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Compression Therapy for Lymphedema

Compression therapy is a key element of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT). Different compression types help to reduce your edema at first and maintain the therapy's success in the long-term.

Compression Therapy for Lymphedema

What is compression therapy?

Compression therapy means wearing compression bandages or garments designed and applied to reduce your edema and maintain the result. It is an essential part of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT), the gold standard for lymphedema treatment. CDT consists of a decongestion phase (Phase I), followed by a maintenance phase (Phase II). Compression therapy is part of both phases.

How does compression therapy work?

Compression therapy aims to reduce signs and symptoms of lymphedema. Your compression bandages or garments apply pressure from the outside to the limb. The compression is graduated, meaning the highest pressure is at the ankle (or wrist) and decreases along the way up the limb. This helps to move the lymphatic fluid to the center of your body, where it can be drained properly. Compression moves the fluid out of the affected limb and also prevents it from coming back into the limb.

Learn more about how the lymphatic system works

In Phase I of Complex Decongestive Therapy (CDT), compression therapy aims to reduce your swelling as much as possible. This phase usually takes several weeks, depending on the severity of your lymphedema. The following compression types are preferred in this phase:

  • Short-stretch bandages in the form of multilayer bandaging
  • Wrap compression systems

In Phase II, which is initiated promptly after Phase I, compression therapy aims to maintain and optimize the results you achieved in Phase I and prevent any fluid from returning and causing more swelling (known as rebound edema). The following compression types are preferred in this phase:

  • Flat-knit compression garments
  • Wrap compression system
  • Night compression system

You can learn more about the different types of compression here.

What do I need to pay attention to?

In general, compression therapy is very safe and used for decades. With some exceptions, it can be used in the vast majority of patients. Your healthcare professional (HCP) will be aware of any exceptions.

There are a few warning signs that point to inappropriate application of your compression garments or bandages. These are pain, discomfort, changes in the color, or tingling or numbness of your toes and fingers. If you notice one or more of these symptoms, move your limb or remove the garment, or one bandaging layer if it does not help. When the symptoms do not resolve after a while, you should completely remove the compression and contact your HCP.

Compression therapy also stresses your skin, and it is important to maintain good skin care.

Learn more about how you can take care of your skin

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