What Is a Warm Compress?

A warm compress can often help with stomach cramps.
A warm compress can often help with stomach cramps. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

A warm compress can be used to relieve many physical ailments, including stomach cramps or muscle pain. You can buy a warm compress, or heat pack, at a local pharmacy or home supply store, but you can also make your own out of simple household materials. When using a warm compress, do not make it too hot, as it can burn the skin or possibly worsen your symptoms.

Making a Compress

A warm compress can be made at home using a washcloth or clean dish towel. You can dip the towel in a warm pot of water and wring the excess water out, or you can dampen the dry towel and heat it in the microwave for about a minute. It's also possible to make a warm compress by sewing together two squares of fabric with rice inside to make an easy and reusable heat pack you can warm up in the microwave when you need it.

Benefits of Heat

A warm compress can be used to help heal many different physical ailments. With infections, the warmth can help bring blood and oxygen to the area, promoting faster healing. For muscle cramps or pain, a warm compress can reduce inflammation in the muscles and joints, while also alleviating stiffness. Moist heat can help muscles and connective tissue relax more effectively than dry heat, so it's best to have the compress slightly damp.


You can use a warm compress to help relieve pain associated with muscle cramps, menstrual cramps or intestinal bloating. Athletes, especially runners, can benefit from applying a warm compress to tight muscles. Some women may benefit from using a warm compress while giving birth, as it can relieve labor pains. Warm compresses can also be helpful for eye infections, such as a stye or chalazion. A warm compress may also help to heal skin infections such as cysts or acne pimples.

Other Considerations

While a cold compress is generally recommended for an immediate injury, such as an ankle sprain, a warm compress can be helpful in treating chronic problems such as neck or back pain. You can also add a few drops of soothing essential oils directly on the wet compress, like lavender or peppermint oil, to cool and relax the skin. Also, a warm compress should not be used as an alternative to medical care. If a physical problem persists for longer than two weeks, it's usually best see a doctor.

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