The 7 Best Neck Heating Pads for Pain Relief
Neck pain is, well, a pain in the neck. Here are expert tips for how to treat neck pain and feel relaxed by using a neck heating pad.
Easing neck pain
If you’re dealing with chronic neck pain, you have a lot of company. Experts estimate that as many as 80 percent of the U.S. population will suffer from neck pain at some point in their lives, according to research published in the Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy.
While there are a myriad of different treatment options, ranging from exercising and stretching to pain medication and even corticosteroid injections, one of the most time-honored ways of relieving neck pain is through the use of heat delivered via a neck heating pad.
How does heat help relieve neck pain?
If you’ve ever used a heating pad, or simply a hot towel, on any area of your body, you may have noticed that it was quite relaxing—and even pain-relieving. This is no coincidence, according to basic physiology.
Heating a certain area of your body, especially your neck area, helps drive blood flow by opening up the blood vessels, explains Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and India.
“When more blood flow is allowed into a region—in this case the neck, the soft tissues can relax,” she says. “Heat is generally soothing so it can help with the perception of pain.”
(Here are the different causes of neck pain you should know.)
Who can benefit from a neck heating pad?
While mechanical neck pain, or pain from stiff joints and muscles, typically responds the best with a heating pad, it’s worth noting that not all pain responds adequately.
“Acute or sudden injuries, recent ligament sprains or muscle strains, inflammatory conditions that are hot and swollen already should not have more heat applied,” says Wu.
“Some conditions where the pain is stemming from nerve pain should not have heat applied as the root cause of the pain is more from inflammation around the nerve, which can increase the fluid retention in the area and only very temporarily relieve the discomfort.”
When using a neck heating pad, you may also find relief in other areas, too.
“If you feel like you are carrying a lot of tension in your shoulders or a tightness in the back of your head that turns into a headache, a heating pad may also help,” explains Alyssa Kuhn, physical therapist and arthritis specialist.
(Try adding these neck exercises to alleviate pain.)
How to properly use a neck heating pad
Due to the fact that heating pads give off heat, they can be potentially dangerous when not used properly.
Ideally, the heating pad should not make direct contact with the skin to reduce the risk of thermal burns, notes Mike Martinez II, DO, double board-certified interventional spine pain specialist and anesthesiologist with Way Out West Spine + Mobility in Fort Worth, Texas.
He recommends using some sort of barrier such as a towel or a sheet to make sure the pad is not applied directly to skin.
“Apply the neck heating pad for 20 minutes on and then 20 minutes off and, if the skin becomes irritated, red, or tender to touch, hold off continued use of using the pad,” he says. “A timed heating pad is best as it reduces the risk that you will lose track of time and accidentally leave it on your skin too long.”
(Here’s what to do if you wake up with a stiff neck.)
While neck heating pads can be used daily, if you’re having excessive pain and discomfort that does not improve in two to three days, Dr. Martinez recommends contacting your physician to rule out anything more serious.
What to look for in a neck heating pad
Here’s a list of some of the top features that experts recommend looking for when shopping for a neck heating pad.
Adjustable temperatures: A neck heating pad that allows you to change the temperature from warm to hot can come in handy, especially through the change in seasons.
“You may want higher temperatures in the wintertime and lower temperatures in the summertime,” notes Kuhn.
“Additionally, heating temperatures can feel different to different people, so you want to be able to adjust it.”
Flexibility: While a neck heating pad that covers your entire neck area is nice, Kuhn recommends those that can extend over the shoulders to help with pain that radiates down into your upper and mid-back.
“Flexibility of the pad is also nice when you are trying to get comfortable either sitting or lying down as a generic shape might not be the most comfortable for you,” she says.
(These are the best pillows for neck pain.)
Automatic shut-off: Look for heating pads that can plugin and have an auto shut-off feature in the event that you fall asleep, says Julie Chen, MD, board-certified internist, Making Healthy EZ, San Jose, California. This helps prevent incidences of thermal burning.
If an automatic shut-off variety is not available, she notes that a microwavable pad can be a great alternative.
“It’s important to follow instructions for the microwavable heating pads to see how long to microwave for since different ones require different durations and if you heat it too long, the heating pad will burn,” she adds.
The best neck heating pads
Ready to shop for neck heating pads? Here are the ones experts say are worth the purchase.
Sunbeam Heating Pad
With four different heat settings and a contoured shape that extends heat to the neck and back, this micro mink heating pad from Sunbeam is an excellent choice for neck pain.
“It has a tall collar that goes up to the back of the head, magnetic closure that keeps it in place, and it is machine washable,” says Wu.
It also has an auto-off feature that shuts it off automatically after two hours of use.
Comfytemp Weighted Heating Pad
Kuhn recommends this Comfytemp weighted heating pad, especially for those with neck pain that radiates to their upper and mid-back, as it covers the shoulders.
It’s also ideal for those who are sensitive to heat, thanks to its nine heat settings and 11 auto-off timers that range from 30 minutes to nine hours.
“This pad will also give an extra stretch to the muscles as the pad is weighted,” she adds.
(Here are signs that you might have pulled a muscle in your neck.)
Pure Enrichment PureRelief Neck and Shoulder Heating Pad
This lightweight, contoured heating pad drapes comfortably around your neck area, shoulders, and around your upper back. It heats up quickly with two settings—warm and hot.
In addition to the fact that this neck heating pad is machine washable, it’s also nice that this company offers a five-year warranty should anything happen to it during use.
Sharper Image Neck and Shoulder Wrap
If you’d prefer a neck heating pad that you don’t have to plug in or worry about shutting off, this one can be heated in the microwave—or left in the fridge should you prefer a cooling sensation.
“It contains natural herbs that have calming scents and has an extra tall collar to help heat the base of the head or for those with long necks,” adds Dr. Chen.
(Check out these travel neck pillows for pain-free snoozing.)
Huggaroo Microwavable Heating Pad
Just as its brand name suggests, this heating pad wraps around your neck, shoulders, and upper back like it’s giving you a big hug.
It’s made of plush polyester fabric and filled with all-natural ingredients, including flaxseeds, lavender, chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, lemongrass, rosemary, cinnamon, and valerian root.
It heats up to a hot temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes and then slowly cools down to deliver a less intense and more warm level of heat.
Caring Mill Shoulder and Neck Heating Pad
Although this neck heating pad has a slightly higher price range than its competitors, it’s worth noting that, with every purchase of one of their products, a donation is made to the Children’s Health Fund.
“It has an automatic shut-off feature, plugs in for heating, and has a cover that can be removed and machine washed,” says Dr. Chen. “Although it has settings for up to two hours, I wouldn’t recommend that long.”
(Here’s how bad posture can affect your health.)
Homedics Weighted Gel Wrap
This weighted neck pad drapes around you like a cape, targeting more than just your neck, but also your shoulders and upper-to-mid back.
“The weight adds additional pressure that is soothing like someone is gently compressing your tissues in addition to the heat,” says Wu.
“It has a plush, washable fabric and ergonomic handheld LCD controller with 6 different heat settings.”
- Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy: "Prevalence and factors associated with neck pain: a population-based study"
- Karena Wu, DPT, PT, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City and India
- Alyssa Kuhn, DPT, physical therapist and arthritis specialist
- Mike Martinez II, DO, double board-certified interventional spine pain specialist and anesthesiologist and owner of Way Out West Spine + Mobility in Fort Worth, Texas
- Julie Chen, MD, board-certified internist, Making Healthy EZ, LLC, San Jose, California