Hotpacking is a means of using heat, usually moist heat, to enhance healing of a wound, swelling, sprain, abscess or other disease process in the body.
Hotpacking provides warmth, which increases blood flow in the area experiencing the additional warmth. Increased blood flow brings with it higher levels of immune system factors as well as the ability to reduce swelling by improving lymphatic flow.
In the case of swellings caused by infection, such as cellulitis and abscesses, hotpacking can speed the healing process by producing an effect one might first think undesirable: growth of the very bacteria causing the infection! Heat will cause the organisms to grow faster. In doing so, they will usually damage the skin overlying the area of the wound, eventually bursting through and creating an opening.
“What? Why would you want to do that?” you ask.
It’s a reasonable question.
Some abscesses are shaped in such a way that their softest, fullest, liquid-filled parts can be easily palpated and thus a location to lance them can easily be chosen. However, choose the wrong place, and your pet’s doctor has made an opening that yields little opportunity for removal of infection. Therefore, in the case of lesions whose “pockets” are not palpable, or cellulitis lesions, which have no pockets, hotpacking can bring the infection “to a head,” at which point it can begin to drain through the opening it creates itself.
Drainage is beneficial when large quantities of infection can be removed at once, reducing the burden on the immune system and antibiotic therapy. Maximizing the drainage maximizes the benefit.
Here are the steps I like to use. Be sure to check with your pet’s veterinarian to determine whether these steps meet your pet’s needs before proceeding.
- Obtain a cloth of the appropriate size to fit the lesion. That might be a washcloth for small spots, or a bath towel for a large sprain.
- Now you need a vessel which can hold water and the cloth you’ve chosen. It must be microwave-safe.
- Put the water, cloth and vessel in the microwave and warm them up. In general, pets can stand a temperature slightly higher than your hand will tolerate, so use your own tolerance as a guide. If the goal is to remove swelling, a little salt may be added to the water.
- After the cloth is suitably warm, hold it on the lesion/area for five minutes.
- After five minutes, warm the cloth again, and apply for another five minutes.
- Repeat at least one more time, making each session last for about fifteen minutes.
In general, it is difficult to overdo hotpacking. Therefore, twice daily is usually the minimum I prescribe, but I like to see the procedure performed six or eight times daily in situations where pet owners have that much time.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.