How do wraps work? The short answer is: By providing meaningful external compression. Lymphedema wraps, like graduated compression wear, can help alleviate the symptoms of lymphedema. Just like more sophisticated compression-wear garments and specialty items, wraps work by helping to coax lymph back into the lymph vessels for recirculation. Compression is the name of the game, and lymphedema wraps are another tool in the arsenal that can help patients manage the symptoms of their condition.
No Central Pump
Of course, there is no complete cure for lymphedema. Rather, the goal is to manage symptoms and minimize the impact of the condition on your life. Lymphedema is a chronic condition that inevitably progresses. It’s especially important to treat your condition consistently, in order to limit or at least slow this progression. Although the lymphatic system resembles the circulatory system in some ways, and even runs alongside it in many instances, there is one crucial difference; the lymphatic system lacks a central pump.
The heart forcefully, continuously contracts, squeezing the blood and sending it under high pressure through the complex network of blood vessels located throughout the body. It’s a highly effective system, but it depends on a centrally located pump that never fails.
The lymphatic system lacks such a pump. Instead, it relies on muscular contractions, and sometimes, gravity, to help lymph drain out of interstitial spaces, between cells, and back into lymph vessels for recirculation back to the center of the body. As with the veins of the circulatory system, there are even some valves to prevent back-flow. But there is no central pump.
Wraps are used to provide flexible, multi-layered compression bandaging. They typically consist of several layers of padding and short-stretch bandages that are wrapped around affected areas with varying degrees of compression. If your healthcare provider applies compression bandages and wraps, it is important that you leave them in place until he or she says they can be removed. During your initial treatment phase (Complete Decongestive Therapy), you’ll probably receive therapy to encourage drainage, every day for about one month.
Whenever you engage in movement or light exercise while wearing your wraps, you will be giving your lymph vessels some added assistance. The compression exerted by your bandages essentially provides resistance that your lymph vessels can push against. This boosts their ability to pump fluid toward the trunk, and helps alleviate fluid buildup in affected tissues.
After the initial treatment phase, your practitioner will likely dismiss you from their direct care, with careful instructions for ongoing self-care at home, and follow-up visits scheduled. Most likely, your care will involve faithfully wearing compression garments and/or wraps.