Heating pad overuse?
March 30, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

How long is too long when using a heating pad for cramps?

I use a heating pad on my lower abdomen to help soothe menstrual cramps – which are pretty severe for the first two days of my period. Is it OK to do this for extended periods of time? I use it all night when I’m in bed, then use it again once I get to work, then again once I get home. The heating pad I have contains a safety function which automatically turns the pad off after awhile – so it’s not a question of “will I start a fire”, it’s more of a “is this bad for my guts” question. Thanks!
posted by sleepykitties to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I use mine all the time during the first two days of my period, usually for an hour or more.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2011

No, as far as I know the concern is that you not burn your skin from leaving it on too long at too high a setting.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:10 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do this too except I use a heating blanket as opposed to a pad. I'll usually use it for a few hours at a time, also during first 1-2 days. I don't really see anything wrong with it (assuming you aren't burning yourself); but alas, IANAD.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 8:11 AM on March 30, 2011

Someone told me once that they release radiation when you use them, so not to use them near your gonads. I laughed and said, uh, that's what heating pads are for, making your girl-gonads feel better. Not sure about the radiation bit, but as long as you aren't burning yourself it should be fine. Just make sure there is a layer of fabric between you and the blanket.
posted by lettuchi at 8:25 AM on March 30, 2011

Someone told me once that they release radiation when you use them, so not to use them near your gonads.

Flat-out false. Radiation is a catch-all term that includes both ionizing (potentially dangerous) radiation, such as x-rays and high-energy alpha particles, and non-ionizing radiation like visible light, microwaves, and radio. The only kind of radiation your heating pad is emitting is the electromagnetic kind that the wiring in your house, your laptop, your fridge, etc. are emitting, which is not the same kind of radiation that causes cancer.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:33 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

I use the stick on heating pads if I have to be out and about doing useful adult things when the Communists Are In the Funhouse.

8 hours of heaty goodness, and I switch it up sometimes from back to front, because I don't like the sweaty grossness that accumulates. Also, my cramps are all over the place, so changing the position attacks um soothes some of the cramps at different times.
posted by bilabial at 8:40 AM on March 30, 2011

I too use the heating pad for two days straight during my time of turmoil and haven't noticed any negatives. I have one on my lower abdomen and one on my lower back. I've told my doctor and she didn't tell me to stop.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:10 AM on March 30, 2011

You're not wrong to worry, actually; there is evidence that repeated and/or prolonged use of heating pads (and laptops) reaching temperatures of 109 to 116 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to the development of erythema ab igne, a condition in which the skin is discolored and/or permanently damaged from the exposure to heat. It's not common, but it does happen. I would make sure that you're not leaving the heating pad on its highest setting for that entire time, that you're shifting it around frequently, and that you take breaks from time to time to get up and walk around without the pad.

I often find that as long as I start taking a pain reliever (Tylenol, in my case) at the very first sign of my period's onset, and continue for most of the first day, I can stave off the worst of the cramps and avoid needing a heating pad. If I don't start taking Tylenol immediately, though, I find myself in an agony that only a heating pad can help. You may have already developed a similar medication regimen to mine—but if you haven't, you might look into it as a way to avoid prolonged heating pad use.
posted by limeonaire at 9:19 AM on March 30, 2011

If you're a little worried about sleeping with it on (I would be) then you might consider a hot water bottle. I also find a couple doses of Evening Primrose at the start of shark week to help lessen the severity of symptoms.
posted by amanda at 9:25 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do the instructions say?

i use the disposable heating pads and it says not use overnight or leave on for long periods of a time because of potential skin issues (burning?)
But I do anyway and usually end up wearing the same one until the heat goes away (up to 10 hours)
posted by KogeLiz at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your input! Amanda: do you thinkif I were to take the Evening Primrose after The Bad Time has started would it still be effective?
posted by sleepykitties at 9:53 AM on March 30, 2011

You might be careful to drink some extra water throughout the day. Being warm can be subtly dehydrating, and there are obviously other water issues that come with menstruation.
posted by anaelith at 10:21 AM on March 30, 2011

I'll take painkillers (usually tramodol) as soon as My Ladytron Explodes, and huddle around a heating pad for 2 days straight. If I can get out of bed I'll turn off the heating pad and get in a hot bath with epsom and lavender. You know, to switch it up. I think you are fine.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2011

Also, I meant to add that I have been taking an evening primrose capsule once daily (or whenever I remember) since October-ish, and the debilitating pains have been less debilitating. I'm not sure if this is a significant pattern. I may stop taking them to find out.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 12:52 PM on March 30, 2011

Yeah, I think they help at any point. I've taken them a day or two in and they seem to be effective.
posted by amanda at 1:08 PM on March 30, 2011

If it were dangerous then I'd have burned skin/cooked guts by now. I brought a spare heating pad into work this winter for dealing with horrendous cramps, and as an awesome secondary use I found that it is delightful to sit on or use as a tiny electric blanket. The number of hours that my body has been in contact with a heating pad over the past four months is probably more than most people experience in their lifetimes. The only side effect was jealousy of coworkers.
posted by gatorae at 7:22 PM on March 30, 2011

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