you have more energy to repair your injury faster.
A heating pad has a firm yet soft fabric which makes it comfortable and easy to use. You can also mold it to fit your specific body shape. This feature is ideal for curvy areas of your body like neck, shoulders, and knees.
Types Of Heating Pads
Nowadays, you can easily find a heating pad in a market near you or even online. They are ideal for soothing stiffness and pain. Owing to the increase in their popularity, producers have developed different kinds of heating pads that are appropriate for different situations or purposes.
Some of these types include electrical, microwavable and chemical heating pads. Here are a few of them:
Electrical Heating Pad
You can lay an electric heating pad on your back while you are lying down or you can wrap it around your aching shoulder or leg. The size of an electric heating pad is nearly equal to a piece of paper; it connects to a cord that you can plug into your wall.
Electric heating pads are easily the most standard and popular type of heating pads in the market. Their outer layer comprises an anti-flammable fabric that houses a coil inside. The coil warms up using the electrical current.
Electrical heating pads are available in dry and moist heat options. They often have user-friendly controls, and also feature an auto-shut off function. Many of these pads now come with warranties and washable covers.
Chemical Heating Pad
A chemical heating pad is an ideal choice especially if you are on the move as it is disposable.
A chemical heating pad warms up within a few seconds when a tiny metallic piece presses against sodium acetate which triggers a chemical reaction which leads to the crystallization process. Most of these pads stay warm for at least a few hours.
You can reuse the heating pad by simply submerging it in hot water and bringing it back to room temperature. Most of them are small in size, and you can wear them directly on your skin. But make sure you read all the instructions first because you have to wear a few models on top of the clothing.
Microwavable Heating Pad
A microwavable heating pad comprises an anti-flammable cloth usually filled with some grain, gels, or other heat-retaining material. Grains used most often are barley, rice, and wheat. For making these pads for effective and soothing, essential oils like vanilla or lavender mix with the grains.
A microwavable heating pad is a hybrid of electrical pads and disposable patches. You just need to pop it in your microwave and heat it to the preferred temperature, and it is ready for application to the sore area. You can find them at most health and wellness stores. They are also available online.
Infrared Heating Pad
Infrared heating pads are specifically designed to make use of Far Infrared Therapy, which often utilizes specialized and focused carbon fibers for giving off infrared rays. These rays safely penetrate your skin surface to promote circulation of blood which helps heal damaged and aching tissues more swiftly.
Infrared heating pads are safe as infrared heat does not increase blood pressure or cause burns. This reason is why they are prevalent in different medical facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, neo-natal units and private homes.
These pads are different from other heating pads as they do not get extremely hot and you can use them at much lower temperatures. This feature makes them ideal for people with sensitive skin.
Different Sizes Of Heating Pads
Heating pads come in plenty of different sizes. These include small, medium, large and king size. Different sizes are suitable for different situations and different parts of the body.
For example, a large heating pad is most suitable for the treatment of areas such as your upper back or lower back. A large heating pad is also great for the treatment of abdominal cramps and menstrual cramps.
Similarly, in case you suffer from lower back pain on a regular basis, you will benefit from an extra large pad because it can treat the whole affected area at once.
On the other hand, small heating pads are usually better for targeting shoulder and neck pain. You can contour or hug these pads to your neck or wrap them around your shoulders. Small heating pads, for knee support, are available as well, if you would like to target heat on your knee region.
Dry Vs. Moist Heat
Heat therapy is quite beneficial when used correctly. It is suitable for different types of pain ranging from stiff muscles to chronic back pain. Heat therapy products are preferable to other invasive kinds of treatment.
The two main kinds of heat therapy are dry heat and moist heat. There are some differences between these two heat therapies that you should know before you choose one over the other.
Dry heat therapy draws moisture out of your skin. The upside of dry heat is that a lot of people often find it extremely convenient and easy to use. The downside, however, is that it is likely to dehydrate your skin. A majority of dry heat products are usually electric. You can even find dry heat saunas.
If you prefer the feel of dry heat on the skin, make sure that you use it at an appropriate temperature. If your skin feels too dry or dehydrated, then limit the use of dry heat therapy or move to moist heat. Most heating pads offer dry heat and are more convenient and long-lasting compared to moist heating pads.
Moist heat, on the other hand, is less likely to lead to skin dehydration. It is available in many different forms such as hot baths, steam towels, and moist heating pads, etc. Moist heat helps enhance tissue elasticity which makes it perfect for people with aging or dry skin.
A majority of experts recommend the use of moist heat over dry heat, which is because it is less likely to cause skin irritation and there is no risk of skin dehydration; also, it penetrates more deeply into your skin.
A moist heating pad is more effective as it uses moisture effectively to penetrate aching or painful areas. Also, moisture is a better at heat conduction compared to air. Many comparisons have proved that moist heat is about thirty times more effective than dry heat.
This effect implies that moist heat usually penetrates deeper into painful and sore areas that dry heat may not reach. A moist heating pad provides faster and deeper healing. Also, sore or aching tissues tend to tolerate moist heat better at higher temperatures compared to dry heat.
Different Reasons For Using A Heating Pad
Heating pads are usually considered one of the most effective treatments for different types of body aches. However, not a lot of people know how convenient and valuable they can be lowering various body pains. Here is a list of different uses of a heating pad.
Reduces Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most common ailments that people suffer in their life. A majority of cases of lower back pain are muscle-related; meaning the increase of blood flow to the region will bring quick relief.
A heating pad warms the muscles, which relaxes and dilates the blood vessels. This effect helps bring more oxygen, blood flow, and nutrients to the aching area. This effect not only reduces pain in your muscles, but also in the tendons, joints, and ligaments. The heat also helps reduce muscle spasms.
Most people experience headaches frequently. It is a throbbing on the side or front of the head. The nerve endings in the body are conductors that transmit pain signals to your brain.
A heating pad reduces a headache by generating extreme temperature. When your nerve endings are under stress, high temperature eases the pain as the nerves respond well to fluctuations in temperature. Heat relaxes muscles and reduces inflammation.
Reduces Neck Pain
If neck pain is induced by overworked or tired muscles, using a heating pad can arouse sensation in your skin, decreasing the neck pain. If triggered by stress and your neck muscles remain tense for long periods of time, applying a heating pad will help your muscles relax.
Lowers Knee And Hip Pain
Knee and hip pain are often debilitating and are typically triggered by joint problems. When these pains are caused by soft tissue or damaged muscle, applying a heating pad tends to lower the sore stiffness and enhance the flexibility around the damaged joint or area.
How To Use A Heating Pad
You can use a heating pad for different types of body pains.
For example, if you have pain in your upper or lower back, you can lie down flat, on any firm surface such that the back makes complete contact with your heating pad so that it covers the region where the pain originates. Always place a piece of fabric or clothing between the heating pad and your skin to prevent burns.
Lie down slowly on the heating pad so that your body can get accustomed to the change in temperature. Then sit up and maintain this position for 5 seconds every time during the initial 2 minutes of this treatment; this will allow your back muscles to absorb the heat effectively.
Do not use a heating pad for over an hour at a time irrespective of the nature of your injury.
Numerous manufacturers produce heating pads. Here are a few of them:
The company makes some of the best microwaveable heating pads. Their products are portable and safe and retain heat for about thirty minutes. They produce different products to help relieve different types of pain like backaches, shoulder pain, stiff joints, muscular pains, and aches.
Another benefit of hot cherry heating pads is that they are long-lasting and durable and do not break down easily. Also, all their products are free of fragrances and chemicals which make them safe for use.
Sunny Bay is another manufacturer known for some of the best microwaveable heating pads on the market. Their different products are ideal for alleviating neck, shoulder and back pain.
The products are ergonomic and made of high-quality polyester which is soft on your skin. Their products offer amazing heat insulation to your skin.
Sunbeam manufactures a variety of heating pads that target different areas of the body. They have dedicated products for shoulders and neck, spine, and back, muscles and joints. They even have heating pad designed for treating menstrual cramps.
They produce both dry and moist heating pads in standard, king and special sizes. They are famous for some of best electric heating pads in the market.
The company’s heating pads line is popular in the market as Pure Relief. They produce a slew of heating pads for treating sore muscles in your legs, back, arms and neck.
Their products are made of polyester with plush microfibers and work at up to 6 different temperature settings. Most heating pads have advanced features such as auto shut off.
How To Maintain A Heating Pad
The following steps can keep your heating pad clean and help extend its life.
- Before performing any maintenance, unplug your heating pad from the wall and make sure the device is turned off.
- Remove the fabric from your heating pad to machine-wash it in lukewarm water, preferably on a gentle cycle. Clean it regularly as it will help prolong its life.
- Keep in mind the expiry date of your product and do not use it after this date.
- Avoid sitting on the heating pad and do not bend it at sharp angles as it can damage the electrical wires.
- Unplug it when the pad is not in use.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
There are several concerns and issues about the safety of heating pads. These issues range from getting burned to more grave ones like being electrocuted by the improper use of heating pads.
The quality of heating pads is of paramount importance, and you should know that many substandard models do not come with built-in overheating protection.
One chief health issue is an electromagnetic field; it is radiation emitted by the heating pads. Although most electrical devices emit some level of the electromagnetic field, it is often quite low to pose serious health risks.
However, heating pads tend to emit more radiation, and this is why it is important that you pay attention to a heating pad’s specifications when you are buying one. Exposure to radiation can impair your immune system.
Another issue is related to the extended use of heating pads. You can attribute this to the efficacy the heating pad and of the treatment itself.
You should bear in mind that not all models of heating pads improve efficiency, which mainly happens because of the lack of proper research and development, the use of cheap materials or, at times, even flaws in the production process. The prolonged use of heating pads can lead to inflammation of tissues which can defeat its purpose.
Heating pads can also cause a fire if you don't use it with caution. There are many reasons why this may happen such as:
- Sparking from the plug or wiring
- Frayed wires
- Holes in the cloth covering
- Absence of auto shut off mechanism
- An inadequately functioning off/on switch or improper temperature control
Therefore, when you buy a heating pad, make sure it has all the necessary safety features. It is also important to read all the manufacturer's guidelines before use and to use the product with caution.
We have discussed the different types of heating pads and how they work. We have also covered the differences between moist and dry heating and the different reasons for using a heating pad. Our buying guide will discuss the different features that you should consider when buying a heating pad along with some recommendations.