Once on a TV interview show, 20 years ago, the moderator asked me what I thought the greatest and most enduring medical therapy of all time was. I answered, without hesitation, "hot compresses." It broke the audience up-they though I was the greatest comedian of all time. But I wasn't kidding.
Hot compresses were discovered by the Egyptians or their predecessors (the bright boys who REALLY built the pyramids). The idea is simple: You want to concentrate the heat where the pain, inflammation, spasm, blockage, skin infection, wart, itch, whatever, is located. This concentration of heat to the site of pain draws the body's defenses to that area. The results can be remarkable.
One case that sticks out in my mind is that of a young man who came to see me years ago about some sharp pain he was having in the left lower quadrant of his abdomen. Since the pain was not quite as overwhelming as the pain from a kidney stone, I assumed he was having a spasm of the ureter. (The ureters are the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder.) I had him apply hot compresses to the area, and--wouldn't you know it-the pain subsided in 15 minutes and did not return.
I've also seen waxy bumps on the skin disappear within a few days if you apply hot compresses every four to six hours. And menstrual cramps usually go away, at least partially, if you apply hot compresses to the lower abdomen.
Hot compresses get even easier
It won't work on everything and, in fact, will make some things- psoriasis and acute sprains, for instance-worse. (For sprains, use ice packs for the first six hours and then switch to hot compresses.)
But if you want to test the effectiveness of hot compresses yourself, try this experiment: Read some small print (8-point or less) and then place a hot washcloth across your closed eyelids for a few minutes. You will be amazed at the increased sharpness of your vision.
And now, the really good news. Since modern man (and woman) want everything at the ready, Playtex and Thermacare have come up with an invention that makes this therapy even easier. Playtex calls theirs "Heat Therapy" and the other company calls theirs "ThermaCare." Basically, they're self-adhesive pads that warm up on contact with the skin. You apply them anywhere on your body, just like a big Band-Aid, and the heat lasts for hours.
But there's a twist on the hot compress that's even more powerful. It's a highly specialized form of heat application at acupuncture points called moxibustion. It has been shown, without a doubt, that this specialized heat therapy can turn a fetus around from a breech position to a normal position. But that's just the beginning. Clinical studies have proved that it's effective for all sorts of other conditions--from muscle pain to colitis.
Cures colitis, prevents arthritis, and more
In one study, researchers divided 46 ulcerative colitis patients into two groups. One group (of 30 people) was treated with moxibustion, and the remaining 16 people were treated with the conventional drug salicylate fapyridine. More than half of the people in the moxibustion group were completely cured and another 12 showed significant improvement. Only one person didn't benefit from this therapy. On the other hand, only five people in the salicylate fapyridine group were cured. The researchers concluded that moxibustion is superior to the conventional drug treatment.
Another study showed that moxibustion can also prevent arthritis and inhibit progression of existing cases.
Plus--and this is where it really gets impressive--moxibustion may even be able to extend the lives of cancer patients. Researchers injected mice with sarcoma cells, then divided them into groups that received either moxibustion or no treatment. The moxibustion mice survived an average of 27 days longer than the control group. Twenty seven days may not seem like a lot to a human, but a mouse would be very impressed. And translated into human-time, that 27 days might mean a world of difference to a cancer victim and his or her family.
See what I mean? Heat is a hot commodity when it comes to healing power--if you know how and when to use it.
Of course, moxibustion does look a little weird in practice --it involves burning either a cigar-like stick or a small cone made of an herb called mugwort over various acupuncture points (depending on what you're being treated for). But regardless of how "out there" it looks, all the studies suggest that it really works.
Actions to take:
(1) Moxibustion itself doesn't require a license, but anyone who practices it must have an acupuncture license, so the two therapies are almost always done together. If you know of a practitioner in your area who uses acupuncture in his practice, check to see if he also does moxibustion. If you don't know of any acupuncture practitioners near you, contact the American Association of Oriental Medicine by calling (301)941-1064 or visiting www.aaom.org.
(2) If moxibustion is a bit too much for you, check your local pharmacy for the self-adhesive hot compresses from Playtex and Thermacare. They'll run you about $7-$10--not too bad for the greatest medical therapy of all time. RH
"Moxibustion for Correction of Breech Presentation: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Journal of the American Medical Association 1998; 280(18): 1,580-1,584
"Morphological study on colonic pathology in ulcerative colitis treated by moxibustion," World Journal of Gastroenterology 2000; 6(6): 861-865
"Influence of moxibustion on collagen-induced arthritis in mice," In Vivo 1998; 12(4): 421-426
"Therapeutic effects of moxibustion on experimental tumor," American Journal of Chinese Medicine 1999; 27(2): 157-166