How Does a Heating Pad Work?
Most of today's household heating pads are what have become known as "electrical pads" (as opposed to chemical heating pads, or the now-antiquated hot water bottle). In the case of an electrical pad, the power is provided via an outlet. Once you turn it on, you can choose a heat setting (most blankets have somewhere between 5 and 10 settings). The electricity generates heat that is distributed by way of nichrome coils that lie beneath at least one layer of plastic or fabric safely separating those coils from the skin. Still, you should strictly regulate your electrical heating pad to ensure it doesn't get too hot. Most pads also come with some type of automatic shutoff function to prevent them from becoming fire hazards.
The primary purpose of a heating pad is to relieve tension. Muscle tension constricts blood flow, resulting in pain. Applying heat causes a person's blood vessels to dilate, creating increased circulation and stimulating the affected area. Repetitive use of heat therapy will more than likely result in decreased inflammation, temporary pain relief, increased range of motion, and long-term wellness (among other benefits).
Assuming you're on the go, there are several non-electrical heating pads that you can warm up by placing in a microwave, before either wrapping them around the affected muscle, or strapping them across the back with the use of some kind of harness.
What Do I Need to Know About a Heating Pad Before I Buy?
Most people purchase a heating pad for one of two reasons - either they need something that can provide them with relief from muscle pain, or they want something that can keep them warm. Knowing which of these camps you fall into makes it a lot easier to determine which type of heating pad might make the most sense.
Let's assume you're in the market for a pad that can help you with your muscle pain. You'll want something that has several different heat settings and doesn't take up too much space. You'll also want to research whether the pad is ideal for wrapping around the leg and arm muscles (as opposed to just providing relief to the back). Certain pads come with Velcro straps so they can be used like a harness. Your doctor may recommend alternating between hot and cold therapy, which means you'll probably want a non-electrical pad. A lot of these pads can be either heated up (by placing them in a microwave), or made ice-cold (by leaving them in a freezer).
If, on the other hand, you're looking for a pad that can keep you warm, you'll want the dimensions to be wide so you can absorb heat across a broad swath of your body, and you'll also want to ensure that the pad doesn't come with a lot of wires, or thick coils. There are a ton of pads like this on the market, and some of them are even designed to lie flat beneath a fitted sheet, so you can warm the entire bed with the flip of a button. Assuming you may want to place the pad on a reclining chair or couch, it may be worth considering whether a certain pad is available in a matching color.
A Brief History of The Heating Pad
In their earliest inception heating pads came in the form of a metal (or rubber) water bottle, which was heated, and then placed upon a strained or injured muscle to provide relief. The "hot water bottle," as it came to be known, has been in existence since the early 16th century. In its earliest incarnation, a hot water bottle was sometimes filled with burning coals, which were, in turn, used to warm a bed.
The primary difference between these antiquated water bottles and the electrical heating pads of today resides in the versatility, convenience, and impact that today's models offer. The number of settings on an electrical heating pad has gone from zero to infinity. In addition, there are built-in features that keep today's models from overheating. There are also automatic timers that tell the pad when to turn off. Certain non-electrical pads lock in their warmth from a microwave, and these pads are often designed to function as cooling pads, as well.
The electrical heating pad has been around since the early 1900s. It was originally introduced as a bed warmer that would sit beneath the fitted sheet, providing warmth and comfort throughout the night. While there are still electrical heating pads that are used for this purpose, most pads are designed for providing relief to injured muscles or aching joints. The concept remains very similar to that of a heated water bottle, sure, but the technology has become such that people can expect a much more concentrated result.