Whether you're looking for comfort or relief from aches and pain, heat can do wonders to soothe the body and soul. The risks of using an electric blanket or heating pad, like Toasted Skin Syndrome which was trending on TikTok this winter, may have deterred you from using heat to relax, unwind, and feel better. Ahead, we've enlisted two acupuncturists to explain Traditional Chinese Medicine-approved methods for creating a DIY heating pad—no plug-ins required.
Meet the Expert
- Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM is an herbalist, acupuncturist, specialist in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and founder of Vie Healing.
- Julia Rose, L.Ac, MSTOM is an herbalist, acupuncturist and co-founder, and formulator of Mayanaiya Botanicals.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stagnation is when the energy or qi doesn't easily flow in the body. As a result, people can experience pain and discomfort, in addition to other body ailments. Rose explains, "In TCM, pain always has an element of stagnation. So, movement is good when dealing with pain. Heat makes things move—in science, the very definition of heat is increased movement of molecules." Rose adds that "heat relaxes the tissues." And when using heat like a compress or DIY heating pad, the sensation, she says, "should feel like butter melting on a warm day or like wrapping yourself in a towel that just came out of the drier." She adds that if the heat is too intense, the body will tense and clench in response, which is exactly what you don't want it to do when in pain.
Dan says that heat can "encourage deep healing. When heat is introduced to an area, the blood vessels are forced to move the blood within, and this method brings oxygenation and healing to the body." She says that using heat from a DIY heating pad is ideal for treating "chronic inflammation, pelvic disorders, pain disorders, women’s health issues and even to ease anxiety." She also adds that you should never use heat on any "open cuts and wounds."
A hot water bottle is perhaps the easiest way to DIY a non-electric heating pad. But if you're looking for a more creative fix, or if you crave a different kind of sensation, peruse our list for different DIY heating pad methods.
Try the 15-minute method for applying heat with a DIY heating pad: on for 15 minutes, off for another 15 minutes.
Super simple and soothing, the towel method takes mere seconds to prepare. Moisten a towel and pop it into the microwave for 10 to 30 seconds. You can always make it warmer, but don't overdo it. "First and foremost, listen to your body! Surprisingly people don't often heed this most basic instruction." Remember, intense heat can make the body stiffen, according to Rose. One thing to remember is to remove the towel before it goes cold, instructs Rose.
Rice, Epsom Salt, Sock Method
One of Rose's favorite DIY heating pad methods is to mix equal parts Epsom salt and rice with a few drops of lavender oil and fill a white cotton sock. "It's important that there is no dye or synthetic material in the sock," says Rose. Fashion a knot at the end of the sock, or use a needle and thread to seal the opening. You can also tie it with a rubber band. Heat in the microwave for one to three minutes (rice absorbs heat well), and remove with caution. Allow time to cool if it's too hot to the touch before applying to the area in need.
You can also reuse the contents.
Beans and Oats Method
If you desire a sensation different from rice grains, try using the above method with beans. Rose favors small ones, like lentils, adzuki, or mung. Be careful not to burn the beans; heat slowly, in intervals of 30 seconds.
Steamed Vegetables Method
Try using a bag of steam-cooked vegetables as a DIY heating pad. Cook in the microwave as per instructions and let set once removed. Cool long enough for the vegetables to settle and the steam to evaporate before applying to your body. You may also want to place it on a towel rather than on top of your skin.
A method used for centuries, massage therapists use soapstones for hot stone massage modalities. The soapstone retains an incredible amount of heat, so you mustn't place it in the microwave. Heat in a pan of hot water for 30 minutes to an hour. Use tongs to remove from the pan, and allow cooling so that the stone is about 140°F before using on your body.
It's worth investing in soapstones that are one-hundred percent Finnish soapstone, as these are naturally very low-porosity stones, meaning they are meant to attract less bacteria and are claimed to be more hygienic. It's still recommended that you wipe clean your soapstone after each use and follow the instruction manual for best results.