How Do Compression Garments Work?

In Compression Therapy by Admin10 Comments

How Do Compression Garments Work?

Lymphedema is a chronic condition that occurs as a result of a localized lymphatic drainage problem. Such problems may arise in various parts of the body, due to damage from any number of possible causes. Surgery or radiation for cancer treatment is a frequent cause of this damage. A significant percentage of women who undergo surgery and/or radiation therapy for the treatment of breast cancer will experience lymphedema, for example. This typically occurs in affected arm(s) due to damage to or removal of lymph nodes or vessels in the armpit and/or upper arms.

Swelling due to lymph fluid that leaks into soft tissues is potentially uncomfortable and unsightly. It may also increase the chance of skin problems, such as increased susceptibility to infection. Doctors typically address lymphedema by recommending medical-grade compression wear. In the case of breast cancer-related arm swelling, a compression sleeve would be appropriate. People suffering from lymphedema in the legs, ankles or feet will be advised to wear compression socks or stockings.

Juzo Compression Stockings

Juzo Compression Leggings

The Lymph System

The lymph system is a sort of secondary circulatory system; a network of vessels, fluid and nodes, along with a few immune system organs, such as the thymus and spleen. It serves to help the body eliminate toxins, waste, and other undesirable materials, while also combatting infection. Key lymph system cells are generated in the bone marrow.

The lymphatic system operates in parallel to the more familiar blood circulatory system. The heart pumps blood under high pressure through its extensive network of arteries, veins and capillaries, and exchanges gases in the lungs. The lymphatic system operates more or less in parallel to this network, but relies more on passive influences, such as local muscle contractions, to assist in promoting lymph fluid flow. After traveling from distant places in the body, lymph drains through lymphatic ducts in the chest into veins in the upper chest, which eventually drain into the heart. 

Lymph fluid is essentially a clear liquid quite similar to blood plasma. It plays an important role in defending the body against infection and disease. It is a key component of the immune system, and contains disease-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes.

The lymph nodes, located at various places throughout the body, such as in the armpits, neck, upper chest, and groin, serve as filters that may help trap foreign cells and debris. Unlike the blood circulatory system, the lymphatic system is not closed. Lymph fluid (lymph) is free to move in and out of lymph vessels and into and out of the spaces between the body’s cells. These areas are called interstitial spaces.

Solaris Compression Arm Sleeves

Solaris Exo Arm Sleeves

The Role of Compression Wear

Graduated compression-wear garments are engineered to assist the body in its work by encouraging lymph fluid to move out of the interstitial spaces of affected tissues and return to the lymph vessels, for recirculation back toward the heart. Compression garments accomplish this by squeezing the affected tissues, putting pressure on lymph fluid and facilitating its return to the vessels for removal.

Graduated compression—in which a garment squeezes your tissues more tightly the farther from the heart, and somewhat less tightly closer to the heart—works to facilitate lymph drainage. The external pressure exerted by your compression garment is a key component of your doctor’s plan for helping you control the swelling, pain and discomfort that may accompany lymphedema. Accordingly, it is important for patients to follow instructions regarding when, where and how often to wear their items. Proper skin care is also especially important. Skin in affected areas, such as the legs and ankles, may become thin, fragile and susceptible to drying, flaking or cracking.

Medi Wash Compression Garment Detergent

Medi Compression Garment Detergent

Proper Care

Most doctors will recommend that you keep the area clean, dry, and well moisturized with specially formulated skincare products. Skin may also be more susceptible to infection, so caring for the skin in affected areas is or paramount importance.

Proper care of your compression wear is also important. Be sure to keep your item(s) clean and dry, following manufacturers’ directions for proper care. This will prolong the life of your item(s) and keep them in top shape. The final point to remember is this: While it may be inconvenient, or even uncomfortable at times, it is crucial that you wear your item(s) for as long as instructed, each day. Remove your item(s) at night, and don them again first thing upon rising, for best results.

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  1. I am curious as to what happens when one flys that has no symptoms as of yet. And when wearing the sleeve on and off the plane.
    At what altitude does you need the compression garment?5000 feet 10.000 feet?
    I cannot seem to find any of these answers.
    Please advise.
    Ps I am a very active person having had 14 lymph nodes removed 6 months ago. I am constantly looking at my arm after I workout. I am not ready to give up my Triathlon hobby just yet! also plan on traveling which will require flying.
    Thanks Stephanie

    1. Flying in a jet where cabin pressure changes for an extended period of time can affect your lymphatic system. I had a radical hysterectomy at age 29 .. a lot of lymph nodes removed from my groin area. All clear so radiation or chemotherapy. I am now 64 and was diagnosed with lymphedema at age 63. Likely I’ve had it since I was 61 but did not recognize it. I have flown many many times between the age of 29 & 61 but short haul flight now longer than 4 hours. At 61 I had an 8 hour flight and had swollen ankles for days . Since then I have had numerous long flights wearing compression knee sox, not drinking alcohol & ordering low salt meals on the flights. However I did not wear a waist high compression garment when flying as I didn’t know any better. After a year of Dr appointments and various tests turning up nothing… I discovered the need for compression garments on the compromised area when flying … too late… Now its rounds of manual lymphatic drainage massage and various garments for life.
      I’ve read many books to learn how to take care of myself as this disease is the most underdiagnosed and unknown disease in the world. A really good read and very helpful is The Complete Lymphedema Management and Nutrition Guide by Jean Lamantia & Ann Dimenna.

  2. Should the compression sleeve go back to its original shape if they’re being washed and hung to dry ? The one I have does not go back to the original shape it takes the shape of the arm that has the lymphedema . Should it not go back to the shape it was when it came from your factory .

  3. Not sure why this is happening to your garment. Is it a custom flat knit? They will maintain their shape for sure.

  4. I have been diagnosed with Lymph edema and after two operations on both legs to help the blood flow I still experience swelling of the ankles (edema) and develop large water blisters. I am on 40 mg of a diuretic and wear compression socks. still blisters form in one leg only.
    I use a compression machine nightly for 1 half hour. I elevate my legs both day and night. Still water blisters form.
    Qustion: What else should I BE DOING TO AVOID BLISTER FORMING.

  5. I would massage (MLD) & wrap often. It has help me manage the swelling better and reduce and remove blisters in the groin.

  6. Pingback: Medical Compression Garments for Celebrating Men's Health Week

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