If there is one thing that Lymphedema patients need to understand, it’s how compression garments work! When diagnosed with Lymphedema, we are told that it’s essential to wear compression garments on our limbs. Being the good patients that we are, we order these garments and wear them (or don’t!), often without realising exactly why it’s so important we do so on a consistent basis.
Compression garments for Lymphedema are not your average “compression” stockings that you might find on a pharmacy shelf. They are carefully engineered pieces of technology that work to support broken down lymphatic and venous systems, by imitating the body’s natural mechanics that normally support blood and lymphatic flow. They do this through a system called gradient compression (or graduated compression), where a carefully measured amount of pressure is applied to the limb in order to encourage the movement of fluids.
Gradient compression garments are specially designed to help promote circulation and lymphatic flow in your limbs. Blood and lymph fluid must flow upward and towards the heart. Graduated compression assists this movement by applying a certain amount of pressure at the base (eg: your ankle or wrist) which gradually decreases in pressure as it moves up the limb. This design helps blood vessels and lymph vessels absorb fluids more easily, providing relief for tissues and reducing swelling. (Jobst, 2017)
Medical Applications of Gradient Compression
Applying a measured amount of compression to the leg, arm, face or torso is the basis for effective management of Lymphedema. Graduated compression garments are made for both men and women, and exist in various versions such as knee highs, thigh highs, pantyhose, arm sleeves and hand gloves. They are prescribed in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) or hecto Pascals (hPa), which represents the amount of pressure the garments put on your limbs. This medical pressure curve has two main benefits, as outlined by the Jobst Compression Institute:
- The compression increases the pressure in the tissues beneath the skin, which reduces excess leakage of fluid from the capillaries and increases absorption of tissue fluid by the capillaries and lymphatic vessels. Compression therefore reduces and helps prevent swelling.
- Helps control the size (diameter) of superficial veins beneath the stocking. The stocking does not allow these superficial veins to over expand with blood. This action helps prevent “pooling”. The venous blood then flows more quickly up the leg towards the heart. (Jobst, 2017)
When pressure is increased in the body’s tissues, it assists with the return of fluid to the lymphatic and circulatory systems. This provides effective management of existing swelling and also acts as a preventative measure to stop the condition developing further.
Why Use Gradient Compression for Lymphedema?
Enormous amounts of technology and research have gone into the way Lymphedema compression garments are designed. Gradient compression is proven to be one of the most effective ways to manage the swelling caused by lymphedema and venous disorders. Its special design helps relieve pain and reduce swelling by preventing the accumulation of liquids and helping to resist the tendency of the body to swell.
Non-medical compression garments, like socks for flying and elastic support stockings, exert the same pressure all over the limb and exert considerably less pressure than medical grade compression. They are commonly used to provide relief for tired, heavy and aching legs, but are not structurally suitable for containing the chronic swelling associated with Lymphedema.
Gradient compression not only helps encourage fluid to flow back to the heart and relieves symptoms of Lymphedema but can also help reduce the risk of other complications such as infection and preventing blood stagnating in the veins.
Finding The Right Compression Garment For You
It is essential for Lymphedema patients to wear custom-made garments that have been manufactured under strict medical and technical specifications, that suit the patient’s individual needs. Each one of our lymphie limbs is different and requires a garment that fits properly in order to work effectively. Badly fitting garments can lead to a host of problems and can make Lymphedema worse, so it’s vital that your Lymphedema therapist measures you and prescribes the correct pressure for your needs.
The most important thing to remember is to wear your compression garment regularly and consistently! Relief from symptoms will only be possible if patients follow their doctor’s advice and are compliant with compression wearing guidelines.
Stick to well-known brands that guarantee their quality and high level of customer care. We have included a list of well-reputed brands below.
- Jobst: http://www.jobst.com
- Juzo: http://www.juzousa.com/
- Medi: http://mediusa.com/portfolio-item/mediven-customs/
- Sigvaris: http://www.sigvaris.com
Jobst, 2017: Jobst Compression Institute
Sigvaris, 2017: Principals of Compression Therapy
Clot Care Online Resource: Graduated Compression Stockings.
Graduated Compression Stockings © 1995-2014, Canadian Medical Association