When your back is throbbing or sciatica pain is almost literally kicking your butt, you want relief now. It doesn’t matter if it’s because you turned the wrong way while trying to lift a heavy box, played flag football for the first time in a decade, or suffer from osteoarthritis. The good news is that you don’t have to depend solely on pain meds or topical creams. You can also use a heating pad and enjoy some relief.
To skip to our heating pad recommendations, CLICK HERE.
What Does a Heating Pad Do?
Heating pads of all types work by delivering heat to muscles that are stiff, strained, spasmed, or cramped in some manner. That heat helps to stimulate blood flow in the area. Efficient blood flow makes it easier for the tissue to receive the nutrients needed to promote heating and help muscles relax and dull the pain.
The key to success is knowing how long to leave the pad in place. Depending on how the heat is generated, the pad may only offer comfort as long as it’s in position. Other types of heating pads are designed to allow heat deep into the muscles and will produce a longer lasting effect. While your doctor can help you decide if a heating pad would work for you, you can also give it a shot due to the inexpensive nature of the product and really no negatives.
Can a Heating Pad Get Too Hot?
One of the more common questions that first-time users ask has to do with the heat settings available on some types of pads. How hot do heating pads get? Can they get too hot? In general, the answer is no.
Heating pads that come with a limited number of settings are manufactured to reduce the potential for causing any type of adverse reaction, like burns to the skin. Keep in mind that while the pads are generally safe for use, it’s up to you to decide if the highest setting is too much for you.
A good rule of thumb is to try a lower setting first and see what happens. If you notice that the heat level is comfortable and those stiff back muscles are beginning to relax, you’ve found the right setting. Should you find that the setting isn’t doing much, try the next one in the sequence. It won’t take long to figure out how much heat does the job for you.
What are The Most Common Types of Heating Pads?
You can pick up a basic heat pad for back pain in just about any pharmacy. Along with basic models, you can get more sophisticated versions from medical supply shop or various online retailers. Talking with your doctor about the different types will make it easier to know what kind is likely to work in your case. In general, you want to be aware of whether the pad works by using dry or moist heat, and the type of energy source used to generate that heat.
Dry Heating Pad vs. Moist Heating Pad
You may find that dry heat seems to help ease the inflammation that builds up when you put too much stress on your back muscles. That’s because this type of heating pad will help to draw some of the excess fluid out of the muscles and ease the inflamed tissue. For example, you tend to develop pain in the lower back when you sit at your desk most of the day. Along with keeping the blood flow efficient, removing the excess fluid will prevent the soreness that comes along with this type of strain.
Moist heat does get deeper into the tissues. It’s also superior in terms of promoting extra blood flow. You also don’t run the risk of drying out the skin when you use moist heat. You’ll find moist heat is especially helpful when you want to feel relief faster.
One thing to keep in mind is that even though moist heat produces results faster, the effect tends to last longer with dry heat. A moist pad will likely give you some comfort for a couple of hours. A dry pad can easily keep the pain at bay for twice that amount of time.
Infrared vs. Electric
The kind of heat that your heating pad produces also makes a difference. The garden variety that you pick up at the local pharmacy will likely be an electric pad. The pad includes wires that heat up once you plug the unit into an outlet. Choose the setting and place it on your back. Remember that you need to lay on your stomach or at least be in a sitting position while using the pad.
One of the perks of the electric pad is that it’s so easy to find and it costs less than an infrared pad. If you only need to use it on your back or neck once in a while, this solution should work fine.
Infrared heating pads offer the advantage of heating deeper into the muscles and tissues. If your back is causing a great deal of pain due to muscle cramps or spasms, you need the heat to permeate all of the muscle tissue. That result is easier to achieve if you use an infrared pad.
An infrared pad is less likely to cause any damage to the skin. In other words, the odds of sustaining any type of burn or drying out the skin are minimal. Some people would not think of using anything else.
One other benefit that you should keep in mind is that infrared heat tends to produce much longer lasting results. With electric pads, the relief begins to fade soon after you remove them. Since the heat from an infrared pad gets so deep into the tissue, you can expect the effect to last longer.
Like the electric heating pad, you don’t want to use the infrared pad for too long per session. Follow the instructions carefully or ask your doctor to help you set reasonable time limits for those sessions and ensure you don’t get too much of a good thing.
Comparing the Best Heating Pads on the Market
Now that you have some idea of how the pads work, it’s time to find the one that’s ideal for your situation. While an infrared pad will be best in most cases, you may find that an electric pad may work just fine. Take a look at these pads and decide which ones fit your needs and your budget.
Best Infrared Heating Pads
You’ll notice when shopping for FAR infrared heating pads, quality varies greatly between brands. HealthyLine is one of the good ones. This 32×20 inch infrared heating mat is the perfect size for upper and lower back pain sufferers (although it works for other areas too) and constructed to outlast most competitors. With the inclusion of 50 jade & tourmaline stones in the design, the mat provides a comfortable surface and helps to relax your muscles. Anyone who has ever lived with back pain for any amount of time knows that there is no shortage of alternate treatments out there. Using infrared heat that reaches 4 to 6 inches under the skin surface, this Healthyline mat lessens the pain longer than normal heating pads.
Simply plug in the electrical cord, set your desired temperature, and the stones inside get heated and provide the relief you’re looking for. Unlike cheap infrared heating pads, it doesn’t take long for the stones to heat, so you’ll begin to feel the effects quickly.
Also, compared with standard heating pads, this mat can be used for longer periods. If you want to place it on the back while you watch a couple of hours of television, that’s okay. Turn down the heat and fall asleep on the mat to sleep like a baby.
One factor that may be off-putting for some people is the price. The mat definitely costs more than a basic heating pad from the local drugstore. However, people who have tried the mat have noticed pain relief for a variety of back issues along with a good sense of relaxation. For others, the claim of having “negative ION therapy to detox” might be a bit too new-agey for them and we tend to agree. But ignore that, and you still have an excellent FAR infrared heating mat that uses deep heat to relax those muscles and joints.
Constructed with the same general quality as the top pick, this healing pad is ideal for use when the pain is located in the hips, the hamstrings of your legs, or any area in the lower middle portion of the body. That makes it a good choice if you notice pain on the backs of your legs as well as your lower back. Perfect for those with desk jobs.
Utilizing the principle of FAR-infrared heating, the pad is designed to deliver deep heat to tired and aching muscles. The effect is to boost cell activity and stimulate more efficient blood flow to the sites where the pain is located. As the heat does its magic, you’ll notice that the discomfort begins to fade. It won’t be long until you can walk, sit, or turn at the waist without experiencing spasms of pain.
Thanks to the flexibility of the mesh and the size of the pad, you won’t find it hard to take it anywhere you like. The mat is only three pounds, an amount that most people can manage with ease. The fact that you can adjust it so that it rests comfortably on your back, neck, or any other part of the body makes this an even better option.
If you need to be more budget-conscious here, the lower price of this smaller mat is especially attractive. While it won’t cover a larger area the way the top pick does, it is certainly a serviceable size, portable, and worth the price.
How about a pad that happens to be in the shape of a belt? If that’s what would float your boat, then this option is for you. The pad includes 28 jade stones that provide the ability to evenly heat whatever part of the body you need. The belt design ensures the pad will stay in place even as you move around. It’s the perfect size to take with you when traveling.
Thanks to the controls, you can adjust the amount of heat needed to do the job. Be warned though that it takes almost 30 minutes for this pad to fully warm up so if you’re not a patient person, you should probably look at one of the larger heating pads above.
That said, consider how nice it would be to put on the belt and have the ideal heating pad for lower back pain while you work. Even if the plan is to take care of a neck that’s a little stiff, the pad can work fine. The design makes it easier to keep the stones directly on the neck while the mat is in use. The result is that you have a heating pad for neck pain that does not have to be constantly adjusted.
If you’re afraid of getting too comfortable and falling to sleep while wearing the belt, don’t worry. This device comes with an automatic timer that keeps you safe.
Best Electric Heating Pads
Remember the advantages mentioned above of going with moist heat? The Thermophore MaxHEAT Automatic Moist Heat Pack in the large size delivers just what you need. There’s no need to add any water in order to produce the type of heat that will get a little deeper in those tired, aching muscles and joints. All you need to do is use the controls to activate the heat pack and enjoy the benefits for hours. There’s even a timer built into the controls so you don’t have to be concerned about leaving it on your back, neck, or leg for too long.
Unlike the previous version of this model, this heating pad offers you three different settings. That makes it easier to choose the one that’s just right. Once you choose the setting, the pack will maintain a constant temperature until the timer shuts it off or you choose to change the setting.
If you’ve ever tried heat packs before and noticed they are a pain to clean, you’re in luck. The fleece pad can be machine-washed if the need arises.
In terms of size, the pad is large enough (~14″ x 17″) to cover your lower back, but small enough to not feel as if you’re wearing a stole if you want to use it for neck pain. It will also rest easily on the back of your leg if you happen to pull a muscle.
Many users are impressed with how quickly the pack heats up. That comes in handy when you need relief FAST. The quick response also means that if you try a higher setting first and it is a little too much, the pad will cool down quickly when you switch to a lower setting.
Some have expressed wishes that the timer could be set for a longer period of time. Keep in mind that if needed, it’s easy enough to leave the pack off for a few minutes and then start another round.
Sunbeam is likely a brand you’re already familiar with, and this pack is made with the same attention to quality that is found with all of the company’s products. Wearing the pack is not difficult at all. In fact, the design is one of the most comfortable on the market. Velcro straps make it easy to adjust the fit and still keep the hot or cold pack exactly where you need it to be.
Another advantage of this pack is that the material is soft to the touch. There will be no chaffing while you wear it. Since it will conform to the contours of your body, you won’t feel as if you’re wearing a tire around your middle. The material is also machine washable, making it easy to keep the pack clean.
If you need relief but can’t stay in one place, this pack design allows you to slip the hot or cold pads in position and go wherever you need to go. This can be especially helpful for someone who needs to go on a trip and would love to not deal with nagging back pain along the way. At home, there is a nine-foot cord that allows you to plug in the hot pad and use it while you watch television.
If you like the idea of something that won’t automatically shut off after 20 minutes, this hot and cold pack will keep going for two hours before the timer shuts down the unit. That’s good news if you’re driving and don’t want the distraction of having to start the process up again every so often.
Some users have noted that the high heat setting is really hot compared to similar products. Try using the medium setting first and see how it feels. You may find that it’s just right and will be the only heat pad for back pain you’ll ever need.
How would you like a back heating pad that drapes over your shoulders like a shawl and allows you to move your arms freely? The Sunbeam XL Renue will do just that. The snap enclosures found in the design make it easy for you to adjust it to fit your body perfectly. Since the wrap does fit over the shoulders, it will serve as a neck heating pad as well as getting rid of the stiffness in your upper back.
The digital controller comes with four different heat settings. That makes it easy to find the one that provides the relief you crave. Since Sunbeam heating pads in general tend to heat up quickly, you won’t have to wait long to feel the difference.
You’ll also like the fact that the wrap includes a 9 foot cord that you makes it easy to plug in the unit and settle onto the sofa, in your favorite chair, or any other area of the home you like. As is true with other Sunbeam heating products, this device is equipped with an automatic timer that will shut off after two hours.
While you may think of this as being mainly for your upper back, neck, and shoulders, the size of this extra large heating pad (25″ x 25″) makes it ideal for resting on your lower back if necessary. The material is soft enough to fit around your leg if that’s where the pain happens to be.
Fresh out of the box, you may notice a strong chemical smell. While non-toxic, it isn’t pleasant. Fortunately, the smell goes away on its own after 2-3 days of airing it out or simply washing it (it’s machine washable). That will be enough to get rid of the smell and be able to enjoy the benefits without putting a clothespin on your nose.
Whether you choose to go with an electric heat pad or something that makes use of infrared heat, the goal is to get rid of the pain. First decide on the type of heat tha’ts best for you, and then choose a product that provides it. While a heating pad alone will not completely rid all types of back pain, it’s a safe, inexpensive option that works well as part of a treatment plan which may also include physical therapy and medication.