Struggling with neck pain, back pain, or menstrual cramps? We hear you! Any one of these can leave you bedridden for days, weeks or months.
Heat therapy may be a way to combat this pain, but with so many heating pad types and options, how do you choose the best one for your situation?
In this guide we will look at various heating pad models and compare them in our heating pad reviews. We’ll also explore what makes a good heating pad and things to consider before purchasing.
Top Rated Heating Pads For Cramps & Back Pain
Brand & Model
Muscles & Joints
Neck, Back, Shoulder
Heating Pad Reviews
BodyMed Digital Moist Heating Pad
The BodyMed heating pad generates moist heat by drawing from the humidity of your treatment area.
This unit features a timer that can be set for up to an hour, but shuts off automatically after 15 minutes.
It’s 1 inch / 2.5 cm thick and 2 feet square, so you can position it over a large area to deliver concentrated warmth to reduce muscle stiffness. The BodyMed comes with a digital controller that you can easily adjust from under the heating pad.
However, if you need a unit for concentrated daily use, you may be disappointed in the longevity of the BodyMed. The warranty on the BodyMed is only good for 12 months. It comes with a flannel cover which can be secured around the body with Velcro. For wraps, this is ideal.
If you need the unit to lie flat, the Velcro may be uncomfortable. Despite that, we think the BodyMed heating pad is the best moist heating pad for back pain if you can adjust the Velcro in a comfortable position.
Thermophore MaxHeat Pad
The Thermophore is a 2 pound / .91 kilo heating pad that covers 16 by 9 inches / 41 by 23 cm. It’s ideal for covering any muscle aches you need to address, but can’t be placed under you.
This unit gets extremely warm very quickly and shuts off automatically after 20 minutes.
The cord is quite long, so you can use it on your bed or in a comfortable chair without needing an extension cord.Unfortunately, sufferers can’t lie down on the Thermophore.
Additionally, the heat is not adjustable, so if you get too warm you just need to turn it off and wait for it to cool.
Thermotex Infrared Heating Pad
Infrared heating pads don’t apply heat to the skin; they actually warm the tissue from within using infrared energy.
On the low setting, the Thermotex heating pad can reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit / 45 degrees Celsius. On high, the temperature can climb to 135 degrees Fahrenheit / 57 degrees Celsius.
Infrared heat is recommended for chronic conditions including fibromyalgia because it warms internal tissue without irritating inflamed skin.
Unfortunately, the infrared elements are solid, so this heating pad is more of a heating plate. It’s one foot square and solid, with a soft fabric cover.
It’s an excellent tool for applying heat to a small portion of the body and is recommended for the back, but if you’re looking for a large area of heat, this pad is not for you.
Sunbeam Massaging XL Renue Heat Therapy Wrap
This extremely flexible heating wrap is designed to lie close to your neck and shoulders, providing weighted, consistent heat to tight muscles.
It’s 13 inches / 33 cm wide and wraps over your shoulders with a long flap that covers your back, not unlike a cape.
The Sunbeam XL fastens with magnets so it doesn’t slide down your back. It offers 2 different temperatures and 4 different massage settings and shuts off automatically after 2 hours.
The massage feature is really a vibrating massage, and the vibrating mechanism does cause the wrap to be lumpy. The non-vibrating unit is very smooth. If you experience a problem with this unit, be aware that the return window is only 30 days.
How To Choose A Heating Pad
Heating pads come in a variety of types and styles, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
There are 3 basics things you should consider:
- Doctor’s Recommendation: There may be situations where a heating pad is not an ideal choice for your situation. Always consult with your doctor!
- Location Of Pain: If you have chronic neck pain, a neck wrap heating pad may be a good option. If you have lower back pain, you may want to consider a heating pad that can contour to your spine.
- Size: Heating pads come many shapes and sizes. They can be small enough to cover specific portions of your body such as your wrist, or as large as a mattress. Travelling with neck pain? You might consider a neck pillow that doubles as a heating pad.
Do you need a heating pad for back pain?
Before we move on, do you really need a heating pad? Heat isn’t always the best thing for your aches and pains. Check out what Eric Sampson has to say about cold vs heat for back pain relief.
Types Of Heating Pads
Electric Heating Pad
Electric heating pads consist of a heating element wrapped in fabric that plugs into the wall. This produces a dry heat that can draw moisture from your skin. If you have sensitive skin, this may be an issue.
Also, there are burn risks associated with electric heating pads. Typically this is due to prolonged exposure, like falling asleep with the unit on or having too high of a setting for too long. To help avoid prolonged exposure you should look for a unit that has a timer or automatic shutoff features.
If you need a heating pad for periodic soreness without much fuss, you might want to go with an inexpensive electric heating pad to get you by.
Electric Heating Pad Benefits
- Electric heating pads are usually inexpensive and can be found at most retail locations.
- The heat settings are adjustable.
- The heat is consistent.
Electric Heating Pad Drawbacks
- Electric heating pads can cause burns.
- They can dry out your skin.
- Dry heat does not penetrate deep into the muscles.
Moist Heating Pad & Hot Water Bottles
While some of these are electric, such as Bodymeds Digital Moist Heating Pad that uses moisture from the air, but the most common are microwavable bags with a heat conducting filler.
Hot water bottles that are covered with special fabric may also fall in to this category. They are filled with hot water, but the moisture does not come from the bottle itself. In fact, the moisture is trapped from the air in the fabric which leads to better heat penetration.
We like using hot water bottles because they more closely simulate body heat from another person. On the other hand, you can’t lay on them and it is possible to make quite a mess if it is not properly sealed.
Overall, moist heat can penetrate deeper into the body, but since most moist heating pads are not electric, they grow cooler over time quite quickly.
Moist Heating Pad Benefits
- The heat penetrates deeper into the muscles, providing longer-lasting relief.
- Because the heat is moist, they will not dry out your skin.
- Moist heating pads can be made at home from readily available objects, such as a sock filled with rice.
Moist Heating Pad Drawbacks
- Microwavable heating pads and hot water bottles lose heat over time.
- The heat is not adjustable.
Infrared Heating Pads
How does infrared heat work? Infrared radiation is invisible to the human eye, but infrared rays can be felt as heat. This type of heat is very similar to that of the sun and can penetrate your body more effectively than the other types of heat mentioned.
The heat generated by these units are unlike the other types of heating pads, but the heat is not dry, so the risk dry skin is greatly reduced.
Infrared heating pads use electricity and often have extensive controls. Some features such as automatic shut-off and precise temperature controls help increase the prices of these types of units.
Who are these heating pads good for? This type of heating pad may be good for those with sensitive skin, or have chronic pain who are looking for a long-term, consistent solution.
Infrared Heating Pad Benefits
- Infrared penetrates deep into the muscles.
- The risk of burns is greatly reduced.
- The heat is adjustable.
- These pads provide consistent heat.
Infrared Heating Pad Drawbacks
- Price! Infrared pads may be more expensive than other types.
Neck Wrap Heating Pads
These heating pads come in electric, moist and infrared variations. However, to avoid choking yourself with a power cord we think that a microwavable heating pad is most ideal.
A microwavable neck wrap allows you to be mobile, so they may be a good option if you are doing low energy tasks and need to move around. Although, you probably won’t want to be moving around much with neck pain anyway.
Just relax and let the heat do its work!
Mattress Heating Pads
A mattress heating pad is basically an electric mattress topper. Most of them are geared more toward warming your bed than providing therapeutic heat.
There are brands that advertise mattress heating pads as providing therapeutic heat, but the problem is that the heat is not concentrated.
They may be more ideal for general muscle pain across your body, like the day after an intense full body workout.
No matter what your reason is for buying a heating pad, you should always consult with your doctor to determine the best type of treatment for your situation.
Neck and back pain is a problem that many people will deal with at some point in their lives.
If our doctor recommended a heating pad as part of our treatment, we would choose the BodyMed Digital Moist Heating Pad. We think that this is the best heating pad because it offers precise temperature controls instead of a limited number of presets.
It has automatic shutoff controls to help prevent accidental prolonged use and, unlike other moist heating pads, it only uses moisture from the air so there is no need to dip it or fill it with water.
A heating pad may be a viable option, but you may have to experiment with a few different heating pads to find the one that works best for you.