Relieve skin infections,back pain—even vision problems–with the power of heat

Relieve skin infections,back pain—even vision
problems–with the power of heat

Hot compresses don’t sound very interesting, but many things that sound boring can be very interesting and significant if you just plow through the first paragraph (like this one), and read on.

Hot compresses and hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) are some of the greatest discoveries of all time. They both have remarkable healing properties but are, unfortunately, completely neglected by the pill-popping mainstream medical community. I’ll talk about HBO in a future article: For now, I want to focus on hot compresses. I covered them in an article in the November 2003 issue, but since it’s such a simple and effective therapy, it’s worth the occasional reminder-especially since I just painted such a grim picture of the status of pain relief in this country, and they’re one of the most effective methods of alleviating pain.

Better than a chiropractor

I’ve been prescribing hot compresses for years. I had one patient who told me he had had right lower abdominal quadrant pain intermittently for 20 years and the quick application of a hot compress had never failed to relieve it. I had another patient with a similar story but it involved the gallbladder. He too had avoided surgery, or even a trip to the doctor, for years.

For skin infections, there is nothing better than hot compresses. For sprains and contusions, you should use cold compresses for the first 36 hours to “cool off” the trauma, then switch to hot compresses. Even macular degeneration, cataracts, and eye infections may respond to hot compresses. None of these conditions are curable with hot compresses but may be helped because of the increased circulation caused by the heat. If you need convincing that heat helps increase eye circulation, put your palms over your eyes with light pressure. Keep them there for 15 minutes and then open your eyes. You will be impressed at how much more brilliant and sharp everything is.

And in terms of back and neck pain, I don’t think any orthopedist, chiropractor, or physical therapist can relieve it as quickly and thoroughly as hot compresses can. My wife woke up a few weeks ago with a severe neck pain and I suggested she apply one of those new self-adhesive pads that start emitting heat as soon as they come in contact with the skin. They’re a variation of an old, amazingly simple Chinese formula consisting of iron, charcoal, table salt, and water, which reacts with human skin to release heat. It worked like a charm.

Hot compresses for polio face fierce opposition-and win

I’m not the only one to put my faith in this therapy. Back in the early 1900s, Sister Elizabeth Kenny used hot compresses to effectively treat polio. This went against the accepted treatment protocols of the time: Most doctors believed in drastic immobilization of the affected extremity, and they thought hot compresses were nothing but country quackery. But they had one irritating problem with this upstart. Her methods of massaging the affected limb, in combination with the liberal use of hot compresses, worked-theirs didn’t.

Even though she had fierce opposition at the highest levels in medicine in Australia, Great Britain, and the United States, she found acceptance at the University of Minnesota medical center and, to the amazement and consternation of stuffed-shirt medicos worldwide, became a guest faculty member. On one occasion, this Australian bush nurse-who held no formal degree-lectured to an esteemed audience of physicians and other health professionals. Muscle massage and hot compresses had come a long way.

No muss, no fuss

Being old fashioned, I always thought that hot water bottles or soaked rags were better than dry heat from an electric or self-adhesive pad. But based on my wife’s success with the self-adhesive ThermaCare pads, as they are called, and other reports I’ve heard, I have decided that wet heat is not worth the mess and trouble.

Action to take:

Invest in some form of hot compress. You can get ThermaCare self-adhesive pads and others like them at any pharmacy. (I don’t have any stake in the sales of these products, but I can vouch for their effectiveness.)

If you want a re-usable version, buy yourself an electric heating pad. They’re available in pharmacies too, as well as stores like WalMart and Target.

Please don’t misunderstand me about the power of hot compresses. While they’re often great pain-relief tools, they’re not a cure-all. If the pain doesn’t subside in 15 minutes, or is getting worse, forget the hot compress and see a doctor.


“Sister Kenny: Polio Pioneer,” Lincolnshire Post-Polio Library (, accessed 11/15/04

“ThermaCare Heat Wraps: Recommended Reading,” ThermaCare product website (, accessed 11/15/04

Harrison, William. Dr. William Harvey and the Discovery of Circulation. New York: MacMillan Company, 1967

Kenny, Elizabeth and Martha Ostenso. And They Shall Walk. New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1943.

Hancock, Graham. Fingerprints of the Gods. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995.