The Science Behind Compression Garments
Many Lymphedema injuries are treated with RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. RICE helps reduce inflammation and swelling. Some of these solutions are obvious. But compression warrants a closer look. Compression works by helping the circulatory system do its job. The circulatory system consists of veins, which carry oxygen-poor blood from the body's tissues to the heart and lungs; and arteries, which recirculate oxygen-refreshed blood. With each heartbeat, blood circulates quickly throughout the body.
The lymphatic system comprises a third set of vessels, including lymph vessels and lymph nodes. This system operates separately, in parallel with the veins and arteries. Unlike blood vessels, lymphatic vessels transport clear lymphatic fluid-composed of water, white blood cells, and proteins.The lymphatic system is a key part of the immune system. It helps eliminate wastes, removes bacteria and other foreign substances, and produces antibodies. Lymphatic fluid circulates very slowly. It relies on muscle contractions to help keep things circulating.
Veins and arteries intersect at the level of tiny vessels called capillaries. When the general circulation slows, due to prolonged sitting, trauma from surgery, or for other reasons, lymphatic fluid may fail to circulate properly. Compression therapy prevents swelling in the ankles, for example, by helping squeeze lymphatic fluid out of the tissues and back into the circulation, for recirculation back to the torso.
Compression garments work by applying greater pressure to areas farthest from the heart and gradually less pressure to areas closer to the heart. This "graduated compression" can help prevent undesirable fluid buildup in the extremities.