Hot and cold compresses play an invaluable role in the management of pain. They are particularly useful in helping with acute pain, but are also beneficial if you are suffering with chronic pain. They can also help with stiffness and muscle tension.
Hot compresses cause widening of the blood vessels which in turn increases the blood flow in that area. It also draws heat to the surface, encouraging muscles to relax. The contrast of the cold compress causes the blood vessels on the surface to constrict causing blood to be pushed away from the congested and inflamed tissues. This blood carries away waste products and is replaced by fresh oxygenated blood which is full of nutrients which helps speed up the healing process. It also has an analgesic effect and helps reduce inflammation.
To make the compresses, you will need two small towels (when folded 2 or 3 times they need to be large enough to cover the painful area); two bowls; access to hot and cold water; and appropriate essential oils if using.
Fill one bowl with hot water - tap water should be hot enough, and fill the other bowl with cold water, again from the tap. If you are using essential oils, add 4-6 drops to the bowl of hot water. Soak one towel in hot water, and squeeze out the excess water. Fold the towel neatly to make a compress and place on the affected area for about three minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cold compress in a similar way using cold water. As soon as you remove the hot compress, replace with the cold one for one minute. Then repeat the sequence – three minutes hot, one minute cold, three minutes hot, one minute cold – for about 20 minutes or even longer if the pain is acute. It is important to always finish with a cold compress, particularly in any areas where there may be inflammation.
You can use hot and cold compresses individually. Hot compresses are good for backaches, rheumatism, IBS, menstrual cramps, arthritis, earache, and toothache; and cold compresses are good for headaches, neck tension, insect bites, sprains, gout, and strains.