The first thing I noticed personally when I used a far-infrared (FIR) heating pad was the tingle. It was a familiar tingle since I had just returned from a trip to Iceland with my family. While there, we spent a good deal of time at “The Fontana,” a small, out-of-the-way spa that was completely powered by geothermal heat. When you entered their sauna or hot tub, you felt a distinctly pleasant tingle permeate your body. Within minutes you felt like all your muscle tension had dissolved away leaving both body and mind profoundly relaxed and refreshed.
As an acupuncturist, we’re very familiar with that tingle. It’s the sensation most people feel during an acupuncture treatment as the blood vessels expand and the brain responds by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Keenly aware of the overall health benefits typically experienced post-tingle, I quickly became rather intrigued by this strange, bumpy heating pad.
For years, I had used a far infrared heat lamp. You’ll find these at almost any acupuncture office – a robotic-looking arm with a circular heating surface. Acupuncturists use these over specific parts of the body during an acupuncture treatment. This is because infrared heat can reinforce the effects of acupuncture, namely compounding the expansion of tiny blood vessels and increasing microcirculation to help ease pain and relieve inflammation. FIR lamps are limited in that they can only deliver their magnificently unique heat to relatively confined areas of the body.
With the FIR heating pad, I was entranced by the potential to deliver those benefits to a much broader area of the body, the entire back for example. I couldn’t wait to incorporate them into my practice. The results did not disappoint. I was delighted to hear the “oohs” and “aahs” of my patients as they first laid down on my FIR-heated treatment tables. I quickly noted that my patients seemed to experience even deeper relaxation and more pronounced and longer lasting pain relief.
Far-infrared heat is a form of energy in the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation. This form of heat is composed of longer wavelengths which allow it to penetrate more deeply into the underlying tissue than conventional heating pads, whose heat literally only goes “skin deep.” Additionally, heat in this range of the electromagnetic spectrum is completely safe, mimicking energy produced by the sun and the geothermal activity of the earth (which explains why my first time on a FIR heating pad took me right back to my time in Iceland).
FIR heating pads generate their effect by warming particular types of natural elements found in certain stones and minerals. Some are lined with discs of jade or tourmaline while others utilize layers of crushed stones like amethyst. My favorite FIR heating pads, and the kind with which I’ve seen the best patient outcomes, are actually a combination of pulverized stones (including jade, tourmaline, germanium, biotite, feldspar) that are combined with clay to form ceramic pieces. When heated, these ceramics not only generate FIR spectrum radiation but release negative ions, electrically charged molecules naturally occurring in places like mountains, beaches and waterfalls that are thought to greatly improve mood and increase energy.
Alongside these immaculate ions, the heavenly heat penetrates deeply into tight, knotted muscles, achy joints and crampy abdomens, increasing circulation and relieving tension. Although I’ve seen countless issues improve in patients using FIR heating pads, the most common issues for which they’re used include: back pain, tight muscles such as glutes and hamstrings, arthritic joint pain, menstrual and other abdominal cramping, and even workout recovery. Due to the general relaxation FIR heating pads provide, many patients even use them for stress relief and include using the pads in their bedtime routine to improve sleep.
On a personal level, I usually lay on a FIR heating pad as I’m lying in bed reading. Before I know it my eyelids are drooping and I’m drifting off to a deep, refreshing sleep. I keep one at my desk chair and either sit on it or lean against it, depending on whether my hamstrings or my back is tight and sore (in fact, I’m sitting on one as I write this!). Our four young boys are huge fans of the FIR heating pads, so much so that, to avoid sibling in-fighting, we made sure we have one FIR pad per child. When the kids are coming down with a cold, my wife (who’s also an acupuncturist) makes sure to stick them on a FIR pad and set the timer for a few hours when they go to sleep. She swears it lessens the severity and duration of their illness, and I have to agree!
While FIR heating pads may not be a cure-all, there is almost no health issue for which I don’t recommend them to my patients. At the very least, the relaxation alone is worth the relatively affordable price of a FIR heating pad. With winter quickly approaching, I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing quite so comforting as that tingle you feel as you’re drifting off to sleep on a FIR heating pad.