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Published Aug. 22, 2021

If you’ve got tense, sore, or injured muscles, before you reach for aspirin, try some heat therapy. Heating pads stimulate blood flow, help muscles relax, and offer fast pain relief. They come in different shapes and sizes to fit various areas of the body. Different types of heating pads, like weighted and microwaveable models, feature designs that fit certain needs and preferences.

If you have problem areas, there are models that can mold to or specifically fit the shoulders, neck, or lower back. In addition, there are options that can shape themselves to most areas of the body, so you can use one heating pad even if you’ve got lots of different sore spots. So get ready for some heat, and take a look at the best heating pads, along with tips on how to choose the right one for your aching body.  

The best heating pad offers more than warmth 

Both heat and cold can help soothe aches and pains. Heat attracts more blood flow and nutrients to the affected areas, helping to provide relief, according to WebMD. Heating pads can offer different types of heat, control features, and designs that make some pads more helpful under certain circumstances. For example, there’s dry heat, and there’s moist heat. Both types of heat are helpful, but there’s evidence that moist heat’s ability to penetrate soft tissue faster can boost the pad’s effectiveness. 

Heating pads with multiple or adjustable heat settings give you more control over your heat therapy. Areas of the body that don’t have a lot of soft tissue like the ankle may need less heat than the thigh, for example, where there’s ample soft tissue to disperse the heat. Of course, there are also comfort preferences and heat tolerance that may necessitate temperature adjustment. And those with a single heat setting may need closer monitoring to make sure the temperature stays in a comfortable range. 

It’s important to note that heating pads, when not used properly, can cause a burn or be a fire hazard. Safety features like an automatic shut-off and an internal thermometer prevent burns and fire. Some models feature a timer that shuts the heat off after 20 to 30 minutes, while others turn off once they reach a certain temperature. However, safety also requires that the user follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

As far as safe use, don’t lay on a heating pad, which can trap heat against your body and potentially cause a burn or start a fire. Do not place the pad directly on your skin, and make sure you don’t fall asleep with one, even if it has an automatic shut-off feature. 

Related: In addition to heat, the best thing for back pain is more movement.

Sore backs get a better fit and treatment with a heating pad for back pain

Back pain, specifically low-back pain, causes more global disability than all other pain sources. Heat can help, whether that pain comes from overuse or stems from a chronic condition. Heating pads designed for back pain may be a simple rectangle shape that molds to the body. This type works for the back but also for general pain in other areas of the body too. 

Other designs fit like a vest or jacket, allowing freedom of movement with the arms. These electric heating pads aren’t usually battery-powered. Consequently, you can’t walk around while wearing one, but the pad will fit and stay in place better. However, these close-fitting designs can cause overheating, so pay attention to how you feel. Red skin, lightheadedness, or an upset stomach could indicate that you or your skin are overheating, and it’s time to take the pad off.

Best heating pad for back: MIGHTY BLISS Large Electric Heating Pad

Versatile Heat

The combo of soft fabric, moist or dry heat, and a size that caters to different areas of the back make this an ideal pick for sore back muscles. Mighty Bliss

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The MIGHTY BLISS Large Electric Heating Pad warms quickly and provides both warm and moist heat. The 12- x 24-inch pad is large enough to provide relief to sore shoulders or the mid- to lower back. Its flexible design molds to the body, and a plush, machine washable cover offers easy maintenance. The BLISS also features multiple heat settings and an automatic shut-off feature.  

Moist heating pads bring deep, penetrating heat

Heat is heat, right? Wrong. Moisture can help the heat penetrate deeper into the soft tissues and amplify the effects. The most efficient and consistent moist heating pads absorb moisture from the air, heat it, and let it penetrate the body. They don’t run out of moisture and keep heat exposure consistent. 

Look for models with adjustable temperature settings. Moist heat feels hotter and can easily burn the skin. Moist heating pads can also welcome mold and mildew if they aren’t maintained properly. Make sure that it is completely dry before putting it away.

Best moist heating pad: Thermophore MaxHeat Arthritis Pad

Specialized Comfort

This heating pad offers three heat settings and provides deep, moist heat without adding water. Thermophore

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The Thermophore MaxHeat Arthritis Pad heats quickly and reaches temperatures between 150 to 165°F. The intense, moist heat is delivered by a large 14- by  27-inch pad. With three heat settings and an automatic 25-minute shutoff feature, this weighted heating pad relieves pain but keeps you safe, too.

Heat every curves and angles with a neck and shoulder heating pad

A rectangle isn’t always the best shape for the body’s curves. Shoulder and neck pain are common complaints that may not get the heat they need from a standard rectangular heating pad. 

To address that need, neck-and-shoulder heating pads are made in the shape of the neck and/or shoulders with a collar and body that drapes across the shoulders and partially down the back. Some are for the neck only, and others are shoulders only. However, the magical ones do both at once. Look for a model that fits your body size and drapes far enough down the body to reach your problem areas.

Best neck-and-shoulder heating pad: Sunbeam Heating Pad for Neck & Shoulder

Shaped for Relief

The Sunbeam’s extra tall, adjustable collar cradles the neck and drapes over the shoulders for quick relaxation. Sunbeam

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The Sunbeam Heating Pad for Neck & Shoulder features an extra-tall, adjustable collar to cover the entire back of the neck and into the scalp. In total, this pad measures 22 by 19 inches, making it large enough for men and women. The Sunbeam also includes four heating settings and a removable, washable cover made of soft micromink. 

Leave electrical cords behind with a microwavable heating pad

Microwavable heating pads have two key benefits. First, they don’t require an electrical cord. You can manipulate the pad and adjust it to the body without wrestling with a cord. A lack of cord also lets you walk around with it in place. 

The second benefit is that some microwaveable heating pads offer moist heat. Some models allow you to put a small bowl of water in the microwave with the heating pad. The water releases steam, which the pad absorbs. It then releases that moisture against your body, letting the steam penetrate deeper into the tissue. 

The downside of these pads is that you have to be careful with them initially as they may be very hot, but they lose their heat relatively quickly. At that point, you’ll have to reheat them, but it’s a small price to pay for mobile heat.

Best microwavable heating pad: Carex Bed Buddy Heat Pad and Cooling Neck Wrap

Hot or Cold

This pad provides moist heat or chilly contentment with its organic filling and soft fabric. Carex

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The Carex Bed Buddy Heat Pad and Cooling Neck Wrap contains an organic filling of grains and herbs that holds heat or cold. Pop it in the microwave to create moist heat or store it in the freezer for a cooling wrap to treat swelling or injury. Handles on either end help it stay in place or press the heating pad into the skin for deeper heat penetration.

Let a weighted heating pad get a closer fit 

Weighted heating pads do a couple of things that other models don’t. First, they offer a better fit against the body. If there’s a gap between the pad and the body, heat cannot penetrate as well, and you might not get all of the benefits. Weighted models mold to the body and stay in place more readily, so you get a good fit no matter the pad’s placement. 

Second, weight and pressure have also been shown to help relieve anxiety. These heating pads can act as a mini weighted blanket while providing relaxing heat. It’s kind of a win-win situation—a better fit and relaxing heat all in one.

Best weighted heating pad: Pure Enrichment WeightedWarmth 2-in-1 Body Pad

Close Fit

This weighted pad’s non-toxic beads help it conform to the body for a custom fit and better heat application. Pure Enrichment

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The Pure Enrichment WeightedWarmth 2-in-1 Body Pad is made of a diamond quilted mink. Each diamond contains non-toxic beads that help the pad conform to the shape of your shoulders, leg, or back. The quilting maintains an even distribution of the beads, so there’s no pooling. That also maintains the pad’s contouring so it can better reach tight, sore muscles.

FAQs

Q: Is it OK to sleep with a heating pad every night?

No. You should not sleep with a heating pad every night. Even with a timer, there’s a risk of falling asleep, getting a burn, or potentially starting a fire. It’s OK to use a heating pad in bed as long as you’re awake, then take it out of bed when you’re done, and turn it off.

Q: Are heat pads good for shoulder pain?

Heating pads are an excellent option for shoulder pain. The trick is getting a good fit to the part of the shoulder that hurts. Rectangular models can work. However, you’ll get better relief with one designed to fit around the neck and shoulders. Weighted models can also help the pad mold to your shape for a closer fit and better heat application.

Q: Is there a heating pad that you can lay on?

Laying on a heating pad is a universal no-no. It traps heat and can potentially cause a burn or pose a fire hazard. 

Final thoughts before you shop

Sweet relief is only a button touch away when you’ve got the best heating pad waiting for you. Whether it’s a moist heating pad, electric model, or microwavable, there’s a model that will fit your body and budget. Make sure it’s got safety features, even heat distribution, and the coverage your aching body needs. Now, it’s time to sit down, turn on the heat, and relax.

Related: Stop tension before it takes root with the best back massager.

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