Ready-Made vs. Custom Compression Garments
When it comes to choosing the compression wear that’s most appropriate for you, there are several factors to consider. Of course, you will want to follow your medical professional’s advice for the most effective treatment to address your lymphedema. Your healthcare provider will recommend a specific class of compression, but you will have options between ready-made or custom compression garments.
You may discover that you face an almost bewildering array of choices. There are three primary factors to consider when choosing garments: compression, compliance, and cost. In general, custom-made items will cost more. They are also likely to feature slightly different manufacturing methods. Is custom-made always superior? Not necessarily. But in some instances, yes. Conversely, in some cases, there’s no reason why you can’t go with ready-made wear, provided it adequately suits your needs.
Off-the-Rack (ready-made) items typically feature compression class ratings. These run the gamut from Class I (20-30 mmHg) to Class II (30-40 mmHg) and to Class III (40-50 mmHg). These items are manufactured using a circular-knit process. This method results in no seams. Custom wear typically employs the flat-weave technique, and thus includes a seam. There is no evidence that one method is superior to the other.
Compression class ratings are not regulated by the FDA, but they are intended to provide guidance regarding the compression that will be exerted. As always, maximum compression will be experienced farthest from the heart; minimal compression will be exerted closest to the heart. Therefore, an arm sleeve would exert its maximum compression at the wrist, and squeeze tissues gradually less the farther up the arm the sleeve extends. This is designed to help coax fluids back up the arm, towards the heart, so it can be recirculated.
It should be noted that sizing is crucial in order to obtain an optimal compression gradient along the length of a given limb. People with especially small wrists, for example, would not receive the full amount of expected compression if they were to wear a sleeve slightly too large for them. Conversely, someone with an especially large wrist and/or lower arm might experience compression that is uncomfortably restrictive. Sizing matters.
The best advice is to work with your healthcare provider or sales guide to arrive at the item that is most appropriate for your body and your needs. One size does not fit all in this instance.
Various manufacturers offer an array of fabrics, designs, patterns and features for their compression garments. An attractive print may appeal to you, but keep in mind that microbial resistance, softness, and other features will count for nothing if the garment is not comfortable enough that you will be willing to wear it as directed. That’s compliance: the degree to which you comply with your doctor’s orders to wear the item as directed.
Patients are more likely to wear sleeves that do not look like traditional medical wear, have the ability to wick away sweat and discourage bacterial growth. Thus, it can pay to look for these properties when shopping for the garment that’s right for you. Lymphedema is, sadly, a chronic condition. While it is possible to manage it, and perhaps even prevent its progression, by complying with your doctor’s recommendations regarding treatment (including wearing your compression garments faithfully), there is at present no cure for lymphedema. Accordingly, you will want to choose compression wear that you will wear as directed. It’s one of your best options for taking control of your condition.
As with other items of clothing, off-the-rack garments tend to be considerably more affordable than buying custom-made. A custom sleeve, for example, may cost anywhere between $150 and $700, and you will probably need to replace it every six months or so. Medical insurance does not often cover this expense. Ready-made sleeves are considerably more affordable, but you should probably choose the item that best fulfills your needs.