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Growing up, my family shared one “vintage” heating pad from the 1970s. I occasionally used it for cramps, but hated the uncomfortably stiff plastic-ish material, and its dire-sounding list of warnings scared me.
I didn’t think about heating pads again until I hit 30 and my menstrual cramps became unbearable. I was also diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic connective tissue disorder that causes chronic pain.
This led to my status as a heating pad evangelist. Heating pads have come a long way over the years in terms of comfort, safety, and design.
My collection includes two electric pads, one electric blanket, a heated back massager, and a microwavable one. I am so stoked to geek out on heating pads with you.
You probably already know that heat is recommended for muscle soreness or general aches and pain. Multiple studies, including one from
Heat is thought to help pain by relaxing tensed or spasming muscles and by disrupting the transmission of painful impulses from your brain. It may be especially effective for menstrual cramps and lower back pain.
We cross-referenced each brand and parent company with the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning letters, and customer feedback on sites like Trustpilot. We didn’t include brands with low BBB ratings or a history of lawsuits, FDA warnings, and negative customer reviews.
Since I have used and loved many heating pads, I included my personal favorites that I’ve tested and meet Healthline standards.
Best heating pad for neck and shoulders
This heating pad is designed to drape around your neck and shoulders, providing direct heat to a commonly tense area. Its lightly weighted edges and magnetic clasp allow for a cozy fit.
My editor personally recommended this product and told me: “Even though it’s designed to wrap over your shoulders and the back of the neck, I also find it useful and comfortable to use around my abdomen or even my lower back. Its soft fabric and shape make it easy to drape where I need it.”
I should note that I found a few FDA “adverse event reports” for Sunbeam heating pads. They all appear to be associated with how consumers used the product — for example, in one instance, the customer slept on top of the heating pad.
It’s a good reminder to use your heating pad safely by following the manufacturer’s instructions and to regularly check it for wear and tear.
Best back massager with heat
Want to warm up your sore back while also massaging it? InvoSpa’s heated back massager will let you do that. I’ve used this product for about a year, and I love it. You drape it over your shoulders, hooking your arms through the front, then let the Shiatsu massage rollers knead your muscles.
There are three massage intensity levels, and you have the option of massaging in clockwise or counterclockwise circles. The heat can be turned on or off with the touch of a button.
It comes with a car adapter, so you can take this on a road trip — but please only use it as a passenger! This massager boasts an Amazon rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars based on nearly 30,00 customer reviews.
One con is it’s a little bulky, and it can be too much if you have a recent shoulder injury or particularly tender joints.
Best heated blanket
I bought this electric blanket to adjust to chilly winter nights in the Pacific Northwest, and I am thrilled with the results. I got the queen size, which has two remotes attached on either side of the blanket. This allows my husband and I to customize our settings.
The blanket is made of soft microplush, and the internal heating coils aren’t heavy or uncomfortable.
Electric blankets aren’t just for the winter. They also double as full-body heating pads. If you want heat all over, you can use this blanket for full-body relief.
The cord comes easily unplugged on my side of the blanket, which can get annoying. However, that rarely happens on my husband’s side. I blame our dog, who is known for sneaking in and out of our bed all night.
Best analog heating pad
If you’re looking for an ultra-affordable option or something nonelectric, consider the good, old-fashioned hot water bottle. This modern take on a classic uses transparent material so you can easily gauge the water level. It also has a wide mouth for easy pouring.
This hot water bottle comes with a cozy knitted cover (choose from six colors), which can help further insulate the bottle, allowing the heat to last for hours. To use, carefully fill the hot water bottle with boiling water and replace the cap. Don’t microwave it.
You can put it under the covers to warm your bed or place it on a sore part of your body. If it’s too hot to use against your skin, try an extra barrier like a towel or blanket.
Note that you can’t adjust the heat level with the touch of a button, and it’ll slowly get cooler. It’s also a bit heavy and bulky, making it a not-so-great option for certain parts of the body.
Cutest microwavable heating pad
My friend gifted me a corgi-shaped version of this pillow, and it became my go-to for period pain. The corgi is discontinued, but this uterus-shaped pillow is an adorable alternative.
Filled with buckwheat and lavender, this double-duty pillow can be microwaved for soothing heat or placed in the freezer for cooling comfort.
The heat lasts for about 40 to 60 minutes and then needs to be reheated. If you want to use it for cooling, you’ll have to first freeze it for several hours.
The pillow can be spot-cleaned if needed. Urban Outfitters requires you spend a minimum of $50 for free shipping, with the option of free exchanges or returns.
Best gel heat packs
These reusable gel packs heat up in just 3 seconds with a snap of the internal disc. The heat lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, so it’s a good option for quick, on-the-go pain relief.
You could keep a couple in your bag or desk, so you’ll always have instant heat available when pain strikes.
The packs can be reused by boiling them for 10 to 15 minutes after use, which liquefies the crystals inside. This makes them a more environmentally friendly option than single-use heat packs.
These are good for camping and traveling, but probably not the best option if you want to apply heat for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
Best single-use heat pack
If you want simple, portable heat on the go, the HotHands Hand Warmers may be just the thing. These packs don’t need to be shaken to activate — simply unwrap and the air will activate the heat.
Multiple customers with Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that can make hands and feet feel cold or numb, rave about their effectiveness at warming their chilly hands.
This box comes with 40 pairs, so you get 80 individual warmers. This works out to about 25 cents per warmer. Their portability makes them ideal for winter walks, camping, and sporting events.
Designed and manufactured in the United States, these warmers can last up to 10 hours each.
Since these are single-use products, you may go through a lot of them. If you’re eco-conscious, you’ll probably want to opt for a reusable product instead.
Heating pads are great for muscle soreness from exercising, back pain, neck pain, and menstrual cramps. You can drape a heating pad over your sore area, or rest with it behind your back or neck.
Be careful not to burn your skin. Keep your heat settings as low as possible, and limit the time you spend using heated products. If even the lowest setting is too hot, use a barrier like a towel or blanket.
If you develop a heat rash or burn, discontinue use immediately and check the manufacturer’s instructions. If you were using the heating pad as directed and still got injured, contact the manufacturer.
Inspect your heating pad before first use, and then regularly thereafter. Don’t use if there are holes, frayed wires, or tears.
Don’t apply topical heating or cooling gels before using heat. That means you should avoid products with ingredients like menthol, camphor, capsaicin, and lidocaine.
There are a ton of heating pads on the market. I hope this article gives you a little clarity on what might be worthwhile for you. Whatever heating option you choose — be it electric, microwavable, big or small — I hope it keeps you toasty and soothes your aches and pains.
Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland, California. Learn more about her on herwebsite.