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Heat can be really beneficial in helping to manage chronic pain. The science behind it is really simple, and as long as you find the right heat packs for you, it is an effective of way of feeling in control of your own pain management.
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Over the years I’ve used different heat packs for all my pains: coccyx pain, neck pain, and my endometriosis pain. I’ve tried probably every type of heat pack on the market to make sure that it works for me, but most importantly, I can get comfy whilst using it. More often than not, when I am managing one pain, I cause pain elsewhere, so having variety of different heat packs to use depending on what I am doing, is proving to be useful in my own pain management.
But like with everything, what works for one person, won’t necessarily work for someone else. It is important to do your research and speak to others who have the same type of pains as you. Consider reading reviews to understand the pros and cons of each type of heat pack, how they work, how you re-heat them to use them again, and you may need to think about how portable they are if you need to carry them with you to use when out and about.
In this post I talk about the heat packs that I have tried, what I like and don’t like about them, and why they work for me.
Hot water bottles
I have used a hot water bottle for my endometriosis pain for 21 years. I swear by it. For me, it is the only way to get rid of my debilitating stomach pain: if I use a hot water bottle as soon as the pain starts to kick in, and take some of my tablets, then within an hour or so the pain has usually gone. Without my hot water bottle, no matter what tablets I take, my pain never really goes away, and more often than not it gets far worse before it starts to ease off.
I prefer to use my hot water bottle to manage this pain as the heat source is boiling water and it obviously gets pretty hot. It stays hot for a good length of time too, up to an hour or so. I never fill it with boiling water, as per the instructions for all hot water bottles; I boil the kettle then let it cool slightly before I fill the bottle. This size hot water bottle also has a larger surface area, which is ideal when using it on my stomach.
This type of heat pack can last for years, and is very good value for the price that you pay – they can vary from ?5 to ?20, depending on whether it comes with a cover or not. I always use a cover on mine, as without it, it is too hot. Most hot water bottles these days come in removable and washable covers – there’s a huge variety of colours and designs – but you can wrap it in a tea towel if not.
The standard hot water bottle generally come in two sizes, large and small. I also have the small one which is more portable and can be used to manage other pains (I even used this one on my coccyx in the early days of managing my pain). But the heat doesn’t last as long, only about 20-30 minutes.
In addition to the 3 not-so-obvious things I do to help manage my neck pain, I use a neck hot water bottle. It is the same as the ones above, but is designed to be used specifically around the neck. It’s a little trickier to fill, as you have to do it slowly so the air doesn’t cause it to bubble up. I one filled it too quickly and the water bubbled up and over the spout. I dropped it and hot water went everywhere. My neck hot water bottle was about ?5 from Dunelm.
Again, this heat pack stays hot for a long time. If anything, it feels even hotter than the one I use on my stomach as the neck area can be quite sensitive. Before filling it, I’d recommend you let the water either cool for a little longer once it has boiled, or don’t let the kettle fully boil. Sometimes I struggle to use it if it is too hot and this causes frustration, discomfort and the area to itch, which is the last thing you need when trying to relax your muscles.
Microwave heat packs
I’ve bought these types of heat packs based on the shape of them. They are much more flexible and suitable to use on different parts of the body, and are much simpler to heat up ?- a minute in the microwave is usually long enough. The heat doesn’t last as long as it does with a hot water bottle, but they do get pretty hot. The instructions always say not to over heat them, as this may cause damage or they may even break, I don’t know.
Wheat bags are a very common type of heat source. They come in all different colours and designs and often come infused with lavender, which can help with relaxation and sleep. I bought my wheat bag to use for my coccyx pain, as I thought it would mould better to this area of the body. When there is pressure on the bag, it becomes quite hard, so it wasn’t the best product to use. I’ve also used it on my neck, as it is an ideal shape. The particular design I have isn’t suitable for this though. When I used it sitting up, the beads all dropped to the bottom so there was no heat where I wanted it to be. It also caused the weight of it to pull down and feel very uncomfortable. You can get them seamed into 3 separate compartments which prevents the beads from all falling to the ends. This type of heat pack can also be used around the neck when lying down, but for me it was too hard and I didn’t feel the benefits of it.
These vary in price but they’re not usually more than ?10.
Reusable hot and cold packs are handy to have, but obviously if you want to use it cold, it needs be in the freezer ready. I bought this particular one based on it coming in a cover that I could use to strap in place around my neck. It didn’t work as well as I was hoping as it wasn’t comfy at all.?The material inside the pack is much better than the beads in the wheat bags, as it stays put and can also mould better to provide more heat to the area.
The one I have was about ?10. It has instructions written on it for both hot and cold use, and it also gives some examples of what the different applications can be used for. If you need it for both types, I would recommend getting two packs, so that you can keep one in the freezer and one ready to heat up. Some packs do come in twos for this reason.
Self-WArmING heat packs
These are ideal when you need to carry them with you, as you don’t need a kettle or microwave to heat them up. You can get different types, and I have tried 3 of them.
One of my favourite types of self-warming heat packs are the ones with the little metal disc. You simply click it and suddenly it goes hard and becomes hot; surprisingly hot. They come in different sizes, from large ones to use on the back, shoulder and neck, to small pocket-size hand-warmers.
I wrote a review of the ClickHeat version I have, and I do love this type of heat pack, but the only downside is the effort you need to go to reset it. My one I use for my neck needs to be boiled for 20 minutes. Sometimes I forget to do this, which means it isn’t always ready to use when I want it. I also hold-off resetting it though, as boiling it can provide another opportunity to use it. It needs to cool down quite bit first though. I got mine from a Christmas market stall in Hamburg and it cost me ?30, which at today’s rate is about ?26.
In the early days of managing my pain, I literally tried everything to help. One thing I tried was a wrap-round self-warming pack around my lower back. It heated by itself by reacting with the skin and I thought the gentle heat in this area would help. It may have done but I didn’t feel any benefit from it. I liked the idea of it though, as you could use the heat pack straight away (again, nothing was required to heat it up) and it was under my clothes so no-one knew it was there. It wasn’t the comfiest though, and it did cause my skin to sweat.
Depending on what type you get the price can be up to ?20.
The most recent type of heat pack I’ve tried is the self-warming heat pack that you stick inside your clothes. These come in different shapes and sizes depending where you want to use it on your body, but the one I used was for the neck and shoulder. It didn’t stop my pain, but I used it with the intention of relaxing my muscles. I like the idea too that you can use it for up to 12 hours, which for ?1 a pack from Home Bargains,was very good value. Personally, I don’t intend to use them often, as this would work out very expensive over time. For me, I like to use them when I am driving, or when I know I will struggle more, and this extra way of managing things my just help me cope a little better.
I really hope you have found this post useful. Like I said at the beginning, what works for one person won’t necessarily work for you. But knowing more about the different types of heat packs available and given my thoughts on the good and bad things about them, may help you decide that something is worth trying out. I’ve had chronic pain for over 6 years and it is a constant learning journey of trying things out and testing what works and doesn’t work.
All thoughts in this post are my own, and you must read the instructions carefully when using heat packs of your own.
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