There are many questions when trying to relieve pain. Should you a use cold or hot pack? Should I use dry heat vs moist heat therapy? And for how long? If you didn't know, thermal heat therapy is very beneficial for treating chronic lower back pain and stiff muscles. Heat therapy products are often used in place of surgery and other pain treatments. However, the pain can actually worsen if used incorrectly.
There are many different types of heating pad products such as heating gel packs, thermal heating pads, wraps, heating towels, electric heating pads, ointments, and more. But when do you know which hot pack to use? It’s very important to know the difference.
IMPORTANT: When Heat Therapy Is Not an Option
Please note that heat should not be used in certain circumstances. For example, if you have dermatitis, deep vein thrombosis, or diabetes, heat should not be used. Make sure to consult with your doctor if you have heart disease or hypertension. Heat application is also not suitable for open wounds or if you have Peripheral vascular disease, or severe cognitive impairment. Here are some more instances when not to use a heating pad:
- On open wounds
- On any type of swelling
- If you have a medical condition such as diabetes
- On bruising
- On a freshly pulled muscle
- Any part of the skin that is red and inflamed
What is Dry Heat Good For?
You can find different types of dry heat therapy products such as electric heating pads, bean and rice bags. Dry heat products are popular because they heat up quickly, can be less of a mess, and the heat tends to longer than moist heat packs.
The downside is that dry heat therapy draws moisture out of the skin. This can dehydrate your skin causing dryness and irritation.
Benefits of Dry Heating Pads
- Dry heat can last longer than moist heat heating pads
- Some people feel that dry heat is the easiest to apply
- Some believe dry heat feels the best
What is Moist Heat Good For?
Moist heat therapy products are more likely to be recommended by experts. Not only do they not dehydrate skin, but they also increase tissue elasticity. This is perfect for patients with dry or aging skin who are concerned for skin irritation.
Another important factor is that moist heat therapy penetrates deeper into the skin. This can relieve pain faster. Some moist heat therapy products include steam towels, hot bath, moist heating packs, and gel packs.
Benefits of Moist Heating Pads
- Moist heat is more effective than dry heat, in providing deeper penetration of the tissue at the same temperature.
- Moist heat has an additional capacity to change the tissue temperature rapidly and obtain a more vigorous response from temperature receptors
- Moist heat can speed recovery by increasing blood flow to targeted area. Increased circulation brings in fresh blood and takes away the wastes which may slow healing.
- Moist heat offers greater relief of symptoms
Hybrid Heating Pads & Therapy
Hybrid heating pads are the best of both worlds. They are a mix of disposable heating pads and electrical heating pads. Hybrid hot pads often come with a comfortable, fabric sleeve and can double as a heated pillow.
Hybrid heating packs, like ThermalMax, are microwaveable and reusable. They are safer than electrical heating pads and last the recommended time for relief. Once you know how long to heat the product for, you are much less likely to get a burn with hybrid pads compared to electrical heating pads.
Benefits of Hybrid Heating Pads & Therapy
- Are most likely microwavable and reusable
- Can be safe to sleep
- Should last up to months of use
- Can provide longer lasting heat therapy
- Can speed recovery by increasing blood flow to targeted area which brings in fresh blood and takes away the wastes which may slow healing.
- Often greater relief of symptoms compared to many moist heating pads
- Provides deeper penetration of the tissue at the same temperature as other heat packs
Dry VS Moist Heat, What's The Best?
- Dry heat can dehydrate and dry skin
- Water or liquid does conduct the heat better to the skin than traditional dry methods, so the pain relief will reach your back muscles sooner if the product used is moist.
- Overall the secret to the best heating pad is one that has constant heat, can be applied long enough for relief, and penetrates deep enough. That is why hybrid heating pads seem to beat the competition.