Living With Chronic Pain

Homemade Hot and Cold Packs

When I’m acutely sore ice packs are great, but for that ache that never goes away I prefer heat. But, nothing is more frustrating than needing an ice or heat pack and those you have smell awful, leaked, or are burned and moldy. Whichever pack is called for in the moment, having one available is imperative. 

Here are the best ways to use packs safely

Apply either for 15-20 minutes at one time, then give the skin a rest for at least 20-30 minutes. Provide a barrier between either the heat or cold source to prevent surface damage. Warm, not hot, and cold, not freezing, is the goal. Packs are meant to reach below the skin so it will have the desired effect deep within the muscles. They can also be used to warm your feet during the colder, winter nights. I know I feel better when my feet are toasty.

With the holiday season upon us, here are some great ways to make your own hot and cold packs so they’re ready anytime.

Tips to long-lasting and safe use of your packs

  • Lots of fillings are possible but rice is an easy and accessible option
  • Add a cup of water when heating any hot pack, homemade or not, to prevent it from burning or catching fire
  • In the beginning, heat in 30 second increments until you know the perfect amount needed for your particular pad. Most require 1-3 minutes
  • All food-based fillings will degrade or even mold with time. So if it starts to leak, burn or smell bad, make a new one.
  • Use a removable cover that can be washed to increase the life of your pack. Make sure that removable cover is closed with buttons that won’t burn or melt. Not a metal zipper. 
  • Make it approximately 1/2 to 3/4 full, enough to be flexible so it can mold to your skin.

Let’s get started

  • Quick and simple: grab a microwave-safe and freezer quality storage bag, fill it three quarters full with rice and put in the microwave or freezer. 
  • Get an old sock, oatmeal or rice, thread and a needle and fill the sock with oatmeal or rice. Add 4-6 drops of vanilla or lavender for a calming scent, flower petals or dried herbs. Sew the opening shut. Put it in the microwave for 1-3 minutes (watch carefully, if too hot it can start a fire) or in the freezer for acute use.
  • For the moist heat of a pad, get 2 hand towels and a storage bag. Wet one towel until moist, not soaked, and heat on high in a microwave for 2 minutes. Wrap the other towel around the bag and apply for 15-20 minutes.
  • For larger wraps, place a damp bathing towel in the oven heated to 300 degrees, for 5-10 minutes. Once warm, wrap it around another towel and place on area of pain.
  • For hand warmers, sew together two, 6-inch squares of a heavy cotton/linen fabric, leaving a 2-inch opening. Fill with rice and then sew it shut.   
  • For homemade cold packs, use different sizes of freezer storage bags, depending on the area you want to cover. Always use a second bag to reduce the possibility it’ll leak. Label it as a cold pack with the date it was made so it can’t be mistaken for food.

Great fillers that will get cold but not freeze

Salt water: 2 tablespoons salt in two cups of water. Freeze at least 1 hour before use

Alcohol based: Two cups of water and 1 cup of rubbing alcohol

Corn syrup: Pour the syrup until the bag is 2/3 full

Dish soap: Agel-like texture when put in the freezer for 2 hours and a firmer, icier one when left in longer

A sponge: Wet a clean sponge, put it in the freezer. Sponges are also great for lunch boxes. It’ll be hard and firm initially, then soft and moist as it thaws out but it won’t drip.

Bag of peas: Mark as a cold pack, not food! Once in and out of the freezer it’s no longer safe to eat. 

Water balloons: Use a small one that won’t be too heavy when frozen. They are great for wrists, hands and feet.

Loose change: Sound crazy? Throw a bunch in a freezer storage bag, freeze and they are ready when needed. 

Whichever you prefer, they’ll always be ready at a moments notice.

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