We are accustomed to applying pressure to stop bleeding, because the pressure helps prevent blood loss and promotes clotting. Similarly, compression therapy promotes vascular health and treats a variety of venous diseases. It is also useful in overall pain management especially for the lower extremities.
Compression therapy is a simple and effective means of increasing blood flow in the lower limbs by strengthening vein support. Compression therapy is a treatment that can help alleviate aching and loosen constriction between the walls of the veins. The process works by gently applying pressure to the ankles and legs to slowly stretch out vein walls and improve overall circulation, which in turn helps to eliminate swelling.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, the pressure from compression therapy does not slow blood flow. Instead, the pressure actually increases blood flow. The improved circulation can help promote healing, and the pressure prevents blood from pooling in the veins. This process can also reduce swelling in the affected body parts.
The most common form of compression therapy is wearing special elastic socks or stockings that support the veins and increase circulation in the legs. The stockings apply pressure evenly over a sore or painful area. A patient wears the stockings during the day and removes them when in bed. The pressure the stockings provide prevents blood from pooling in leg veins which helps overall circulation.
Without effective compression therapy, chronic venous diseases can lead to dilated or “spider veins.” These begin to appear as thin blue lines that can branch out, depending on the severity of blood flow restriction. Dilated veins can drain the legs and produce fatigue, sometimes causing sudden bursts of pain.
Though compression therapy devices usually come in the form of socks or stockings, they are also available as shin sleeves, elbow sleeves, and even masks to help treat pain, swelling, and other symptoms.
Conditions Treated with Compression Therapy
These wearable compression therapy devices can treat many common chronic conditions, including fibromyalgia and lymphatic diseases. Compression therapy is a preferred treatment for venous ulcers and edema (swelling). It is also a standard treatment for arthritis pain relief.
How Does Compression Therapy Work?
Compression therapy works by allowing the even distribution of internal pressure in the leg. The pressure is graduated, with the strongest starting at the ankles and gradually decreasing as it moves up the leg. This pressure supports the legs and veins, assists with circulation, and minimizes swelling. The gradual support works in conjunction with the pumping action of the calf muscles, which also assist with circulation. The pressure helps the blood vessels in the leg push blood back to the heart, while making it more difficult for blood to pool or clot.
Compression therapy improves the symptoms of various venous diseases. It helps keep the legs from becoming tired and achy. The therapy can also ease swelling and discomfort in the feet and ankles, as well as help prevent and treat spider veins and varicose veins. It may even stop the patient from feeling light-headed or dizzy when standing up.
Types of Compression Therapy
There are three primary types of compression therapy: bandages, stockings, and pneumatic systems.
There are many different types of compression bandages based on their stiffness. Short-stretch, or inelastic and semi-rigid bandages, have a high stiffness factor and exert large amounts of pressure when the wearer is active but relatively little pressure when the wearer is at rest. Long-stretch bandages are more elastic and provide constant compression during both activity and rest.
Bandages have an advantage in that they can fit an unlimited range of patient sizes and needs. However, the effectiveness of compression bandages is dependent upon the actual wrapping of the legs. Bandages that are too loose take longer to reduce swelling and a wound will not heal as quickly. Overly tight bandages may restrict blood flow and may cause tissue damage.
The most common form of compression therapy is compression hosiery. Specially made, snug-fitting, stretchy socks gently squeeze the leg when worn. The stockings are tightest around the ankle and become less tight as they move up the leg.
They are similar to bandages in their elastic nature; however, unlike bandages that require accurate wrapping, compression stockings have defined compression levels. They are also simpler to apply and remove and can be changed daily. Compression sleeves are just the tube part of the stocking, without a foot.
Intermittent Pneumatic Compression (IPC) Systems
Intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) systems use cuffs around the legs that fill with air to squeeze the legs. An IPC helps increases blood flow through the veins to prevent blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. The use of IPC is one way to help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
There are many types of IPC devices. Some have a cuff that covers just the calf, or multiple cuffs might go around the whole leg. Some inflate all over the leg with the same pressure. Others may first apply pressure to the lower and then the upper part of the leg. Some inflate quickly, and others inflate slowly. In most cases, the use of an IPC is most often found in a hospital. However, it can also be used at home.
The exact amount of compression therapy and the technique depends on the severity of blood flow constriction. Only a medical professional can recommend the proper treatment based on a patient’s specific needs.
Who Can Benefit from Compression Therapy?
Compression therapy offers several benefits. Pain relief from reducing swelling is the primary benefit. The therapy also increases circulation which promotes healing. Sufferers of chronic venous disease which can cause leg vein valves to fail are primary candidates for compression therapy. When the valves within the leg veins fail to work efficiently, blood backs up and pools in the veins causing pain.
For wound and ulcer management, compression therapy can significantly reduce healing times. Others who can benefit from compression therapy include:
Those who can’t leave their bed or have a hard time moving their legs.
People who stand all day at work.
Anyone suffering from aching and heavy legs.
People who spend long stretches of time on airplanes, like pilots.
People with lymphedema.
Persons suffering from phlebitis.
Anyone being treated with sclerotherapy (procedure for eliminating spider veins).
People with edema and deterioration of venous walls.
Compression therapy can also help to prevent the development of blood clots. Consequently, it is often recommended for patients following surgery.
Talk to your health care provider to see if compression therapy is right for you.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Novus Spine & Pain Center is in Lakeland, Florida, and treats patients suffering from the pain of chronic venous disease with numerous therapies, including compression therapy. By using a comprehensive approach and cutting edge therapies, we work together with patients to restore function and regain an active lifestyle, while minimizing the need for opiates.