The early phase of the Kenny treatment consists of the prolonged application of hot packs to the sore and painful muscle areas. Such applications were known to relieve pain and soreness long before their value in polio cases was proved by Sister Kenny, the famous Australian nurse, and they would be well worth using even though they brought no other benefit. But they also help to keep the circulation going and thus to decrease the extent of muscle degeneration.
Thus when the acute stage of the disease is passed, there is a better quality of tissue left and a greater chance of restoring normal muscle action. In other words, they help to bring about recovery from the muscle weakness or paralysis.
During this stage of muscle pain and soreness, the typical final form of polio paralysis has not yet fully developed. In fact, the muscles are neither withered nor relaxed but are under a greater tension than normal. Such muscles are said to be in "spasm", and their tenseness is due to irritated nerves controlling them, the irritation is an early result of the attack of the virus.
To a physician who knows how to look for it, this muscle spasm is one of the signs that convince him that the patient really has polio. if the attack of the virus is not checked, it will later result in the death of many or all of the affected cells, which can then no longer influence the muscles in any way. As a result, the muscles become weak or helpless and paralysis is the final stage of polio.
Attempts have been made to use various drugs to reduce the pain. And spasm of the muscles during the acute stage of polio. Some of these drugs exert their influence on the nerve cells and are aimed at quieting or depressing their action. Others work on the circulation. Apparent benefit has often been seen, but there always remains the danger that nerve cells already attacked and more or less damaged by the virus may be still further handicapped by drug action.
Though there may be more or less temporary relief, the final result may be no better than, if as good as, it would have been had no drug been used. For this reason, control of muscle pain and spasm by the proper use of Kenny packs is to be preferred to the use of drugs for this purpose. Proper use of Kenny packs means that they should be shaped to fit the sore and painful areas, be put on as hot as can be borne without danger of burning the tissue, and be changed for fresh packs while they are still warm. If left on until they become cold and clammy, the patient's discomfort may be increased rather than relieved.
It is best to have the patient removed to a nearby hospital so that he can have the best possible care. If, however, there are no facilities in the hospital for this type of treatment for applying hot fomentations to the affected part. Such treatments will require full-time attention, but the need is so great that nothing should prevent the patient from receiving constant and adequate care.