Are Heating Pads Safe and Effective?
Thermotherapy has been popular even in prehistoric times. In fact, many people prefer it over cryotherapy (cold therapy) or using over-the-counter pain relievers.
Heat therapy is an inexpensive and convenient option these days. Just go to any pharmaceutical store, and you can easily get your hands on a heating pad. However, with benefits come side effects. Are heating pads safe and effective? Let’s find out!
What Is Heat Therapy?
Heat therapy works to relax tensed muscles. Cramps, spasms, and muscle knots all exceptionally respond to heat therapy. They show great relief when battling chronic pain or muscle stiffness.
Heat increases blood circulation to the affected muscle area. As the blood rushes in, it brings oxygen as well as a wide variety of chemicals that can help you get over the painful spasms. Moreover, this also improves muscle stiffness by promoting mobility.
Heat therapy can be provided by a number of different methods. You can use hot bottles for pain relief, but this is the least safe option. Other non-electric heating options include heating packs, which can be heated in the microwave or warmed up by soaking it in hot water.
However, the most advanced, modern, and effective heat therapy option is the use of electrical heating pads. With that said, do they really work?
How Do Heating Pads Work?
Heating pads work like any other electrical appliance inside your house. They generate an electromagnetic field (EMF) lines to function. These are invisible lines that are found around electrical appliances, electrical wiring, and power cords.
Once you turn the heating pad on, the EMF generates and dissipates heat. The heat goes through a few centimeters into your tissues, and this works to trigger knots to get rid of the pain.
Although, these lines of force is believed to be detrimental to one’s health. In fact, using hairdryers and electric razors have shown to cause damage to the DNA.
Are Heating Pads Safe?
The safety of heating pads depends upon a number of things. To elaborate on the safety of heating pads, we will divide this section into two. We’ll first talk about when you should use them and then follow up with when not to use them.
When to Use Heating Pads
- For Non-inflammatory Injuries
We previously mentioned how heating pads relieve muscle pain, stiffness, and spasms. This goes on to show that heating pads work best for non-inflammatory injuries.
Non-inflammatory injuries refer to acute soreness. This could be the pain you encounter when you hit the gym after taking a break for quite some time. The dull ache in your muscles relieves quickly as soon as you put a heating pad over the area.
Non-inflammatory pain could also be a result of muscle knots, which is better known as “trigger points”. Muscle knots mostly result from over-exhaustion. When you put too much stress onto a muscle, it tends to develop trigger points, which leave the muscle feeling sore.
- For Chronic Pain
You can use heating pads for temporary relief from chronic pain as well. This can be linked with osteoarthritis when you have severe joint pain, especially in the knees. Placing a heating pad over your knees helps get over the pain. For best results, you can follow thermotherapy with targeted exercises as advised by your physiotherapist.
- For Menstrual Cramps
Placing a heating pad over your lower pelvis can also relieve menstrual cramps. However, you need to make sure that the heating pad is not in direct contact with your belly as this may cause your skin to get burnt.
- For Neck Pain
Extensive usage of screens, especially laptop and computer screens while studying or at work, can result in neck pain. To overcome the sharp pain in the neck, you can place a heating pad over the area.
Moreover, make sure that the heating pad is not left on for more than 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn it off, and let your muscle rest.
You can get rid of these issues by heat therapy in most cases. However, it is important to always add other things to your therapy plan, starting with a few exercises that specifically target the muscle area is essential.
Furthermore, taking acetaminophen or any other over-the-counter pain relief medicine is also highly beneficial. You can take any drug as prescribed by your physician with a suitable dosage.
Then again, if you feel the pain persists and does not show any improvement even after a planned therapy course is done, then immediately check with your physician.
When Not to Use Heating Pads
Even though there are many advantages of using heating pads, there are certain drawbacks as well. Thermotherapy worsens certain medical conditions.
- Do Not Use for Fresh Injuries
You should never use a heating pad over a fresh injury. What’s a fresh injury? An inflamed tissue that appears to be red or swollen and is associated with pain.
The skin over the area will be sensitive to touch. Therefore, these things indicate that your injury is fresh and should not be treated with heat. The best way to treat such injuries is cold therapy.
- Do Not Use Excessively
Do not use heating pads excessively. You might overheat the area and cause your body’s temperature to be disturbed. Exposing your body to EMF for a longer duration of time might also cause harm to your body.
- Do Not Use for Muscle Strains
It is important to note that heating pads should not be used directly onto the skin. There should be a layer of clothing between the heating pad and your skin. You can place a towel, cloth piece, or any other suitable material to prevent heat burn and irritation.
You can use heating pads for trigger points, which is muscle knots, but you cannot use it for muscle strain. A muscle strain is a sign of physical damage, a rip in the muscle. Therefore, it is important to know the difference between the two.
- Do Not Use During Pregnancy
We have saved the most important point for the last: pregnancy. Using heat pads for pain relief is not advised during pregnancy. This tends to raise the body temperature of not only the mother but also of the baby. A rise in the body temperature of the baby disrupts normal growth.
Are heating pads safe? Yes and no. Just like every other thing, heating pads have advantages and disadvantages. Hence, you have to take better care and precautionary measures while using them as the consequences will directly affect your body.