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.
A milder method of using cold water is in the form of towels, or a sheet, wrung out, and applied with vigorous friction; it is free from the risk of serious shock to delicate subjects, and is commonly and properly applied before commencing with cold immersion.
The towel friction is given first to the upper part of the body while the patient sits with the lower limbs still covered; that is to say, the whole surface is not exposed at one time. Where there is a very feeble state of circulation, or when the breathing is much oppressed, the water may at first be at 80° or 90° F., and gradually lowered to cold, and more of it left in the towel as the power of reaction improves. Under this "graduated stimulation," a pale, bloodless, and sensitive skin may be educated to a good power of reaction, with marked relief to chilliness and to the frequent recurrence of catarrh, and there are scarcely any patients - certainly none who retain the power of taking and digesting food -that cannot receive towel-rubbing with advantage. In catarrhal subjects, however, special care should be used in avoiding exposure at first, or harm may result.
The wet-sheet friction is somewhat more trying, since it should always be used cold, and the patient stands, quite uncovered, while the sheet is thrown over the shoulders and round the whole body, and friction is applied by making folds in the sheet, not by simply rubbing the smooth surface. This should be continued for two, three, or four minutes. It is suitable for persons not much accustomed to cold water, but with a fair amount of vital power. "It rouses all the activity of the nerves and blood-vessels of the skin, without taking much animal heat from, or calling for much organic exertion of the frame, and while doing this it transmits to the nervous centres the genial stimulation which it impresses on the great nervous outer covering of the body" (Gully). It relieves fatigue, and may be taken when a cold bath would be unsuitable; it relieves, also, nerve-depression and early stages of catarrh and neuralgia. To use a warm sheet, unless followed by a cold one, is not attended with any of the good effects of this kind of bath; by a sheet so wet as to be "dripping" a more powerful effect is exerted, whilst by wringing the sheet very dry from the cold water, quicker reaction will be ensured. The patient should not attempt to rub himself much, or make any violent exertion during this process, otherwise he may be annoyed by giddiness or palpitation.