Electric heating pads are great for all kinds of pain, especially in the neck, shoulders, back, and spine. They also work well to help with pain relief for menstrual cramps. Today’s electric options can warm up in seconds, allow you to have moist or dry heat, and they often have luxuriously soft fabrics, so they are relaxing and comfortable to use. The best thing about these types of products is that they are an inexpensive way to get immediate pain relief without the use of drugs. There are many different types of heating pads to choose from; the following are our top picks:

 Sunbeam Xpress Microplush Heating Pad

PROS:

  • Topside of the cover is made of soft micro plush fabric
  • Has an option to choose between auto shut off or continuous use
  • Six heat levels
  • Warms up quickly (30 seconds)
  • Long power cord (9ft)
  • Large Size

CONS:

  • Some users find the digital controller and cord a little bulky.

What you need to know:

Sunbeam tends to dominate the electric blanket market, so they have a lot of different designs and sizes of warming options available. The Xpress is one of Sunbeam’s most popular models. It uses Sunbeam’s ‘Xpress Heat’ technology, so this pad can warm up within 30 seconds after turning it on. It has six heating settings and an auto-off or continuous-on feature. It is quite large, measuring 12″ x 24″, so it works well for the entire back, or you can wrap around a particular area that you want to put your focus on.

What reviewers love:

Reviewers love the super soft fabric, the long cord, the fast heat up time, as well as the option to have a continuous temperature or to use the auto shut off (this one of the few models that have that option). All of these features add up to an excellent product for the price. Users also love that the large size allows them to cover their back, shoulders, or wrap around their legs.

What could be improved:
It has a giant plug at the edge of the design, and some users find it can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to position the mat properly.

Available from Amazon

 

Sunbeam Heating Pad

PROS:

  • Inexpensive
  • Warms up quickly
  • Has a 2-hour auto shut off (as of Jan 2017)

CONS:

  • The fabric isn’t the softest

What you need to know:

It is Sunbeam’s least expensive heating pad. It is a pretty basic model; it doesn’t have the fancy plush fabric or a lot of options. It has a reputation for being able to maintain a consistent heat at each of its three warming levels.  This design easily snaps off and can be washed in the washing machine. The cord is long enough to use comfortably in different areas of your home.

Side note- Many people are looking for products that don’t turn off automatically after a certain amount of time and liked this feature on a previous version of this Sunbeam model. However, as of Jan 2017, this model comes with a 2-hour auto-off that cannot be disabled. Auto shut off features are in place as a safety feature to prevent things like burns, shock, or fires that are a possibility when using these types of devices. It was a popular model for dog breeders and users who need help trying to keep puppies and small animals warm (although the instructions warn that it isn’t for use on animals). If you are looking for a product for a pet, many inexpensive heating pads are made especially for animals, see here).
What reviewers love:

Reviewers love that it works well for the reasonable price that you are paying. The large size is also great to help alleviate pain in the neck and back area.

What could be improved:

The fabric it is made from isn’t the most comfortable.

Available from Amazon

PureRelief Neck & Shoulder Heating Pad

PROS:

  • Soft fabric
  • Effective
  • Wraps comfortably around neck and back
  • Great customer service

CONS:

  • Some users have found the design has an overpowering plastic/chemical smell when first used.
  • May not be the best option for larger users.

What you need to know:

The PureRelief Neck and Shoulder Pad have some great features, the best of which is the fact it has been designed to drape comfortably around your neck and shoulders. The design means that you don’t have to spend much time adjusting the pad, so you get the effect on the right spots. It is also a very comfortable pad because the fabric is made of micro mink fibers, so it is super soft. It warms up quickly and turns off automatically after 2 hours. It has four settings – from warm to high, and there is the option to use it as moist or dry heat.

The size is 14″ x 22,” which is large enough to curl soothingly around your neck and shoulders, without being so large as to become heavy and bulky. It has weighted magnetized edges to make sure it to stay in place. Despite being designed to place around your shoulders, you can use it for other problem areas.

What reviewers love:

Reviewers love that the design can specifically focus on the upper back and neck, which is often the cause of a lot of discomfort. The pad uses incredibly comfortable material

What could be improved:
Many reviewers have complained about the chemical odor that comes off the product when first in use.

 Available from Amazon

UTK Infrared Heating Pad for Pain Relief

PROS:

  • Doesn’t emit EMFs
  • Heat penetrates deeply into muscles and joints

CONS:

  • Some users find the design and the weight of the product to be a little bit uncomfortable at first, and it takes a bit of time to adjust to it if you are used to regular electric options.

What you need to know:

Standard electric heating products, like those mentioned above, emit a low-frequency electromagnetic field (EMF), which some people believe may cause adverse health effects and increase your risk of getting cancer. If this is something that you are worried about, then an infrared design is something that you may want to consider. This large UTK model uses infrared technology and has a lot going for it. It is a pretty good size, and you can sleep on it, which you cannot do with a standard pad. The controls are straightforward to see and use, even in the dark. It takes a few minutes to warm up and has a good range of temperatures. The heat is very even, and while the mat can be a little bit uncomfortable, most users love the pain relief results that they are getting because the warmth can penetrate deeper into tissue than standard heat therapy.

FYI- You cannot use infrared heating products if you have any medical, silicone or metal implants or silicone prostheses.

What reviewers love:

UTK has excellent customer service if you run into any issues with any of their products. Some users feel that the heat that they get from the infrared mat can penetrate deeper into their muscles and joints than the warmth from standard electric products. Reviewers also love the large size that allows you to lay on it or wrap it around different areas on your body. People also like that it doesn’t have any odor.

What could be improved:

The high price makes this product less accessible for people who may benefit from using it.

Available from Amazon

Benefits

Not only are heating pads relaxing and comforting to use, but they also can have incredible therapeutic effects.  They work exceptionally well as a drug-free way to help with pain due to menstrual and muscle cramps, as well as back, neck, shoulder, and spine pain. The warmth from a standard pad works by dilating the blood vessels in your muscles and increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, muscles, and joints. This process can help heal damaged tissue, while at the same time giving you immediate pain relief.

Features to Look for

Generally, if you are looking for an electric heating option you are going to want a product that warms up quickly, holds the heat at the set level, and is comfortable to use. Here are some other features to look for:

Size– The smallest electric products tend to be around 12″ x 15″. The standard designs go up in size to extra-large, which is usually approximately 12″ x 24″. The infrared products also have a range of sizes and can go up to full body size of 24″ W x 70″ L. The most popular size for consumers is the extra-large size because it gives you a lot of area to work with when treating your pain.

Cord– Something that isn’t often thought before purchasing is the length of the cord. If you have ever had an electric blanket with a short cable, you will know how annoying this can be. A useful range to look for is 7 to 9 feet for the entire length of the cord.

Fast Heat Feature– Most modern products warm up pretty quickly, but a ‘nice to have’ feature is a rapid heat so that the design will start working in 30 seconds or less.

Massage Feature-Another ‘nice to have’ feature is the option for massage. Sunbeam has a couple of models that include a massage feature; there is also one from Conair called the Thermaluxe.

Moist Heat Option– Having a wet heat feature means that the product has a unique outer cover that can draw in moisture from the air, retain it, and then release it when the pad warms up.  Quite a lot of the most popular pads have an option for moist heat.

Temperature Settings– Some models let you set the precise temperature that you would like within a range of around 86º to 163º Fahrenheit.   The other common way to change the temperature is to have standard heat levels. Basic models have three heat level settings: low, med, and high. More deluxe models have six levels of heat available.

Automatic shut off – Most pads have a 2-hour automatic shut off due to safety regulations to avoid creating a fire hazard. The infrared products have a higher auto shut off, so they can go as high as 8 hours before the auto shut off kicks in.

Continues Heat Option – Some users prefer to have a heating pad that does not have the automatic shut off. This feature is getting harder and harder to find due to safety regulations.

Cleaning– Most designs can be either hand washed or washed on a gentle cycle. Many come with removable, washable covers.

Cost

Prices range from the very budget-friendly $12-$13 products that you can purchase at drug stores, to the $200 plus infrared pads that claim to help heal muscles. For most people, if you spend in the $30-$40 range, you will get a high-quality product that will be able to help with most ailments. The pads in this price range tend to have soft, luxurious fabric, come in a few different sizes, and they have a few different levels of heat available.

Safety

Heating pads come with their own set of safety issues that should be taken seriously since they can be a cause of burns, electric shock, fire, and personal injury.

Here are the general safety warnings that come with using electrical products:

  • Do not use them when you are sleeping
  • Do not use on an infant
  • Do not use on animals
  • They are not to be used by an invalid, or someone unconscious
  • They also should not be used by someone who has diabetes or by someone who has poor blood circulation.
  • Do not use in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere or near equipment that stores or emits oxygen.
  • Don’t use anything metallic to fasten product in place (i.e., pins)
  • Don’t pull by the supply cord
  • Don’t sit on it.
  • Do not put anything on top of a heating product. If it is covered, it may overheat and become a fire hazard.
  • Do not fold an electric mat when in use because it may cause it to overheat and cause a fire.
  • If you use it with children, you must have adult supervision
  • Don’t use with ointments, especially ones containing counter-irritants
  • Discontinue use if it shows any signs of damage
  • Don’t leave unattended and unplug product when not in use.
  • Read all instructions of any product that you purchase carefully.

Failure to follow all safety precautions when using heating pads may result in injury or death from burns, electric shocks, or fires.

If you are considering purchasing an infrared heating product, don’t use if:

  • You are pregnant
  • Have open wounds
  • Have hemophilia
  • Have Malignancy (including skin lesions),
  • Have implanted silicon or silicon prostheses, metal implants

Electric vs. Far Infrared Heat

If you love the idea of a heating pad but are a little concerned about the safety issues that standard mats can involve, you should have a look at the infrared mats. You may have heard that EMFs are emitted from electric designs and are worried about possible health problems they may cause or maybe you are concerned about burns or fire hazards that can occur from electrical products. Infrared products are more expensive than standard pads, but they do have some advantages over traditional electric products.

Infrared options don’t work in the same way as a conventional heating pad. Your body activates the infrared heat from the pad. When it is turned on, it will feel warm to the touch, but it won’t be able to burn you even if the product is set to high because it isn’t producing heat, but rather far infrared waves. The far infrared waves that are generated from the product gets absorbed by your body, where they undergo a process where the energy converts to heat that is then able to penetrate deep into tissue and muscles.

Bottom Line

Electric or far-infrared heating pads can be an excellent addition to help ease back, neck, spine, or menstrual cramp pain.  They are available for a variety of budgets, with many different designs and sizes available. They are straightforward to use and can be found in drug and department stores, as well as online. If you are looking for a model that has a luxurious fabric, there are many available. If you are concerned about safety, infrared designs offer a fantastic alternative to standard heating options. For such a small investment, the amount of pain relief that heated pads provide are well worth the initial cost.