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The Heating Compress

The Heating Compress


The use of a heating compress involves the application of a cold, wet cloth--covered by a dry cloth--to a body part, which heats up the treated area. The compress consists of two parts: [1] a wet inner cotton flannel cloth or other loosely woven material of one or two thicknesses and [2] a dry outer wool cloth or other tightly woven material. The cold, wet inner cloth is applied directly to the skin surface. The dry outer cloth is then applied directly on top of the inner cloth.

The outer cloth must be snuggly applied, and it must completely cover the inner cloth in order to exclude the air and heat up the compress. As the compress warms up, the heat causes the blood vessels in the skin to expand or dilate. The increased blood flow to the skin surface relieves congestion-the accumulation of blood-in the tissues below the surface of the treated part.

Treatment Indications

The heating compress may be used to the throat, joints, chest, abdomen, and feet for the following conditions:



Tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, earache


Pain and inflammation of arthritis, rheumatic fever


Congestion or coughs from colds or flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, croup, whooping cough, asthma


Constipation, slow digestion, chronic appendicitis, nausea of pregnancy, colic, difficulty sleeping, nervous conditions


The same indications as the hot foot bath.

Treatment Precautions

Do not use the cold, wet compress if the patient is not vigorous enough to warm it up; use a dry compress instead.

• Do not make the compress so tight that it is uncomfortable or that it interferes with the circulation or blood flow to the treated body part.

Equipment Needed

• An inner cloth wide enough to completely cover the treated area and long enough to wrap completely around the body part

• An outer cloth wider than the inner cloth by 1/2 inch (1 to 2 centimetres) on each side

• Safety pins to hold the outer part of the compress in place

Treatment Procedure

1. Preparation for treatment

• Have the room warm and free of cold drafts. The patient must be warm before applying the heating compress. (Give a hot foot bath, if needed, to warm the body.)

• Explain to the patient that the compress will be cold at first, but that it will warm up in a short time.

2. Treatment

• Immerse the inner cloth in cold water; squeeze out all excess water.

• Quickly apply the cold, wet inner cloth to the body part being treated.

• Immediately cover the inner cloth with the dry outer cloth. Pin the outer cloth securely in place. Check the wet, inner cloth after 30 minutes to be sure that it is warming up.

• Leave the compress in place for several hours or overnight. If the compress is left on overnight, it will be dry by morning.

3. Completion of treatment

• In the morning, remove the compress and briskly rub the treated area with a cold washcloth.

• Dry the area thoroughly. Keep the patient warm and comfortable.

Specific Treatment Procedures Ears, Throat

For earache, apply the heating compress close to the ears and around the neck. If the patient is unable to warm up the compress, replace the cold, wet inner cloth with a dry or medicated cloth.


If the patient is unable to warm up the compress, replace the cold, wet inner cloth with a dry or medicated cloth. Make a medicated compress by placing the dry inner cloth over the skin area that has been treated with a liniment.


See the illustration for the method of applying the heating compress to the chest. If the patient is unable to warm up the compress, replace the cold, wet inner cloth with a dry or medicated cloth.


Place the dry outer cloth on the bed. Lay the cold, wet inner cloth on top of the dry outer cloth. Have the patient lie on top of the compress with its lower edge below the patient's hipbones. Wrap the compress snuggly over the abdomen. If the patient is unable to warm up the compress, replace the cold, wet inner cloth with a dry or medicated cloth.


Before going to bed, put on a pair of thin, wet cotton socks. Cover them completely with a pair of dry wool socks. The feet must be warm before applying this treatment!

1. Wrap the chest with a cool, damp flannel cloth or a damp cotton undershirt.

2. Completely cover the wet compress with dry wool or a tightly woven cloth. Pin securely in place.

3. Apply a heating compress to the throat.

4. Cover the entire chest and arms with a snug, long-sleeved garment.