Woman putting on compression stocking

How to Determine Compression Levels for Your Garments

Determining Compression Levels

Medical-grade compression wear comes in a range of pressure classifications. To be clear, you should always consult with your healthcare professional before investing in compression wear for the treatment of your lymphedema. Your provider can recommend or prescribe the best compression wear for your needs.

Consistent self-care is crucial. And a big part of that will inevitably involve wearing compression wear precisely as directed. In most instances, that will mean wearing the right types of compression garments for the prescribed number of hours per day. 

Here’s a brief overview of the types of compression wear available; a compression pressure guide, or chart, if you will:

Mild

Like air pressure, the relative compression exerted by compression garments is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Garments in the “mild” category feature compression equivalent to 8-15 mmHg.

As the name suggests, these garments squeeze your limbs relatively gently. Virtually all compression wear features graduated compression. This means that a compression stocking for the control of lower limb lymphedema will squeeze you most tightly at the ankle while squeezing you slightly less further from the ankle. For example, the pressure at the calf will typically be about half what it is at the ankle. This compression gradient helps coax lymph out of swollen ankles and back into the circulation.

Demonstration of graduated compression

Medium

Featuring compression equivalent to 15-20 mmHg, garments in the medium category are slightly more insistent about squeezing your limbs. Again, compression is graduated, meaning the pressure is greatest at the point farthest from the heart, and slightly less as you get closer to the heart.

Medium compression is suitable for relief from tired, achy legs, and may be appropriate for people who do not have lymphedema, but who wish to minimize the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) during extended periods of inactivity, such as when flying long distances. During pregnancy, wearing a medium compression hose can help discourage the formation of spider veins and varicose veins. Items can also provide relief from tired, achy legs, ankles, and feet. 

Firm

Featuring compression equivalent to 20-30 mmHg, firm garments are typically reserved for patients with moderate to severe varicose veins, for post-surgical care following sclerotherapy treatment for the treatment of varicose veins, and to treat moderate to severe edema or lymphedema. These garments may also be prescribed to people at risk for postural hypotension; a steep drop in blood pressure that occurs when some people bend over and stand up again too quickly. Firm items are also used to treat post-thrombotic syndrome, and to prevent DVT. 

Extra Firm

Featuring compression equivalent to 30-40 mmHg, extra firm compression wear is reserved for many of the same conditions that may also be controlled by Firm garments. 

Prescription Graduated Compression Wear

Compression stockings featuring 40-50 mmHg of pressure are available by prescription only and are reserved for use by patients with serious venous disease conditions, such as DVT, chronic vein insufficiency and advanced lymphedema.

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