The Heavenly Heat of Far-Infrared Heating Pads for Pain Relief

By Matt Maneggia, LAc

he 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 Fon- tana,” a small, out-of-the-way spa that was completely powered by geothermal heat. There, when you entered a sauna or hot tub, you felt a distinctly pleasant tingle perme- ate 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, that is a very familiar tingle. It’s the sensation most people feel during an acupuncture treat- ment as the blood vessels expand and the brain responds by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Keenly aware of the overall health benefits typi- cally experienced post-tingle, I quickly became rather intrigued by this strange, bumpy heating pad.

FIR and Acupuncture

I decided to order some FIR heating pads to use with my patients in my acu- puncture practice. Now, 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 spe- cific parts of the body during an acupunc- ture treatment. This is because infrared heat can reinforce the effects of acupuncture, namely compounding the expansion of tiny blood vessels, increasing microcirculation to help ease pain and relieve inflammation.

FIR lamps however 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 experi- ence even deeper relaxation and more pronounced, longer lasting pain relief.

What is FIR Heat?

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 lit- erally only goes “skin deep.” Additionally, heat in this range of the electromagnetic spectrum is completely safe, mimicking en- ergy produced by the sun and the geother- mal activity of the earth (which explains why my first time on a FIR heating pad took me right back to my time in Iceland).

How Do FIR Heating Pads Work? FIR heating pads generate their effect

by warming particular types of natural ele- ments found in certain stones and miner- als. Some are lined with discs of jade or tourmaline while others utilize layers of crushed stones like amethyst. My favor- ite 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, germa- nium, 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 natu- rally 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 ham- strings, arthritic joint pain, menstrual and other abdominal cramping, and even work- out 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 use my FIR heat- ing 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, their mother (who’s also an acupuncturist) makes sure to stick them on a FIR pad and set the timer 37

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