Compression therapy is a practice that involves the use of compression to encourage blood flow and reduce swelling. It is a non-invasive way to treat several conditions that cause poor circulation throughout your body. Through the use of compression garments like stockings, gloves, and sleeves you’ll be able to reduce pain and improve blood flow. Here we will cover everything you need to know about compression therapy and how you can use it to treat swelling and improve circulation.
Compression therapy has several benefits and is a known treatment for many conditions. To get the most out of compression therapy it’s best to pair it with a gentle exercise routine. The movement in your legs will work to return the blood back to your heart and reduce swelling. Something as simple as walking is enough to get the job done.
Here are the benefits of compression therapy:
Compression works by wearing a compression garment or device that applies pressure. The pressure is generally graduated, meaning that it starts tighter at the distal (or furthest) point and slowly loosens as the garment comes closer to your body. This graduated compression works to prevent venous blood from pooling in the veins and to encourage it to return to your heart for circulation.
With better blood flow to your legs, there will be better wound healing and support for your veins and lymph vessels. Compression garments are worn during the day and are especially useful for people who are on their feet for long periods of time like healthcare professionals and teachers. You can remove compression therapy when you sleep, gravity will not be working against you like it does when you stand.
Compression therapy can manage or treat several conditions. If you’re dealing with one of these conditions, talk with your doctor to see how compression therapy can help you.
Inflammation is your body’s way to fight against things that it deems harmful like infections and injuries. It’s characteristic symptoms are swelling, redness, warmth, and pain. Compression cannot cure the underlying cause of inflammation but will help manage the symptoms. Use a compression garment over the swollen areas but make sure to avoid any open wounds or compressing too tightly. The pressure will encourage circulation and improve healing times.
Although there are many locations susceptible to inflammation, lower legs are one of the most common areas treated with compression therapy. Some of the most common causes include:
Inactivity can cause blood to pool and increase pressure in your leg veins. It’s not uncommon to experience inflammation after long periods of sitting, especially during air travel. Wearing compression stocking during a flight or when you know you’ll be sitting for some time can help to improve circulation and reduce swelling.
Nurses or other professionals who find themselves standing on their feet all day often experience leg pain and fatigue. Just like sitting all day, standing tends to limit blood circulation to the legs. By wearing knee high stockings that apply pressure to the calf muscles and lower legs, the gentle compression works to promote blood flow and reduce pressure.
Swelling is a common symptom of pregnancy and it tends to occur most commonly in women’s lower legs and feet. Compression therapy can help to massage the lower legs and feet to keep blood circulating.
Those who experience arthritis and joint pain know how it can interfere with just about every activity. Many sufferers find that compression supports their joints and reduces the swelling associated with arthritis. If you have hand arthritis try compression gloves during the day to reduce pain. Those who have pain elsewhere can use compression sleeves or an elastic bandage to find relief.
Varicose veins are a result of chronic venous insufficiency. Which is a type of venous disease where the veins, near the surface of the legs, become enlarged or dilated. The valves within the vessels do not work properly allowing blood to pool within the veins. It results in large, purple-looking vessels that can be painful. Compression works by putting pressure against these vessels to support them. The pressure also encourages the pooling blood to return to the heart.
Many athletes use compression therapy during or after exercise to improve their recovery times, along with other conservative treatments like alternating hot and cold therapy or self massage. Since compression improves blood circulation, the thought is that it will aid in muscle recovery and reduce soreness. Try a compression sleeve during your next workout to see if you have less muscle soreness and recover quicker.
A venous leg ulcer is a wound that typically develops on the inside of the leg, above the ankle. The ulcer starts out as a rash that can be itchy. The rash then transitions to an open wound. The skin around the ulcer can be hard and discolored. Compression therapy is a good preventative treatment since these ulcers are associated with varicose veins and other vessel abnormalities. The compression will encourage blood to return to your heart for better circulation.
Lymphedema is a condition that affects the lymphatic vessels. Our lymphatic system is a complex arrangement of vessels that carry lymph throughout our body. Lymphedema occurs when there is a blockage in the vessel or as a result of lymph node removal and causes swelling. Compression therapy will apply pressure to the affected area, limiting the amount of lymphatic fluid that can pool in the space and encourage it to return to a drainage area.
Edema is similar to lymphedema but involves blood vessels instead of lymphatic vessels. When fluid leaks out from the blood vessels and collects in nearby tissues edema forms. A compression garment or device can limit the amount of fluid that gathers in the tissue and encourage it to return back into the blood vessels to be circulated through the body.
Compression therapy is something that can be done on your own or with the help of your doctor. People who are looking to just prevent a little swelling and have no other conditions can likely manage their swelling with over-the-counter products. But those who have medical conditions or severe swelling will need the guidance of their doctor.
Compression products have varying levels of pressure. The amount of pressure is measured in mmHg (read as millimeters of mercury). The higher the mmHg the greater the pressure. Your doctor can prescribe a certain level of mmHg for your compression garments.
Compression treatment can be done in several different ways. Here we will cover different compression tools that are available to you.
Pneumatic compression devices are a popular choice for easing leg muscle pain ( see product here).
These devices are popular among athletes and are used for improving recovery. They provide intermittent pneumatic compression to legs using inflatable sleeves. Sequential compression devices are also commonly used in hospital settings when patients are bedridden due to illness or surgery. Since these devices tend to run higher in price, you can try them out at your physical therapist’s office or recovery spas or a membership fee.
Compression stockings provide added support and increased circulation throughout the day ( see product here).
Stockings are the most commonly used compression therapy tool. They are easy to find, inexpensive, and come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. If you’re dealing with varicose veins, leg pain, are a nurse, pregnant, or find yourself sitting or standing for long periods of time these stockings are great for all day wear and even travel.
Arthritis gloves are especially beneficial when performing tasks such as; gardening, painting, sewing, or typing ( see product here).
Also known as arthritis gloves, compression gloves are worn to reduce arthritis and carpal tunnel symptoms like swelling and achy joints. They are worn throughout the day or even overnight to help improve circulation in the hands, fingers and wrists.
Knee sleeves provide compression that helps to protect the joints during activities such as; working out, running, or walking ( see product here).
Compression sleeves can be worn on your knees, elbows, wrists, and calves. There are a few different styles as well as materials to choose from but all are designed to promote blood flow and protect vulnerable joints. These are common in athletes and those looking to improve recovery after exercises.
Wearing a brace can achieve the same results as a compression sleeve. Braces tend to cover a smaller area, limit mobility, and will not have the same graduate compression. Depending on your needs this may or may not be the right option for you. Some people may prefer braces for their adjustability and stability if they’re dealing with an injury.
Compression socks are a go-to for long distance runners and those looking for added support throughout the day ( see product here).
Compression socks are typically knee high and encompass the calf muscles. These are very similar to compression stockings but are a thicker blend of fabric. They are common among runners and are used to help keep blood circulating through the legs.
These elastic wraps that can be used on either your arms or legs. Their versatility makes them an appealing option for those who suffer from swelling in multiple areas.
The hardest part about compression therapy is getting the device on. As you would suspect they are tight making it really hard to pull them up your leg. Here are our best tips for using and putting on compression therapy devices.
Compression therapy is a useful treatment option for many people but it isn’t for everyone. If you suffer from blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) talk to your doctor. Other contraindications for compression are open wounds, arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, and sensitive skin.
If your legs or arms are swollen and painful it’s time to consider compression therapy. First, talk to your doctor to determine the cause of your swelling and come up with a firm treatment plan. If compression is an option, look for a device that suits your needs. Wear it during the day or during activities that cause excess swelling. If it causes irritation or pain remove the device and consult with your doctor.