Compression therapy helps to increase blood circulation in the lower legs, ankles, and feet by preventing blood from pooling and fluid from building up.
Compression devices help to improve blood flow in your lower legs, providing effective treatment for pain and swelling caused by conditions associated with poor circulation, such as varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency.
There are many types of compression therapy devices available. The most common type of compression device is compression stockings, but various bandages, wraps and inflatable devices are also available.
Who Needs Compression Therapy?
Your doctor may recommend compression therapy if you struggle with a condition associated with poor blood circulation. These conditions include:
- Chronic venous insufficiency: People with this condition have weak veins which cause impaired blood flow. It results in blood building up in their legs. Compression therapy improves circulation by squeezing your leg muscles.
- Varicose veins: These veins, which look like winding ropes under the skin, are caused by chronic venous insufficiency. Compression therapy can help relieve pain and swelling.
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): This is a blood clot that usually forms in one of your legs and blocks blood flow. Compression stockings may be recommended for people at risk of DVT. People at risk include overweight people, people undergoing chemotherapy and postpartum women.
- Oedema: Swelling of the feet, ankles or legs occurs when fluid becomes trapped in your tissues. Conditions that can cause oedema include chronic venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, lymphedema, pregnancy and sitting or standing in one place for a long time.
- Leg ulcers and wounds: These often affect the legs, ankles and feet, especially in people with diabetes, varicose veins and poor circulation. Compression therapy can assist recovery from leg ulcers and wounds.
- Orthostatic hypotension: This condition causes a rapid drop in blood pressure when you stand up. It occurs due to poor blood return to your heart from your legs when you stand. Compression therapy can help by squeezing blood from your legs back up to your heart.
- Athletes: Some athletes involved in competitive and endurance sports use compression therapy to improve circulation and muscle recovery.
Different Types Of Compression Therapy
Based on your health condition, your healthcare provider will determine the type of compression device, and level of compression most suitable for you. Important factors they will consider include the necessary pressure rating, size and fit, how they should be fitted and how long you need to wear them. In general, the categories of pressure are low (less than 20 mmHg), medium (20 to 30 mmHg) and high (greater than 30 mmHg). Low compression stockings can be purchased over the counter, but higher compression devices will require a prescription.
The types of compression therapy devices include:
- Compression stockings are the most common type of compression device. These stockings normally go up to your knee, but if you have swelling that extends above your knee, you may need longer stockings.
- Elastic bandages or velcro wraps may be a more practical option for people who have difficulty putting on socks. They are normally applied in multiple layers.
- Inflatable devices fully cover the legs and inflate to provide pressure. They are most commonly used by athletes.
How Are Compression Devices Used?
Your healthcare provider will provide you with clear instructions on how to safely use your compression device. In general, compression socks or stockings are only worn while you are awake and should be taken off when you sleep. Bandages, which are often used for treating ulcers or wounds, may stay on overnight.
Inflatable compression garments are mostly used by athletes to improve athletic performance. As they are not used to treat a medical condition, they can be used as and when needed.
Benefits And Risks Of Compression Therapy
The greatest advantage of compression therapy is that it helps to improve blood circulation, thereby reducing pain and swelling. It is particularly helpful for people with circulatory problems such as leg ulcers, chronic venous insufficiency, orthostatic hypotension, and varicose veins. Compression therapy is useful for preventing deep vein thrombosis.
When compression devices are used as instructed, the risks remain minimal. Risks may include skin irritation, discomfort, infections and swelling. Rarely, side effects may include nerve damage, soft tissue damage and superficial thromboembolism.
Frequently Asked Questions
These boots are often used by athletes to help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue. They are particularly useful for enhancing recovery after endurance sports. They work by using air pressure to massage the legs and promote blood flow.
Deep vein thrombosis is a clot that occurs in a vein deep inside the body (usually the leg). It is usually associated with poor circulation and conditions such chronic venous insufficiency.
Oedema refers to the build-up of fluids in your legs, which often causes pain and swelling. It is a symptom of many diseases including congestive heart failure, liver damage and kidney disease.