Friday, March 26, 2010

THERMACARE HEATWRAPS: A CHEMICAL FOR EVERY OCCASION

In yet another weak moment of back pain at the grocery store I procured for myself some ThermaCare HeatWraps for the neck and wrist. I am on a bit of a mission to find something that, if not cures back pain, at least alleviates it for a minute or two. I mean at 35, I should be at least a little more mobile than my 85 year old aunt-in-law who has broken her hip. Twice. I mean fair is fair, I should be able to get up off the futon and stand straight up, and I should still be able to sit on the floor in relative comfort. I can move around on the floor ok, but sitting, say while watching tv, that’s a whole other story, and not one with a happy ending.

So in a moment of weakness and perhaps not seething agony, but definite discomfort I tried a ThermaCare HeatWrap. First of all, I am happy to report that they do not smell, at all. Not that they should by any means, but for a certain generation or two (or three) of people there are two ways to warm up and relieve sore muscles, one involves a heating pad with a cord, and the other involves smelling like a locker room. Clearly ThermaCare HeatWraps do not involve a power cord, so by default they must involve eau’ de’ locker room. Not the case.

ThermaCare HeatWraps are basically a sandwich of cotton material around heat-generating discs. The instructions state that the ThermaCare HeatWrap heats up when exposed to air and may take up to 30 minutes to fully heat up. The instructions also state not to overlap the discs. This last instruction had me a little concerned because it did not say what would happen in the event that you did overlap the discs, but the do not was underlined, so clearly it’s something that Wyeth (which is now part of Pfizer Inc.) does not want to occur. The package also states that ThermaCare HeatWraps can burn you, that your skin is more sensitive to heat as you age, and you should not sleep with them on if you are over 55. None of this information was too alarming, just good to know. The alarming part was that in large, bold all capital letters at the beginning of the instructions it says “To reduce risk of burns, fire, and personal injury, this product must be used in accordance with the use instructions and warnings.” Fire? Really?

I looked on the package to see what the ingredients were in the discs because I was curious as to what heats up when exposed to air. I’m not a chemist so this is a rather fascinating concept. The only items I have ever seen that heats up when exposed to air are military "Meals Ready to Eat” (MREs) which can actually cook themselves when you put water in them. Pretty cool, right? So I thought it might be the same chemical process. Of course there’s a big different between heating when exposed to air and heating when exposed to water, but still, we’re talking heat caused by basic elements here, so in my brain it was close enough. The package doesn’t tell you what is in them, but the website does. Interestingly enough it’s iron, charcoal, table salt, and water. Freaky, right? Who knew? (OK, I’m sure some of you scientific-chemist types knew that, but I’m a words-person, not a chemicals-n-table of elements-person.)

I opened a package and noticed that the areas to adhere the ThermaCare HeatWrap to the body were pretty small. I figured I’d only be sleeping with it on so it wouldn’t have too much opportunity to move around and if it fell off, so be it. I adhered the ThermaCare HeatWrap to my body and discovered that in fact it did take a few minutes to heat up, but not a full 30, which was nice. The other thing I noticed was that it didn’t move well with my body. I wasn’t entirely confident that if I had put it on at the beginning of the day instead of the end that it would not have ended up rolled up and falling to the bottom of my pants leg. Since it was night and I wasn’t wearing any pants, this was not a big concern.

I watched some TV to test out the warming properties of the ThermaCare HeatWrap before falling asleep with it on. It heated up nicely, but it just didn’t seem to be quite enough to get through the rope-like muscle mass that is my back. Perhaps I have a high tolerance for heat, I have been told that the temperature at which I like to shower would scald milk, but nonetheless, it didn’t feel quite hot enough. I’m sure that this is a precautionary measure since the package clearly states that the ThermaCare HeatWraps can burn you. Maybe I just need to broil myself to achieve some sort of muscle relaxation.

I slept through the night with my ThermaCare HeatWrap attached, since it didn’t seem like it would hurt me, and the box tells you that you can wear it for 8 hours and I’m not over 55 so wearing it to sleep is not against the rules. It didn’t fall off. Not only was it not bunched up at the bottom of my non-existent pants, it was also not bunched up at the bottom of my very real bed. I was pleasantly surprised.

The morning came and I easily removed the ThermaCare HeatWrap. No hair pulling, no skin removal, it was a very simple, easy and completely uneventful product removal. Since I didn’t feel the heat that I personally require, I don’t think I’ll bother to purchase them again, but there’s still two more in the box, that I will definitely use, and if your tolerance to heat is less that mine (which most people’s is) you may very well be pleased, relaxed and un-scalded. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

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