May 022012

Should Your Elderly Parents Use a Heating Pad?

Heating pads commonly used at home to treat a variety of injuries. However,caregivers should know that there are precautions that should be taken when using heat therapy, especially with the elderly. Their skin is more fragile, more susceptible to damage and they may have decreased sensation that will not alert them in time if skin damage is occurring. Below, I will outline ways caregivers can help avoid injuries when applying heat.

Heat Application

Before applying heat, be sure to remove any jewelry from the affected area to prevent the metal from burning the skin. You should also place a cloth between the skin and the heat source to protect the skin from burns.

When using commercial heat packs inspect to make sure that no chemicals are leaking out after breaking the seal that activates the chemicals inside. Chemicals leaking onto the skin can cause severe burns. If a leak should occur flush immediately with cool water and call your healthcare provider. Never apply chemical heat packs to the face.

When using an electric heating pad start with the lowest setting and do not leave heat on for more than 30 minutes. Caution your parent not lie on a heat source such as a heating pad. For one thing they might fall asleep and that can lead to burns and for another it could damage the wires ruining their heating pad or cause a fire. Do not fold the heating pad, use pins to hold it in place, or use one with a damaged plastic cover or a frayed cord.

Wait at least one to one and a half hours after removing a heating pad before reapplying heat to allow the skin to cool down and you will have better results. When heat is left on a long time the body tries to compensate and cool the area which leads to stiffness and increase pain.

Never use an analgesic rub with a heating pad. I have seen some nasty skin damage from that. Those rubs are chemical heating agents and combined with a heating pad can lead to burns.

Moist Heat

The most effective heat is moist heat and there are several commercial moist heating pads on the market today that are a safe choice. You can also heat wet towels or cloths though they will require frequent reheating. If you do decide to use moist heat with a regular heating pad, please put the pad in a plastic bag first to prevent getting a shock.

A better choice would be to fill a sock with regular rice, tie one end, place it inside another sock and tie that, heat it in the microwave for no longer than a minute. Apply the wet cloth to the affected area, cover with your new rice bag and place a towel over it to hold in the heat.

Be careful when using the microwave to warm heat packs such as rice bags or wet cloths. Since microwaves do not always heat evenly so be sure to check for hot spots.

Avoid Use Of Heat

Heat therapy should not be used on most injuries when they first occur with the possible exceptions of neck and back strain. Using heat too soon after an injury can actually compound the problem and slow the healing. Heat is best for injuries 48 to 72 hours after they occur.

Heat should not be used if there has been recent or potential bleeding, deep blood clots, impaired circulation, impaired sensation, impaired ability to communicate and impaired mental status. Do not apply heat to swollen areas until the reason for the swelling has been determined.

As a general rule, heat should not be applied to open areas since heat increases the need for oxygen and may damage new tissue growth and delay healing. Heat applied to a bruise may increase bleeding.

Warning: Never apply heat over a medication patch. The heat may cause the medication to be absorbed more rapidly into the bloodstream and can lead to serious problems. This can also be a problem if your parent uses a medication patch and is running a high temperature.

Check the skin under a heat pack or heating pad 5 minutes after application. Though some mild redness and warmth are expected, you want to ensure the skin is not burning. If blistering should occur, remove the heat, apply a cool, wet cloth and call your doctor or seek immediate medical attention. Should the redness continue for 30 minutes or more after the application of heat remove the heat source until the redness is completely gone.


  12 Responses to “Elderly Parents and Heating Pads”

  1. Suzanne, the most important advice I got from this article is : “Never apply heat over a medication patch”. Thank you

    How Not To Do Business

  2. A cloth (even something as simple as a paper towel) between the person and the heating pad can definitely provide a protective layer that will avoid injury to the skin.

    Yours In Health!

    G.E. Moon II
    Pain Wizard

  3. great advice re how to use a heating pad – i really like the rice sock idea – I’ll use it today!

  4. Great advice. I think everyone I know is confused on the issue of Heat VS Ice… No one seems th really know the answer.

    You even get conflicting advice from Doctors beleive it or not!

    DIY Bands Path to Independant Careers

  5. So many people don’t realize that heating pads (even at a low heat) can definitely burn the body.

    Thank you for the reminder.

    Yours In Health!

    Dr. Wendy
    Kettlebells and You

  6. Important advice … I once fell asleep on top of a heating pad (lower back) … really bad burns and painful, protracted, healing time. Everyone is well advised to heed you caveats.

  7. Heat can feel so good on some pain…better than pain pills. But it is necessary to use caution. Good Advice.
    Sonya Lenzo

  8. Thanks for recommending my favorite heating pad – rice in a sock. So simple, cheap and very effective.

    Yours In Health!

    Dr. Wendy
    Kettlebells and You

  9. Suzanne, thanks for explaining what way to helps seniors while helping them.
    Scott Sylvan Bell
    Body language of facial hair
    Now go implement!

  10. I love the rice in a sock – it’s wonderfully natural, chemical free, cheap to make, it reduces demand for new “stuff” and re-uses old socks – it’s beneficial and it harms nothing – perfect! – the Genuinely Green website
    CFL llight bulbs are they worth the extra money?

  11. Hi Suzanne,
    Heating pads, can help so much!
    Thanks for the great advice!
    Looking forward to tomorrow!
    When does the caregiver get care?

  12. I’ve tried that “rice sock”. It works.
    Thanks for the reminder.
    Be Well.

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