Are Heating Pads Bad For You

Are heating pads bad for you?

If you have menstrual cramps, arthritis, sprains and other aches and pains, you may have heard of the soothing properties of heating pads.

All natural, affordable, and reusable, heating pads are the go source to find relief for various muscle pains.

But can they be bad for you?

woman with hot waterbottle

Heating pads are safe to use with no adverse side effects when used properly.

They work on the basis that heat enhances blood flow to muscles.

With injuries and pain that require more blood to certain parts of the body, such as cramping and arthritis, heating pads are a great natural form of pain relief.

However, heating pads are not recommended if you have a pain or injury that requires the constriction of blood flow.

Heating pads can actually cause an increase in pain if used on areas that are swelling or already have too much blood going to a certain location.

Mistreating an injury with a heating pad, or using a heating pad incorrectly can be painful and sometimes even dangerous.

Do not use a heating pad:

  • Immediately after an injury
  • When there is an access of swelling
  • Immediately after a workout or intense physical activity
  • If a strange smell is being emitted when heated up
  • There is signs of rot in the foodstuff used in some heating pads
  • Do not use a heating pad that is so hot that it burns

When Not to Use A Heating Pad for an Injury

It is recommended that an ice pack, not a heating pad be used after an initial injury.

When an injury initially happens, the body detects that something isn’t right and sends an increase of blood to the inflicted area.

This blood contains white blood cells and antibodies to help the body begin the healing process.

However, this increase of blood arriving at the injured area can cause it to swell.

If you ever have had an injury, you may remember the throbbing pain you felt as the body pumped extra blood to the injury.

Swelling can be painful, which is why applying an ice pack to reduce the blood flow by constricting the blood vessels is the best way to treat an initial injury.

However, if a heating pad is applied to the afflicted area, the heat will cause the blood vessels to further dilate.

This will result in an increase of swelling, causing the throbbing to hurt even more.

However, after swelling has subsided and the muscles around the area begin to hurt from stiffness or a restriction of blood to other parts of the body, a heating pad is a great source of relief.

Using a Heating Pad for Exercise

When it comes to exercise, heating pads are a great tool to use before starting an exercise regiment.

However, they are not recommended immediately after a workout session.

Consider the common terms used when it comes to physical activities...warming up and cooling down.

Warm ups occur before the onset of a workout session.

Warm ups include stretches and other things to ‘warm up the body’, preparing the body for the increase of blood flow that intense physical activity normally activates.

Since heating pads are a great way to help dilate the blood vessels, using a heating pad on the muscles of the legs, arms and abs can be beneficial to help reduce cramping later on.

However, once a workout is completed, the individual is advised to go through a ‘cool down’ period where the body and heart gradually return to pre workout respiration and heart rate.

During this time, the heart slows down, reducing blood flow to the different appendages involved in the workout session.

The intense use of the arms and legs may become swollen because of the increase of blood flow.

That is why applying cold or ‘icing’ is recommended after a workout.

However, muscles may be sore after swelling subsides.

Once swelling subsides, sometimes the muscles don’t receive enough blood flow and begin to cramp.

It is then that heat can be applied to reduce any residual stiffness, soreness, or cramping that may result post workout.

When Heating Pads Can Be Dangerous

Woman hunched over in pain from cramps

Heating pads for the most part are a very safe and effective form of pain relief.

However, as with most things, if not properly used some issues and potential hazards can arise.

Heating Pads made from Non Heated Materials

One of the greatest appeals of heating pads is how easy they are to make.

Pinterest, YouTube, and a cornucopia of websites offer easy DIY tutorials and instructions on how to make fast and easy heating pads.

These heating pads can range from cute animal shapes, to easy sewing patterns using beautiful fabric, or can be as simple as a sock  filled with rice.

When making your own DIY heating pad, it is important to pay attention to the recommended materials.

Heating Pad Coverings

Since a heating pad will be reheated many times, it is important that it be made from materials that can stand being heated over and over again.

Not all fabrics do well when being heated.

It is important not to buy fabric just because it is cute, you need to make sure that it is microwavable and safe.

Nylons and other synthetic materials have been known to melt or even catch on fire when heated.

When making your own heating pad, look for material made from cotton, wool, linen, or other natural materials.

Most materials made of natural fibers come in a wide array of colors and patterns, just be certain that what you are using is safe.

Heating Pad Fillings

One of the biggest fears and concerns when it comes to DIY heating pads is the fear of combustion and burning.

The last thing anyone wants is their cute heating pad catching on fire in the microwave.

Although heating pads catching fire inside of a microwave is a rare occurrence, it does happen.

To help reduce risk, making sure that a heating pad is made of the correct materials and heated according to directions is essential.

When making a heating pad, the various tutorials suggest using rice, beans, wheat, corn, and other various foodstuffs that can be found in the pantry.

Although these can be used to make effective heating pads, because of their perishable qualities they are prone to burning, as well as:

  • Spoil and Rot
  • Attract Bugs
  • Emit odor when heated
  • Have low heat retention

Foodstuffs inside of heating pads will need to be examined each time before heating to ensure that the materials won’t smell or eventually catch on fire.

If a foodstuff filled heating pad begins to show signs of burning or rot, all of the filling, and sometimes the heating pad itself will have to be discarded.

However, there are heating pads available that are made from non perishable materials with indefinite shelf life, no smell, and are made from materials that will last without worry of burning.
The best heating pad on the market is the Lavabag, made from volcanic sand which retains heat longer, more comfortably, and provides better relief than any other heating pad out there, DIY or on the market.

Since lava sand never goes bad, you can have a heating pad that you can rely on for years to come without the worries of foodstuff based heating pads.

Properly Heating a Heating Pad

Another step to help reduce the chance of fire or other issues with heating pads is to place a small cup of water in the microwave as you heat up the heating pad.

Since microwaves work by the microwaves causing the water molecules inside of food, and in this case heating pads to vibrate, it is recommended to add the cup of water when heating up dry materials.

However, before heating up a cup of water, make sure that the cup is microwavable.

When A Heating Pad is Too Hot

Heating pads are not safe to use when they are too hot.

If a heating pad is too hot to touch, it is too hot to use.

Because of the different density of the materials used to fill a heating pad, heat absorption and retention of various heating pads differ greatly, as shown by the chart below.

Heat retention chart comparing heat retention of various heating pad fillers

Many heating pads are too hot when they first come out of the microwave.

To combat this, many people place several layers of towels and other materials as a barrier between the heating pad and the exposed skin of the area in pain.

Unfortunately, by the time a heating pad cools to a comfortable temperature, the heat that is used to relieve the pain is short lived before it needs to be reheated.

Once again, Lavabags have proven to be superior to other heating pad options because once heated, the Lavabag reaches a comfortable temperature sooner and maintains its soothing heat longer than other heating pad options.

Heating Pads Are A Safe, Natural Form Of Pain Relief

When used properly, heating pads are a very safe, convenient form of pain relief for individuals suffering from cramping, sprains, strains, stiffness, and arthritis.

Whether it be a sock filled with rice or a Lavabag, these tools of heat therapy will help increase blood flow to inflicted areas, alleviating pain with their soothing heat.

They can also be a great tool for workouts and a way to survive ‘that time of the month’ for women.

Make sure that whichever form of heating pad you choose is made of reliable, durable materials that can offer the comfort and relief that you seek.