The warmth from a heating pad is a wonderful way for pain relief and muscle relaxation, to open blood vessels and increase oxygen flow, to self-regulate into relaxation, to relieve cramps, and to warm up on cold nights. I used to put a heating pad on my lap when I worked at the computer or in bed with me at night to help raise my body temperature and fall asleep faster.
Warm vs. Moist Heat. What's the Difference?
I am bias to moist heat. Why? Because it penetrates muscles more deeply, leaving a longer and lasting effect. I think of it as being in a sauna vs. a steam room or hot tub. Dry heat draws moisture out of the body, while moist heat can penetrate the skin and muscles more deeply. Many people prefer moist heat over dry heat for pain relief, but often it is preference.
Method #1: Create Moist Heat with an Electrical Heating Pad
First, make sure your electric heating pad is in good condition.
Then, simply run a wash cloth or hand towel under hot water to warm it up.
Ring out excess water.
Place on top of the heating pad and place on skin.
If you don't want to get wet, place a dry cloth over the moist one.
Turn on heating pad. For safety, do not fall asleep with it on if it is not able to automatically turn off.
Method #2: Make Your Own Scented Rice Heating Pad
Get a long sock, like a tube sock or long, thick winter sock. A long sock is is a great way to make a heating pad for your neck and shoulders! If you know how to sew, get some soft fabric or a clean dishtowel or hand towel, fold it, and sew all sides except for one side.
Fill the sock or fabric with rice, leaving space at the top to close it.
Add 2-3 drops of lavender, peppermint, and/or eucalyptus.
Tie the top closed, seal it with a rubber band, or sew it.
Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
Method #3: A Warm Compress
This may not last as long as the above methods, but it is still soothing and helpful.
Wet 2 wash cloths or hand towels with warm water.
Fold and place 1 towel in a zip lock bag, leaving bag open.
Microwave towel in bag for 1-2 minutes on high.
Remove bag with tongs or kitchen mitt to prevent being burned as it will be very hot.
Seal bag. Wrap the other wet towel around it and place on skin.
The warmth should last up to 15-20 minutes.
It is IMPORTANT to review these contraindications as a precaution. Please do not use moist heat:
On open wounds
On any type of swelling or bruising
If you have a medical condition such as diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or deep vein thrombosis
Any part of the skin that is red and inflamed or possible infection
A recent stroke
Decreased ability to sense pain