When considering the use of a heating pad, one of the most important choices is that of moist vs dry heat.  The majority of heating pads provide dry heat, however, heating pads can also be used to provide moist heat.

A moist heat heating pad will provide for more comprehensive healing than a dry heat heating pad. Dry heat is often more appropriate for acute minor injuries or conditions that involve inflammation or swelling.

Dry heat will remove water from the area of treatment, which will in turn reduce the inflammation, which further reduces the pain.

Moist Heat More Effective

Moist heat heating pads are able to be more effective because they use moisture to penetrate painful areas.  Moisture is a more effective conductor of heat than air.  In some comparisons, moist heat has been shown to penetrate almost 30 times better than dry heat.

That means that moist heat is able to penetrate deeper into sore, painful areas that dry heat just can’t reach.  By providing deeper heat, moist heating pads provide deeper and faster healing.  Sore tissues are able to tolerate moist heat at higher temperatures than dry heat.

Although most injuries requiring the use of a heating pad don’t require a high temperature, there are some serious injuries that heal faster with increased heat.

Increase Blood Circulation

In order for an area to heal, blood circulation must be increased.  If the injury is deep, near the bone, for example, higher temperatures will be needed to reach the area.  Blood vessels that are far under the surface deep to dilate in order to bring healing oxygen and nutrients to the injured area.

Moist heat also lets those same blood vessels carry more toxins away from the painful area.  Moist heat has also been shown to provide faster, as well as deeper, relief.

How Long to Use Moist Heat?

For all of the benefits, moist heat does not last as long as dry heat.  Chemical moist heat packs, which use moisture in the air, only last for about 2 hours.  Chemical dry heat packs, such as Thermacare, last at least 8 hours and sometimes provide up to twelve hours of relief.

Because of the deeper, hotter, faster action of moist heat, individuals with dermatitis, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disorder or reduced skin sensation must consult professional medical counsel before attempting any home heat treatment.  These conditions may cause burns, as an individual with these conditions may not realize that the heating pad is too hot.

For electrical moist heat heating pads, the same guidelines apply to use.  Use for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, do not lie on it, and do not bend or fold it.  Some moist heat heating pads are designed to have water added to them, while others use moisture from the air.

Chemical moist heat heating pads are portable and last longer, however chemical moist heat heating pads don’t have the controls that electric moist heat heating pads do.  Which type of heating pad, moist or dry, electric or chemical should depend on the nature of your pain and your lifestyle. You can read more about different heating pads, here.