Can Heating Pads and Patches Help for Menstrual Cramps?

Menstruation can be one of the most painful experiences for many women. The side effects of menstruation, lasting between seven to 10 days, are debilitating to the point where some women cannot go to work, school, or engage in any daily activities until their symptoms have subsided. Thankfully, there are a variety of pain relief medications and products on the market available over the counter.

Key takeaways:
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    Cramps are a common symptom of menstruation that can cause mild to severe pain in the lower abdomen.
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    There are various ways to relieve menstrual cramps, such as over-the-counter drugs, birth control, at-home remedies, and heat therapy.
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    Heat therapy or thermotherapy is popular for women's menstrual cramp pain relief.
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    Research is required to determine the effectiveness of smart heating pads, as there aren’t any official products on the market.
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    Heat pads and patches are safe for pregnant women, but they must monitor their body temperature and place them in the appropriate areas.

Some of the most common treatments for menstrual cramps are heating pads and patches, but how effective are they?

What are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea are the most common symptoms of menstruation. The condition is a throbbing or cramping pain in the abdomen before and during menstruation. Some women experience mild cramping, while others have more severe cramping that hinders their ability to engage in daily activities for a few days up to a week.

Symptoms of menstrual cramps are:

  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Intense throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea

Reproductive health conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and uterine fibroids may intensify menstrual cramps. However, women with no underlying conditions affecting menstruation can subside and improve their menstrual cramps as they age and after having children.

Ways to treat menstrual cramps

There are several ways women can treat menstrual cramps. Some women opt for at-home remedies, like a hot bath or relaxation techniques, while others prefer medications and heating products that can soothe cramps.

Here are some of the common ways to manage menstrual cramps.

Over-the-counter drugs

Women can purchase nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and pain relief medications like ibuprofen and naproxen. They can be taken before the onset of menstrual cramps or once they begin.

Birth control

Hormonal birth control is a popular option for women with severe period cramps. Available as pills, patches, or rings, birth control can help limit the symptoms associated with menstruation, such as heavy bleeding, mood changes, and cramping. Women on birth control can opt to have lighter periods or skip them entirely.

Heating therapy

A more direct approach to reducing menstrual cramps is heat therapy. Heat therapy, also known as thermotherapy, involves using heating pads, patches, or warm cloths placed on the lower abdomen for pain relief. Heat therapy also works well for other symptoms that may arise during menstruation, such as headaches and back pain.

Heating pads and patches

Heat therapy is an excellent way for women to get fast-acting pain relief for menstrual cramps. The most common products that provide heat therapy are heating pads and patches.

A heating pad is an “electric mat that heats up and is held against the body to reduce pain”. For example, women can apply a heating pad to their abdomen to reduce uterine contractions. However, heating pads should never be applied to the skin or used overnight. Heating pads can be a fire and health hazard, as they can cause burns to the skin or fire if left unattended.

There are several types of heating pads that are:

  • Weighted
  • Microwavable
  • Adhesive
  • Washable
  • Wearable
  • Rechargeable

WIM: The future of heating pads

There’s a health tech company looking to revolutionize heating therapy with their conceptual smart heating pads. “WIM” is a concept designed by Sofia Papenova and Lidia Grits to reduce menstrual cramps. Women would place the adhesive device directly on their lower abdomen or back and use its control center to manage the temperature and other settings. While WIM is still in the development phase, there are a few similar heating pads available on the market.

Health technology like smart heating pads may be the future method for managing cramps. However, smart heating pads still require review from researchers and doctors to determine their effectiveness.

Heating patches

Aside from heating pads, women can purchase heating patches to relieve period cramps. A heating patch is an adhesive and disposable heat therapy that can help with menstrual cramps and back pain. These devices can provide relief and comfort to the user for six to 12 hours. Some women may prefer heating patches over heating pads since they are more discreet, allowing them to be worn outside the home. However, like heating pads, they aren’t meant to be worn overnight.

Are they safe for pregnant women?

Pregnant women dealing with cramps, back pain, or other aches can use heating pads and patches for pain relief. However, they must ensure that their body temperature doesn’t rise to 102 degrees, and they don’t use a heating pad for more than 20 minutes. Other precautions pregnant women should take while using these heat therapy are avoiding overnight use and not placing them directly on the uterus or abdomen.

Expecting mothers should consult their OB/GYN before using heating pads and patches.