This section is from the book "Materia Medica And Therapeutics Inorganic Substances", by Charles D. F. Phillips. Also available from Amazon: Materia medica and therapeutics.
This is a still more sedative process than the sitz bath, since it is applied over a larger surface, and involves complete rest. To avoid unduly rapid depression of circulation and general activity, it is often advisable to commence with a partial packing, i.e., closely applying to various parts folded towels wrung from cold water, and covered with flannels and waterproof sheeting. Thus the hips and loins may be "packed" from the level of the navel to half-way down the thigh; the abdomen, from the lower edge of the ribs to the hips; the chest proper, over the ribs, or the whole front and back of the body; it is said that packing applied to the chest exhausts more than packing of other parts of the body (Gully). Again, packing of the lowest part of the belly and back, of the whole spine, or of the sides, are other varieties; the wet towels may be changed every fifteen to twenty minutes for an hour or two.
The complete general pack is applied by covering the whole body with a wet sheet, and this with several blankets, the patient lying thus covered for about one hour. This process lowers the pulse and temperature and weight, and is compared by Johnson to antiphlogistics, leeches, calomel, and antimony. It may be used at once in chronic cases in sanguineous irritable subjects, but should be practised with caution in anaemic weakly persons. It usually, though not always, induces moderate diaphoresis, and it should be followed by a shallow bath of two to four minutes' duration, and then friction. The water, urea, and chloride of sodium in the urine, are increased under the use of the wet-pack - slightly so from a moderate use of it, considerably if it be continued from three to four hours.
There is more discomfort, with chilliness and depression, produced by the routine use of this agent in hydropathic establishments, than by any other measure. In febrile conditions it may be of the utmost value, but even in such cases I have seen serious results from the exhaustion induced.
Compresses are partial packings, and exert a marked local soothing effect. "They serve both to prevent and to relieve irritation," and much misery of indigestion and of torpid bowels is avoided by the almost daily use of a compress over the stomach. Various forms of joint-pain may be relieved by the cold compress, and a similar application to the epigastrium will often induce sleep in cases of insomnia from excessive brain-work or anxiety.
The frequency of changing the cold wet cloth must vary with the effect desired. Soothing is not induced till a certain amount of heat is withdrawn from the part, and if the compress is allowed to get too warm it is apt to stimulate and irritate. In acute bilious attacks, the stomach-compress should be changed about every two hours (Gully); in chronic gastric irritation, five or six hours will be a suitable time, and in chronic pulmonary disorder, eight or ten hours; in inflamed throat, every six or twelve hours; in contusions, every half-hour, while in congestions, such as of the testicle from sexual irritation, or of the uterus, every five minutes change for one to three hours gives most relief.
Preissnitz, Fleury, Gully, and others strongly object to compresses being applied warm, but I have often found them useful.