Aches and pains got you down? We bought and tested 5 of the best heating pads to find the best heat therapy for your sore muscles. We objectively measured how quickly each of these pads heat up, how hot they actually get, and the evenness of their heat. We also used them to soothe our muscles after working out and when suffering from stiffness in general. Whether you need a heating pad for pain relief, to speed recovery from an injury, or just to warm up on cold nights, our testing results can help you find the perfect one.With so many wellness products on the market, finding the right ones can be overwhelming. We make it our priority to meticulously test the best of the best, whether it be our favorite face masks, the top water filters for purified drinking water, sleep machines for better sleep, foot massagers to help you relax, thermometers for basic at-home care, or other products for your well-being.
Our Top Picks
The Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat scored well across many of our testing metrics. This large pad has a maximum temperature of 116˚, the highest out of any pad we've measured. It posted the fastest time (1 minute 48 seconds) in going from cold to 100˚. It also has six distinct heat settings, again putting it in the top tier. The relatively large size also makes it good for use on many different body parts.
The cover is soft, but slightly less plush than some others, and it is also less flexible overall. But if you're looking for a large pad with multiple heat settings that warms up very quickly, the Sunbeam King Size Xpressheat is a great choice.
If you're seeking a no-frills pad that won't set you back much, the Sunbeam XL Ultraheat is our top pick for you. It sports a simple design and large surface area that delivers even heat for less than half of what many of its competitors cost. We particularly like the easily removable cover. Though less plush than those of most other pads, it is very easy to take off and clean.
However, the Sunbeam XL Ultraheat lacks some of the panache of the other pads. It doesn't get very hot, barely breaking the 100˚F mark in our testing. It also took nearly seven minutes to reach that temperature, a far slower heat-up time than most pads we tested. However, if you just need some gentle heat and don't mind waiting a few extra minutes for it, the Sunbeam XL Ultraheat will fit the bill and be kind to your wallet.
If your neck is feeling cramped from hunching over a computer all day, the Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder 14 x 22 could be just the ticket. Thanks to an ergonomic design, a convenient magnetic clasp, and sewn-in weights that provide just enough pressure without feeling cumbersome, this pad comfortably cradles your neck whether you're in bed or sitting at your desk. It also reaches a maximum temperature of over 110˚F for those stressful times that require intense heat therapy.
The biggest drawback to this pad is its specificity. While you may be able to get creative and use it to soothe other body parts, the design largely limits its use to the neck. Additionally, though it's advertised for "neck and shoulder", we found that most of the soothing heat is focused on the neck area. But if you're someone that carries constant tension in your neck, this convenient pad is likely to become your new best friend.
For those struggling with a low back or abdominal strain or who tend to have painful cramps, the Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal is one of the most effective and relieving tools that we've found. Its tapered shape and built-in straps enable you to securely affix it to your low back or abdominal area, providing targeted heat no matter what position you're currently finding comfortable. The pad comes with a cold pack that can be put in the freezer and then placed in a slot on the pad, allowing for convenient hot/cold therapy as well. This model offers fast and intense heat when you need it, with a quick heat-up time of under two minutes and a maximum temperature of 114˚F.
Like all specialized pads, its size and shape render it somewhat difficult to use on areas other than the midsection. The more symmetrical shape and added straps made it slightly easier to wrap and secure this pad on a knee or hamstring than the neck/shoulder models we tested, but it was still less amenable to these situations than the simple rectangular pads. However, if it's usually your core and lower back that gives you trouble, the Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal is the best and most convenient option we've found.
If you specifically want a pad for your shoulders, the Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder 22 x 19 is a decent choice. It uses a magnetic closure to wrap around your shoulders for targeted heat therapy, and some small weights are stitched in to provide a bit of extra pressure so that the heat penetrates your muscles. The maximum heat of 110˚ is fairly high for when you really need an extra boost in heat therapy.
While this pad does have a neck flap, very little of its heat found its way to our neck muscles during testing. This is in direct contrast to the 14 x 22" Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder pad we tested, which is smaller and provided more heat to the neck than the shoulders. These neck and shoulder pads are generally only suitable for those targeted areas. If you're looking for a shoulder-specific pad, this one is a good option.
Why You Should Trust Us
Author Max Mutter has been testing and writing about consumer technology products for more than 4 years. In that time, he's reviewed more than 50 health and wellness products like air purifiers and humidifiers. He is also a lifelong athlete that has endured multiple surgeries, so he knows the values of a good dose of heat therapy.
To find the best heating pads on the market, we used an infrared thermometer to determine the maximum temperature of each pad and to measure how quickly each can go from room temperature to 100˚ Fahrenheit. We also took the temperature at multiple spots across the face of each pad to measure how evenly they disperse heat.
Analysis and Test Results
Most of our testing and grading of these heating pads focused on three aspects of heating performance: maximum heat, heat-up time, and heat dispersal. We also considered how easy each pad is to use in terms of the control panel, the number of heat settings offered, and whether there are any accessories that make affixing the pad to specific body parts easier and more secure.
Heat Up Speed
We found the time it took a heating pad to actually get hot to be one of the most significant factors in our overall opinion of the pad. You're most likely turning to a heating pad to relieve pain or at the very least minor discomfort, and having to wait only two minutes instead of six minutes to start feeling that relief can feel like a very significant difference. We measured heat-up speed by placing every pad on a surface with low heat conductivity (that's the fanciest way we've ever said 'couch') and then plugging them in and turning them on their highest setting. We then started a timer and pointed an infrared thermometer at the center of the pad and waited until it read 100˚ Fahrenheit — a temperature every pad could reach and at which we found the heat to start feeling noticeable and helpful.
The Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat was the fastest pad we tested, hitting 100˚ in just 1 minute and 48 seconds. The Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal was also quite fast, logging a time of 2:28. Beyond these top performers, all the models fell in the 4-7 minutes range — a gray area that requires some patience but probably won't be rage-inducing.
Ease of Use
If you can't set a pad to an appropriate temperature or get it to reliably stay on your ailing body part, it's not going to be worth much. We assessed the ease of use of each pad by considering the number of heat settings they offer and how easily they can comfortably be affixed to different body parts.
If you're looking for a specialized pad for a specific body part, we highly recommend the ergonomics of the Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal for low back strains or abdominal cramps and the Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder 14 x 22 for use on the neck.
We measured the maximum surface temperature of each of our heating pads by letting them warm up on high for at least 10 minutes and then taking the temperature of the center point of the heating surface with an infrared thermometer. We found the range in temperature of the pads we tested to be fairly narrow (100.3˚ to 116˚.5). For most uses (backs, elbows, shoulders), we found 100˚ to be plenty hot enough to feel therapeutic. However, for some larger muscles (like hamstrings and glutes), we found the hotter models to provide more penetrating and effective heat.
Here again, the Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat led the pack with a maximum temperature of 116.5˚. The Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal and the Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder 14 x 22 also impressed at 113.7˚ and 110.1˚, respectively.
Some pads are a bit stingy with their heating elements, resulting in high temperatures in the center of the pad that quickly drop off as you approach the edges. We measured heat evenness both subjectively and objectively. Subjectively we used each pad and noted any colder spots. Objectively we measured the temperature at the center of each pad with an infrared red thermometer and then took four more measurements, two inches down and two inches in from each corner. This revealed if the pad got colder towards the edges or not.
We found most rectangular pads to provide fairly even heat throughout, with the Sunbeam King Size XpressHeat being one notable exception (its temp dropped over 18˚ from the center to the plug edge of the pad). More specifically, ergonomic models tend to have more inconsistencies due to their non-standard shapes. For example, the Sunbeam Renue Neck & Shoulder 14 x 22 ends up putting more heat towards the neck while its sibling model, the Renue Neck & Shoulder 22 x 19, focuses more heat on the shoulders. The Pure Enrichment PureRelief Lumbar and Abdominal ended up being one of the most consistent models we tested, providing intense and even heat across the entirety of the low back.
Finding the right heating pad can be the first step in the path towards comfort and healing. There are a lot of important things to consider when finding a pad that is right for you, such as shape and size, temperature, and controls. We hope our real-world testing results have helped you find the best pad for your specific needs.
— Max Mutter
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