A heating pad is a type of mat that is capable of producing heat. It is most often used to obtain pain relief and generate feelings of relaxation.
Among other things, heating pads alleviate the pain and stiffness of arthritis, help relieve muscle soreness after workouts, and reduce discomfort from menstrual cramps. They are compact, portable, energy-efficient, and reliable. And they can be used virtually anywhere you can find an electrical outlet.
There are countless heating pads on the market today. Some are well-made, effective, and dependable. Others, not so much. Below you’ll find our choices for the best heating pads of 2021.
1. Serene Calm Heat Pad
The Serene Calm heating pad feels great, looks good, doesn’t send your electric bill through the roof. The controls are large and easy to understand, making it ideal for anyone looking to relive pain naturally.
What we like: Serene Calm’s heating pad has been scientifically proven to relieve pain without the use of drugs, thanks to its Far-Infrared technology (FIR). It also includes various healing gemstones and comes in a moderate size to provide complete relief for any area of your body.
Flaws: It’s a bit on the expensive side. That being said, it’s still our #1 overall pick of 2020.
2. Anbber Heating Pad
The Anbber Heating Pad is large and plush and heats up fast. It’s large enough to cover your entire back, or you can wrap it around tired aching leg muscles for fast relief. It has a maximum temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
What we like: We appreciate how warm this puppy is. We like that it has integrated auto-shutoff. (That’s particularly important considering how hot it can get.) This is also a true XL pad. You can lay on it and it will warm your entire back. The 9-foot cord is also a plus.
Flaws: It can get very hot. So you’ll need to be ever-aware of the temperature settings while using it.
3. Sunbeam Heating Pad Back Wrap
If you suffer from back pain but don’t have money to spend on a masseuse, the Sunbeam Heating Pad Back Wrap has you covered. While this is a kind of one-trick-pony that one trick will provide relief to untold numbers of people. Especially older folks.
What we like: We appreciate this type of targeted therapeutic approach. It adjusts to fit just about anyone and is very effective at providing relief from nagging back pain. It heats up fast, feels great, and you can pop in the washing machine.
Flaws: The obvious shortcoming is that it’s designed to relieve back pain, not to be moved around the body to target different areas.
4. Mighty Bliss Large Electric Heating Pad
The Mighty Bliss is one of the most popular heating pads on the market. Its size means you can use it on any part of the body. And the fact that it heats up quickly means there’s no waiting for relief. It’s an attractive alternative to more expensive models.
What we like: It’s not too small for your back. Not too big for arms or legs. The three settings are distinct and useful. It’s very agreeable against the skin as well as being reasonably energy efficient. And it comes with an unprecedented lifetime replacement warranty.
Flaws: Because the controller is so close to the pad, it’s possible to turn it back on while you’re sleeping accidentally.
5. Sunbeam Xpressheat Heating Pad
The Sunbeam Xpressheat pad is exceptionally well-made, conveniently sized, heats up fast and is small enough to fit in your carry on bag when you travel. With six different heat settings, it’s also ready to tackle whatever ache or pain you’re experiencing.
What we like: We like how fast this pad heats up. It’s also a good size. Not too big, not too small. The one-hour auto-shutoff is a nice touch in case you fall asleep. And the controller is effective and easy to understand. It’s also light and machine washable.
Flaws: It can sometimes be difficult to get the controller out of your way. And, as is the case with other heating pads, the lower settings are all pretty much the same.
6. Geniani XL Heating Pad
While not exactly a true ‘XL’ heating pad, the Geniani is nonetheless affordable, effective, and built to last. You get three heat levels to soothe your aching muscles and arthritic joints. And that heat is delivered by way of a very comfortable mid-sized heating mat that’s fully machine washable.
What we like: There’s no doubt this pad feels great against your skin. It’s also flexible enough to be used to treat any part of the body. We like that it heats up fast and is washing machine safe. We appreciate the five-year warranty. And it should be noted that customer service is first-rate.
Flaws: Calling it ‘XL’ is a bit of a stretch. Also, there is no ‘auto-off’ feature, and the controller is pretty close to the pad. Maybe too close for some people.
7. Tech Love XXL Electric Heating Pad
The Tech Love XXL is large and comfortable and really helps you relax after a long day. It features a half dozen heat settings, has a cushy, satiny-soft feel to it, and offers all-important auto-off. If you’re looking for a large, affordable pad to address back pain, this should fit the bill.
What we like: We like the six heat settings, the 9-foot cord and the slight hourglass shape that lets you pull it around your shoulders. It also feels soft and comfy against your skin. While the velcro straps are handy for making sure the pad stays where you put it. The auto-shutoff is another plus.
Flaws: It’s pretty big. But not as large as the marketing images make it out to be. What is large is the controller.
8. Boncare Heating Pad
Extra-large heating pads have their place. But so do smaller pads that you can easily wrap around an arm or a leg for targeted relief. That’s what you get with the Boncare Heating Pad. It’s a small but powerful heating pad that pumps out a maximum of 158 degrees of therapeutic heat.
What we like: We love the soft velvety touch, the 40-minute auto-shutoff, and that all of the four temperature settings are useful. We also appreciate the longer than average cord and the convenient storage bag. The moist heat option comes in handy sometimes too.
Flaws: While we appreciate the compact size it probably won’t be big enough for some folks. Also, it tends to go its own way inside the cover.
9. Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL
The Pure Enrichment PureRelief XL heating pad heats up quickly and provides total body comfort. With its handsome stuff sack, you can take it anywhere. The six heat settings also allow for nuanced application of the heat.
What we like: We like the way this pad feels against the skin. We also appreciate the ability to gradually up the heat to suit your needs. And the five-year warranty is a significant plus.
Flaws: The cord and remote seem unusually large and bulky. Also, the difference between the lower settings is negligible.
10. Sunbeam XL Ultraheat Heating Pad
The XL Ultraheat pad is a mid-sized heating pad with a soft agreeable cover and three heat settings. There’s also a full-length sponge you can moisten to provide an extra level of penetrating heat. Toss in the 5-year warranty and attractive price, and you have a winner.
What we like: It’s very easy to use and heats up quickly. We appreciate the 9-foot cord that allows for worry-free adjustments. And it’s large enough to work your entire back or wrap around a bothersome thigh. The controller is also easy to use and, unlike some, is not the size of a flatbed truck.
Flaws: While it gets plenty warm, it’s not the most comfortable against your skin. It also emits a bit of a plastic smell the first few times you use it.
11. Sable XXX-Large Heating Pad
The last of our best heating pads is the XXX-Large Heating Pad from Sable. While not particularly extra, extra, extra-large, it is nonetheless big enough to provide adequate back relief. And with six settings, you’re bound to find one that resonates.
What we like: One of the most comfortable pads on the market. It heats up fast and can get very warm at the top setting. We appreciate the size, the integrated temperature control, and the auto-shutoff feature. It’s a great pad for those long cold winter nights.
Flaws: The controller is close to the pad. And machine washing it seems to degrade the nice comfy wrap.
Who Needs a Heating Pad?
People with arthritis will find a heating pad a good way to alleviate some of the pain and stiffness. People who have a hard time getting to sleep will find that a heating pad helps facilitate drifting off. Athletically inclined individuals will find that heating pads help them loosen up before a workout or a competition. And they also help them deal with sore, achy muscles afterward.
Seniors will find that heating pads allow them to stay flexible and fit. Anyone who suffers from a stiff neck will appreciate how a heating pad can help them. And those who suffer from acute or chronic back pain will discover the difference a heating pad can make to their overall comfort and mobility. Physical therapists, massage therapists, women who suffer from menstrual cramps, jet-lagged travelers, and more can all benefit from the targeted warmth a heating pad can provide.
How We Ranked
Although the ultimate purpose of a heating pad is simple – to deliver heat in a targeted fashion to facilitate pain relief and relaxation – there are actually a surprising number of things to consider when shopping for one. We applied a rigorous set of criteria to every heating pad we considered for our list. Those that passed made the list. Those that didn’t, didn’t.
First off, we wanted to know how fast a pad heated up. If it took more than 30 or 40 seconds to reach a useful temperature, then we weren’t interested. We also looked for heating pads that offered a variety of heat settings. It was also important that the heat pad felt comfortable against the skin and that its cover wasn’t fashioned from something known to generate allergic reactions.
The heating pad also had to be reasonably energy efficient. This isn’t 1995 after all. There’s no excuse for electric-based appliances that scarf electricity. And speaking of electricity, we gave extra points to those heating pads that had integrated auto-off. This feature is not only important in terms of saving energy. It’s also a fundamental safety feature that helps prevent injury and fire.
Every component of the heating pad also had to be well built from durable materials. The controller had to be well-considered, easy to understand, and equally easy to use. If the device was/is UL approved, even better. Any lettering or displays had to be big enough for older folks to read without any difficulty. And finally, while price was a consideration, it wasn’t a major one since all the best heating pads tend to be within shouting distance of one another price-wise.
A heating pad is convenient. Heating pads are small, light, and easy to store away until you need them. They can be kept in a dresser drawer, a cabinet, the closet, the vanity in the bathroom, or a hundred other places. If you plan on traveling, they can slip easily into your regular luggage or carry on bag without adding significant weight or eating up lots of space. So after a day at the Louvre, you can return to your hotel room in the Latin Quarter and use your heating pad to relieve your aching back. Considering how compact, affordable, and effective they are, they should be considered must-have gear for your next travel adventure.
A heating pad is great for relieving back pain in folks over 50. Back pain is a major problem for people over 50 (1). These folks need a handy, affordable way to obtain relief, and a good heating pad gives them that. Take the Sunbeam Heating Pad Back Wrap we profiled above. It’s designed to address lower back pain. Just wrap it around the midsection, click the buckle in the front, and it goes to work relaxing the muscles of the lower back. In no time, the wearer can go back to sitting, standing, and walking like their normal, lively self. But truth be told, any fairly large heating pad can provide the same benefit. You’ll just need to find a way to hold it in place.
A heating pad can help alleviate the pain of arthritis. It is believed that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis (2). That’s a pretty staggering number and one that is bound to grow by many millions more as the population ages. Besides being arthritic what they all have in common is the need for pain relief. According to the Arthritis Foundation heat is a great way to get relief from arthritis pain (3). The humble heating pad delivers that relief quickly and effectively and without the odious side effects that come with the use of painkillers (4). If you suffer from osteoarthritis (5), rheumatoid arthritis (6) or gout (7) you would be wise to have at least one heating pad always at the ready.
A heating pad can be used to calm muscle spasms. Muscle spasms (8) and muscle cramps (9) affect everyone at one time or another. The difference between the two is typically a matter of degrees. Spasms tend to come and go quickly, while cramps take hold and last for up to several minutes. There are a lot of possible causes for spasms and cramps, including overworking the muscle, dehydration or injury. While a heating pad won’t be able to address the underlying cause, it can be effective at providing relief. Muscles that have cramped often remain painful for some time after the cramping has stopped. The timely application of heat causes the muscle to relax, alleviating the pain.
A heating pad is cost-effective health care. Doctor visits aren’t getting any cheaper. Even if you’re covered by Medicare they still aren’t free (10) as you’ll have co-payments and deductibles to deal with. The bottom line is that few people can afford to see the doctor every time their back is acting up. While there will certainly be some cases when a doctor’s visit is necessary other times, your back, neck, or other pain may be well and truly relieved by using a simple, affordable heating pad. Because heating pads are typically fairly small, they can be used to address muscle and joint pain anywhere on the body.
A heating pad helps you loosen up before stretching. Whether you’re a runner, enjoy long power walks, or you just want to feel good and stay limber, stretching is essential. As you get older, however, stretching itself can be an unpleasant experience. A heating pad applied to your muscles and joints before stretching can make the whole process go a lot smoother. When you’re ready to stretch your muscles will already be relaxed and loose and much more agreeable to doing what you want them to do.
A heating pad can relieve menstrual cramps. For as long as anyone can remember, women have used hot towels and other methods to alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps. With the advent of modern heating pads, hot towels are no longer necessary. That said, there is disagreement in the medical community regarding whether heat actually offers any benefit in such cases (11). Studies have shown that women feel less pain when they apply heat. But researchers aren’t sure whether the pain relief is real or if it’s a result of the placebo effect (12). To most women who experience debilitating menstrual cramps, however, all that matters is that they experience relief.
A heating pad can help relieve stress. There are many potential causes of stress. Certainly sore, tight muscles in the neck, shoulders, and back is one of them. But in some cases, it’s unclear whether the tight muscles created the stress or the stress created the tight muscles. Chicken-and-egg scenarios aside, using a heating pad to loosen up these tight muscles can have the knock-on effect of alleviating stress. And once the stress has dissipated, the odds of those tight muscles returning is significantly reduced. It’s, in effect, a spiral of wellness.
A heating pad can help lower your blood pressure. Findings presented to the American Heart Association in 2019 indicate that the application of heat can actually cause a reduction in blood pressure for some people (13). The heat acts as a kind of vacuum that draws blood out of the major arteries and into the millions of smaller blood vessels in the skin. By doing so, pressure within the arteries is reduced. More study is needed to confirm this initial finding. But these early results are very promising.
A heating pad can help you sleep better. Researchers have known for some time that your body gets cooler when you sleep. In fact, while you’re off chasing your dreams, your core temperature has dropped a couple of degrees from what it was during the day (14). Anything that helps facilitate this drop in temperature is going to make it easier for you to get to sleep. When you use the heating pad right before you go to bed, you warm your body up. By removing it before you turn in, your body begins to cool down. You then ride this downward temperature momentum right to dreamland.
A heating pad enables better overall health. Heating pads can enable more effective workouts, reduce blood pressure, relieve menstrual cramps, relieve muscle spasms, and reduce stress (among other things). So, it’s no exaggeration to say they enable better overall health. Of course, you’ll need to do your part by exercising once you stretch. Also, don’t drink tons of coffee before bedtime and stay properly hydrated while working out. But if you do those things, your heat pad can help you have a better life.
Q: When should I use a heating pad?
A: You should use a heating pad if you suffer from arthritis or gout. You should use a heating pad if you workout regularly and would like to obtain relief from aches and pains without having to take medication. You should use a heating pad if you want to sleep better, if you want to get more from your workouts or if you want relief from menstrual cramps. You should use a heating pad if you travel often and need a way to get to sleep when you’re jet-lagged. And you should use a heating pad if you are looking for a safe and effective way to relieve stress.
Q: Do all heating pads work the same way?
A: While most heating pads work by delivering penetrating dry heat, an increasing number offer moist heat as an option. The idea behind moist heat is that it is better absorbed by the body and can deliver a more satisfying result. Muscles become more relaxed and pliable right down to their core. Moist heating doesn’t always live up to the marketing hype. But when it does, it can take your heating pad experience to the next level.
Q: Are there different heating pads for different parts of the body?
A: There are. Although most heating pads are for general use, some are designed with specific parts of the body in mind. Some examples would be those that are worn around the neck or draped over the shoulders. Because of their particular shape, these will be of limited use on other parts of the body.
Q: Can you take a heating pad with you when you travel?
A: Yes, you can take a heating pad with you when you travel. In fact, you probably should take one if you want to ensure you feel great during your adventure. Heating pads are small enough to fit into any bag and are allowed on all flights overseen by the TSA (15). If your plane has outlets in the seats, you can use the heating pad to relax and help you get some shut-eye.
Q: Are heating pads good for stiff necks?
A: The heating pad is particularly effective at relieving stiff necks. That is, as long as the stiffness is not the result of an infection or a spinal injury. That said, if being squeezed into a tiny economy seat on a long flight has wreaked havoc with your neck, the heating pad will help. Or if you slept in an awkward position and your neck is now in knots, just reach for the heating pad.
Q: Can a heating pad be used to treat menstrual cramps?
A: Yes, a heating pad can be used to treat menstrual cramps. Most women feel at least a bit of discomfort during their period. But for some women, the cramping and associated pain can be intense. In most cases, these severe cramps are the result of the normal blood supply being cut off to the muscles of the uterus (16). That robs the muscles of oxygen and produces the pain. That’s the bad news. The good news is that menstrual pain often responds positively to heat.
Q: Can you wrap a baby in heating pad?
A: Absolutely not. Why? Because babies do not yet have a highly developed sense of feel. Or for that matter an real sense of danger (17). As such, even if the heating pad were hot enough to burn the baby’s skin, the baby would not be able to discern the threat until it was too late and they had already suffered an injury. So next time you want to wrap your baby in a nice warm heating pad, please resist the temptation.
Q: Is it safe to use a heating pad in bed?
A: Some manufacturers encourage you to go to sleep with the heating pad draped across your body. Others warn against it. Some safety experts don’t seem to have a problem with the idea. While others specifically warn you off (18). If you want to sleep with your heating pad, check the literature that came with the device. It should tell you whether it’s safe or not.
Q: Will a heating pad provide relief from any kind of pain?
A: You should never apply heat to an infected area, no matter how much that area may hurt. If the skin feels hot to the touch, that means there is an active infection in play, and applying heat could make things much worse (19). Also, if you have a fresh injury, like a torn ligament, you need to resist the urge to whip out the heating pad. Essentially, heat is for everyday aches and pains. Not for breaks, infections, and open wounds.
Q: How long should you leave a heating pad on?
A: How long you leave the heating pad on will depend on what type of discomfort you’re trying to address. If you’ve just got a stiff neck, 20 – 30 minutes should do. If, however, you’re trying to alleviate stubborn lower back pain, you may need to leave it on for a couple of hours. Perhaps a couple of hours several times a day. For more serious conditions, discuss it with your doctor.
Q: Are heating pads the same as Tiger Balm?
A: No, a heating pad is not the same as applying Tiger Balm. Tiger Balm and similar ointments don’t actually warm up an area. What they do instead is open up the capillaries on the surface of the skin. That creates the illusion of heat. But what’s actually going on is a mild chemical burn. Products that work in such a way are called rubefacients. They have been shown in clinical trials to produce some short-term benefit (20). But their mechanism remains fairly mysterious, and they are not recommended for long-term treatment.
Q: What is a microwave heating pad?
A: A microwave heating pad is an ultra-simple, non-electric pad that you pop into the microwave for a minute or so and then wrap around your aggrieved body part. As these are little more than hot water bottles without the water and tend to cool down quickly, we omitted them from our list.
Q: How long does a heating pad last?
A: That will depend mostly on how you treat it. If you treat it well, it may last several years. If you treat it rough, it might not make it to a year. If you want the pad to last, don’t sit on it. Don’t try to attach it to a piece of furniture using safety pins or other metallic items. Don’t fold it up sharply. And don’t ignore the instructions when it comes to cleaning it. Throwing it in the washing machine if it’s not designed for that could ruin it.
In many respects, the heating pad has replaced the hot water bottle as the go-to device to obtain relief from everyday aches and pains. And this makes sense since they stay warmer longer and cover a wider area than a hot water bottle.
Heating pads are for everyone, including athletes with aching muscles, women seeking relief from menstrual cramps, and older individuals dealing with arthritis pain. Even if all you want is a more effective way to relax at the end of a long day, the heating pad is here to help.
All of the heating pads on the above list have demonstrated their ability to provide dependable, affordable therapeutic benefits.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended heating pad, click here.