What is compression therapy?
Compression therapy involves wearing compression bandages, wrap compression systems or garments (these are all compression devices) designed and applied to reduce your oedema and maintain the result. It is an essential part of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT), the foundation for lymphoedema treatment. CDT consists of a decongestion phase (Phase I), followed by a maintenance phase (Phase II). Compression therapy is part of both phases.
How does compression therapy work?
Compression therapy aims to reduce signs and symptoms of lymphoedema. Your compression device applies pressure from the outside to the limb. The compression is graduated, meaning the highest pressure is at the ankle (or wrist) and decreases up the length of the limb. This helps to move the lymphatic fluid to the center of your body, where it can be drained properly. Compression moves the fluid out of the affected limb and also prevents it from coming back into the limb.
In Phase I of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT), compression therapy aims to reduce your swelling as much as possible. This phase usually takes several weeks, depending on the severity of your lymphoedema. The following compression types are preferred in this phase:
- Short-stretch bandages in the form of multi layer bandaging
- Wrap compression systems
In Phase II, which is initiated promptly after Phase I, compression therapy aims to maintain and optimise the results you achieved in Phase I and prevent any fluid from returning and causing more swelling (known as rebound oedema). The following compression types are preferred in this phase:
- Flat-knit compression garments
- Wrap compression system
- Night-time compression garments
You can learn more about the different types of compression here.
What do I need to pay attention to?
In general, compression therapy is very safe and has been used for decades. With some exceptions, it can be used in the vast majority of patients. Your healthcare professional (HCP) will be aware of any exceptions.
There are a few warning signs that point to inappropriate application of your compression garments or bandages. These are pain, discomfort, changes in the colour, or tingling/numbness of your toes and fingers. If you notice one or more of these symptoms; move your limb or remove the garment, or in the case of bandaging remove one layer. If the symptoms do not resolve, you should completely remove your compression and contact your HCP.
Compression therapy also stresses your skin, so it is really important to maintain a good skin care regime.
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