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Review: The Best Ice Compresses (Hot/Cold Packs)

Updated on October 1, 2014
The ice compresses I keep around. (I don't recommend blue gelpacks that much, however.)
The ice compresses I keep around. (I don't recommend blue gelpacks that much, however.) | Source

Ice/Heat Therapy for Arthritis, Joint Pain, Sinuses

Ice compresses have come a long way since the days of ice cubes in a towel. Now we've got blue gel (what IS that stuff?), clay, even wheat bags. Heated in a microwave, these can double as heat therapy.

So which is the best to use? I haven't tried every ice compress out there, but as someone with fibromyalgia (left over from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) and frequent sinus infections, I have tested quite a few hot/cold packs.

Here's the ones I use now. I keep them in the freezer as ice compresses for achy joints or for my sinuses to reduce swelling after a hot shower. Or I can microwave them as heating pads. Always follow the directions carefully so as not to scald yourself!

TIP: Make sure you have two cold packs. One can be cooling in the freezer while you're using the other.

Thermipaq Therapeutic Hot & Cold Pack
Thermipaq Therapeutic Hot & Cold Pack | Source

Review: ThermiPaq Therapeutic Hot & Cold Pad

This is my favorite ice compress, the ThermiPaq Ice / Heat Pack.

Instead of blue gel, it contains a non-toxic, fine-grained clay, an unfired ceramic like that found in heaters, stove tops, or even the space shuttle's insulating tiles. Ceramic takes a long time to change temperature, so it will retain heat or stay cold much longer than the propylene glycol found in most blue gel packs. Clay is also eco-friendly: it's just mud!

Thermipaq Features:

  • Comes in two sizes: Sm 6x12" (what I've got) or Lg 9.5" x 16"
  • Flexible strap with velcro patch at end sticks to any part of cloth cover for wrapping
  • Flexible clay interior is soft like gel to conform to limbs, sinuses
  • Biodegradeable, non-toxic, no-latex wrapper
  • Cloth cover is washable, or may be dampened for moist heat
  • Cloth cover has slightly padded side which is useful when it first comes out of the freezer and is VERY cold; after 20 minutes flip it to thin-cloth side and enjoy another half hour or so of cold
  • Instructions for microwaving from room temperature OR from freezer temperature are printed on label attached to cloth cover (English and Spanish)
  • Instructions for microwaving printed on inner plastic bag as well

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Southwest Technologies SM301 Elasto-Gel Sinus Mask
Southwest Technologies SM301 Elasto-Gel Sinus Mask
I use the Elasto-Gel Sinus Mask to reduce sinus congestion. It's not quite as icy-cold as the Thermi-Paq (above) and conforms more snugly to the eyes, plus it's not as heavy. It doesn't stay cold as long. It also blocks out all light, making it a good sleep mask. Again, I've got two, so one's always cooling while I'm using the other.

Gel Wrist Rest For Keyboard

Unfortunately, my favorite Case Logic Gel-Eez wrist rests for computer keyboards or mousepads were discontinued many years ago, but it looks like Belkin still makes a comparable product.

Pros and Cons of Heat vs. Cold Therapy - Should I Use a Hot Pack or Ice?

As a kid with arthritis, I learned very early the dilemma of heating pads vs. ice compresses.

  • Heat EXPANDS. Heat relaxes muscles, loosens tension and soothe pain, but causes swelling and aggravates inflammation.
  • Cold CONTRACTS. Ice reduces inflammation, so it's good for arthritis or muscle strains, but may cause cramping.

So ice compresses are better for arthritis inflammation, while heat is better to loosen cramps or unclog sinuses. You may sometimes alternate: use heat first to ease pain and soothe tension, or to help lungs and nasal passages open up and drain, but then follow up with cold therapy to reduce inflammation and make sure sinus tissues don't swell shut.

Now here's three final recommendations for natural ice compresses / hot packs which I haven't used myself, but many users recommend.

Bucky Therapy Wrap

Bucky Therapeutic Travel Hot/Cold Therapy, Neck Wrap, Sand
Bucky Therapeutic Travel Hot/Cold Therapy, Neck Wrap, Sand
Comes in several colors. Body wrap also available.

Microwaveable Buckwheat Pillow: Cuddly!

All-natural, microwaveable buckwheat packs with washable covers are used by many as a home remedy alternative to gel packs. They are often scented with soothing lavender. Unfortunately, the popular Warm Whiskers Neck Pillows are no longer available — why? — but the eye pillows and slippers are still available.

Alternate designs including dogs, cats, and several other cute animals, plus other pillow shapes including comfy slippers and kids' stuffed animals. I have not tried these, but customer feedback seems to be very positive.

Other suggestions: Bucky Hot & Cold Neck Wrap, or the larger-sized Bucky Body Wrap which is a good size for back and abdominal pain or menstrual cramps. Like Warm Whiskers, Bucky Therapy Wraps contain buckwheat and have soft plush covers.

I've also seen flax seed and rice hot/cold packs as alternatives to clays and gels, but the only one I've ever used is buckwheat, and I know they work. (A friend loaned me one when my neck was knotted up after air travel.)


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