How FIR Mats Compare to Heating Pads, and 9 Other Must-Know Facts.
Just Google “far infrared” and you will see a wide range of health products available: saunas, clothing, heat lamps, foot massagers, heating mats, and more. It’s a technology that can make a good thing even better; and is touted for its ability to provide fast, soothing pain relief. But with all of the options and information out there, understanding how it works and finding the best product for you can be a little confusing. This top 10 list addresses some of the most common questions people have about far infrared therapy. Have a quick read through to get the lay of the land, and see if far infrared therapy is worth adding to your pain-relief toolbox.
1. What is Far Infrared, and What Does it Do to the Body?
Far infrared (FIR) radiation products have become widely used as a safe and effective way to alleviate pain and achieve other therapeutic benefits. Infrared radiation (or thermal radiation) is a subdivision of the electromagnetic spectrum that generates heat, just as the rays of the sun do. On the electromagnetic spectrum, infrared lies between the microwave bands and the red side of the visible light spectrum. Hence, the name infrared or “beyond red.” Far infrared radiation transfers energy solely as heat and is not visible.
At the cellular level, FIR contributes to altered membrane potentials and metabolism of the mitochondria—in short, it leads to improved cell function. Your body may perceive FIR as a moderate, radiant heat that penetrates up to 1.5 inches (about 4 cm) into your body’s tissues. It’s used therapeutically to boost immune function, aid in wound healing, relieve muscle pain and aching joints, and promote relaxation.
2. Is Far Infrared Good for You?
Far infrared radiation is a naturally occurring form of radiation that is completely safe. In terms of energy, sunlight at the earth’s surface is around 55% infrared radiation (with the rest being visible and UV rays). All objects produce infrared radiation, even your body! You may have heard it referred to as “thermal radiation” or “radiant heat.”
Just as heating pads do, FIR mats warm the body; aiding in the relief of muscle pain, decreasing joint stiffness, improving circulation, reducing inflammation, and helping you to relax. Unlike heating pads, however, FIR doesn’t just heat the surface of your skin. Rather, the wavelengths penetrate deep into your body, warming you from within and contributing to healing on a cellular level.
In the same way that we may feel relaxed while lounging poolside in the sun, laying on a FIR mat can help you to de-stress and fall asleep naturally. Chronic pain sufferers may find it especially useful for promoting a good night’s sleep, as it can aid in pain relief without the next-day grogginess and toxic effects caused by pain medications.
3. What’s the Difference Between Near, Mid and Far Infrared?
All infrared wavelengths fall between the warming microwaves and the visible light rays on the electromagnetic spectrum. In terms of wavelength size, near infrared waves are closer to visible light, while far infrared waves are closer to the microwave region.
Near Infrared Waves (measuring 0.75 to 2.5 microns) are a shorter wavelength than far infrared and can’t be felt at all. These are the wavelengths used by your TV remote and in other technology.
Mid Infrared Waves (measuring 2.5 to 50 microns) are used in medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and imaging.
Far infrared waves (measuring 50 to 1,000 microns) are thermal, so you experience them in the form of heat. The heat that radiates from the sun, a fire, a heater, or warm sand on the beach is far infrared.
4. How do Far Infrared Heating Pads or Mats compare to Regular Heating Pads?
Regular heating pads use electricity to heat the surface of the skin. As long as the heating pad is in contact with the skin, you will notice some pain relief. However, as soon as the pad is removed, that soothing effects quickly disappear. Far infrared heating pads penetrate more deeply and at a lower surface temperature than heating pads. This means that the warmth is felt deep within the body, and will not overheat the skin (or burn it!). The results typically last a lot longer than with heating pads as well. While the effects of a heating pad on sore muscles may last for a few minutes after use, FIR mats can provide up to 6 hours of muscle pain relief.
5. Is Far Infrared Radiation Harmful?
Far infrared radiation is completely natural, and just another way of describing thermal energy. Your body regularly absorbs far infrared radiation from the environment around it. In fact, your body even emits FIR of its own.
Side effects from FIR, when they do happen, are generally associated with infrared saunas. In these cases, it is actually the hot, dry air around the person which puts them at increased risk for light-headedness, dehydration, or heat stroke. These risks are not an issue when using a mat per the manufacturers’ recommendations, as FIR mats do not impact the temperature or moisture content of the air surrounding you.
In general, FIR mat use is no more dangerous for you than time spent outside in the sun (without the harmful effects of UV rays). You can minimize any risks of dehydrating effects by preparing your body as you would when spending time outdoors on a warm day: drink plenty of water, avoid alcohol, and listen to your body if you feel you’ve had enough heat. Risks of overheating are also mitigated by the automatic shut-off installed on many FIR mats at around 42°C (108°F).
Medical contraindications are rare, but because infrared (IR) warms the tissues, it’s probably best to avoid using FIR devices in cases with documented malignant hyperthermia and scleroderma, because some forms of those conditions deteriorate in sunlight which has a wavelength similar to IR.
Hemophiliacs, pregnant women, and diabetics should consult with their doctor before the use of any heating devices. For the relief of pain in joint injuries, be sure to wait at least 72 hours after the initial onset of the injury to apply heat or use your FIR mat.
6. How Often Should I use my Far Infrared Mat, and for How Long?
Using your mat for 20-30 minutes will be enough time to feel the benefits. How long you stay on it may vary by the manufacturer’s recommendations and the temperature setting that you select. Just as when you sit in a hot tub, your body will likely know when you have had enough warmth and it is time to stop. Depending on your settings, you may even break a sweat—so to make your experience as pleasant as possible, you may want to have a towel and a water bottle handy.
You can use your FIR mat daily if desired, though just 3-4 uses a week should be enough to deliver noticeable results.
7. What Research has been Conducted on Far Infrared Therapy?
FIR has been shown in clinical studies to improve mitochondrial function, produce anti-inflammatory effects—and in some in vitro studies—has even shown evidence of inhibiting the growth of cancerous tumors.
FIR has also been shown to improve immunity. Studies in mice show that this may be in part to FIR’s influence on gut microbiota, which play an important role in digestion and immune function.
Many more clinical studies have shown FIR to be an effective treatment for many other conditions including:
- Back pain
- Lower extremity circulation
- Menstrual pain
- Muscle pain recovery in athletes
- Weight reduction
From chronic conditions to acute aches and pains, FIR is a safe, proven way to repair your body and get fast, lasting pain relief.
8. When will I Notice Results from Using Far Infrared Therapy?
The warming and relaxing effects of using a FIR mat can be felt after just a few minutes, and some pain relief can be felt after just one treatment. In the clinical studies above, lower back pain was significantly decreased after just seven weekly treatments. Lower extremity temperature and circulation in another study improved after just one 40-minute treatment.
The degree to which you notice results may vary depending on what condition you are trying to treat, but for pain issues, you will generally notice some pain relief after your first use. For the treatment of chronic pain, ongoing health issues, or sleep problems, you’ll achieve optimal results by keeping up with a few regular sessions weekly.
9. What are the Benefits of Using Far Infrared and PEMF Therapy?
Pulsed electromagnetic field (or PEMF) therapy uses low-level magnetic fields to provide healing benefits. The electromagnetic waves penetrate deep into the body, as FIR waves do, and also work to improve cell function, but through different mechanisms. The benefits of PEMF include improved cellular metabolism, decreased inflammation, increased blood and lymphatic circulation, decreased swelling, and improved bone healing.
While PEMF has many healing benefits and may generate feelings of relaxation, it does not generate heat. Combining PEMF with the heating of effects of FIR may be preferable for those who prefer a bit of warmth to maximise muscle relaxation and blood flow.
10. How Do I Know Which Far Infrared Mat is the Best For Me?
To determine the mat that is best for you, you’ll want to consider the following questions:
- What’s my budget?
- What type of healing therapies do I want?
- Do I want to target a specific area or my whole body?
- Does the product’s warranty/ guarantee support their products?
- Do I need a mat that is flexible?
Luckily, we’ve already done the research for you about the benefits and features of some of the most popular FIR mats. Check out our reviews here, or browse some of our head-to-head mat comparisons for an even more detailed breakdown. Find the mat that is right for you, and start enjoying all of the healing, soothing, and pain-relieving benefits that FIR therapy can provide. Let us know how it goes!