Compress Basics

Compresses are used for many and varied treatments over the chest, abdomen, kidneys, liver, limbs and throat. The following details the basic know how of applying a hot compress. Please take care and only use compresses when they have been prescribed. These notes accompany instructions provided in consultation or at a workshop; they do not stand alone. The woollen blankets and compress cloths are sold in sets from the clinic and workshops. Contact me to enquire.

Compress Kit

  • Medicinal substance
  • Thermos or a saucepan with lid – to steep the tea  
  • Tea strainer (not necessary in all compresses)
  • Bowl – to strain the tea into
  • 1 to 2 Hot water bottles with cover – fill it to no more than half, without air trapped inside
  • 3 cloths – made of raw silk, linen, baby muslin or old woollen thermals. The first is the compress cloth and must be large enough to be folded into a padded wad, to cover the abdomen. The second is the wringer cloth and the third is an extra wringer cloth. Tea towels and flannels work well.
  • Woollen scarf or long piece of woollen material to wrap around the abdomen and tuck in behind the back. A piece of an old blanket is ideal. The wool is insulating.
  • Scarf Liner – a piece of flannelette or cotton is ideal, the same size as the

PREPARING THE BED AND ROOM

Lay a large sheet on the bed (later the patient will lie upon it and be wrapped /cocooned in it, so allow enough at the top to fold over the crown of the head and eyes). Make the pillow comfortable and the room temperature suitable for the patient to be wrapped. Ideally any fans are off and the room quiet. It is best to have a non-stimulating environment to reduce sensory experiences, allowing the compress to nourish the patient.

Lay the scarf across the sheet and then lay the scarf liner on top of the scarf. Line them up where the compress will be when the patient is lying down. The patient lies down on their back, over the scarf and liner. Arrange any clothing that is in the way. If necessary, fold the edges of the scarf and liner to the correct width as if it is too wide for the body part an air pocket will exist that cools the compress cloth too quickly.

PREPARING THE COMPRESS CLOTH

Fold the compress cloth to a size that will fit over the body part to which it is being applied. Then roll it up so that later it can be unrolled onto the body part without too much fiddling and fuss. In the centre of the wringer cloth place the rolled compress cloth. Then roll the wringer cloth with the compress cloth inside, so together they look like a ‘bonbon’.

Place the bonbon in the bowl, keeping the ends out and dry so you can hold them to wring. Pour the tea over the bonbon, straining as you go. When the bonbon is soaked through, lift it above the bowl and wring it until there is no moisture being released. Take the third cloth as an extra wringing layer to protect your hands and wring again making sure no more moisture comes from the inside cloths. If hot liquid remains in the cloth it will burn the skin and then cool too fast. It’s best not to wear gloves, only use them if the heat is unbearable when wringing.


APPLYING THE COMPRESS CLOTH

Unravel the compress cloth from the bonbon but keep the compress cloth rolled to retain the heat. Once unravelled there is about 5 seconds between it being too hot, and being too cold. So make sure the patient is ready. Gently expose the body part and touch the compress cloth against less sensitive parts of the body, for example the outer forearm, then the inner forearm. Then move the cloth towards the body part and unroll to the folded size so that it covers the area. It will be hot when laid on the skin, but if it has been successfully wrung, only the first second will seem too hot before it becomes a comforting heat.

In a gentle but non-delayed motion take one end of the scarf liner and wrap it tightly over the compress cloth and around the patient, then wrap over the other end of the scarf liner and tuck it in behind the patient. Wrap the woollen scarf in the same way over the top of the liner. The idea here is to compress the cloth without air being able to enter the area. The wrapping will be firm but not uncomfortable. When indicated place the hot water bottle over the compress to keep it warm.

WRAPPING INTO A COCOON

Using the prepared top sheet wrap the patient from the feet to the shoulders, tucking down the sides of their body as you go. This is not a light wrap, but a firm wrap so that the patient experiences their periphery as they are being wrapped. If the patient allows, fold the sheet over the head to cover the eyes and press against the ears gently, or use an additional sarong or towel to complete the head wrap. The only part exposed is the mouth and nose. When wrapping children you may like to tell of a caterpillar who was wrapped up in a beautiful silk cocoon and rested quietly until it was time to become a butterfly.

RESTING AND REMOVING THE COMPRESS

The compress cloth stays on for indicated amount of time. If the compress becomes cold to the patient it can be detrimental and therefore should be removed sooner. When it is time for the compress cloth to be removed, quietly loosen the sheet and scarf enough that you can slide out the compress cloth easily while leaving the scarf and liner in place. The patient continues to rest as this is equally important as the compress. If the patient is hot, loosen the cocoon. Silence throughout both the compress and rest is recommended and aids the effect.