Compression Therapy 101
Compression therapy is a preferred medical treatment for individuals suffering from a number of different ailments, including venous leg ulcers. A venous leg ulcer is a condition that can develop as a result of chronic venous insufficiency. Venous disease is fairly common, with some research suggesting that as many as 50 percent of the adult population will be affected by venous insufficiency during their lifetime.
Other conditions for which compression therapy is commonly prescribed by doctors include phlebitis and thrombosis, sclerotherapy (and other types of treatment for varicose veins), and a variety of conditions associated with chronic venous disease, such as varicose veins, leg ulcers, edema and heavy legs. Compression therapy may also be used to alleviate problems associated with pregnancy, during long-distance travel and for athletes undergoing injury rehabilitation or desiring effective injury prevention.
What Is Compression Therapy?
Compression therapy is the application of pressure on the body's limbs – usually the legs but sometimes the arms – through the use of special socks, stockings or sleeves. This compression apparel is designed to support the veins in your arms or legs to improve blood circulation. It's usually worn during the day and then removed at night. The compression prevents the blood in veins from pooling in the extremities, helping to improve circulation and decreasing the tendency for the limbs to swell.
With compression stockings, graduated compression is applied to the leg with the greatest pressure occurring at the ankles and then gradually decreasing as the hosiery extends up the leg. This compression acts to provide support to the legs and veins, helping to control both swelling and discomfort. The gradually decreasing pressure provided by the garment works along with the calf muscles, which also assist in the improvement of blood circulation in the legs.
Compression Therapy for Venous Insufficiency
Chronic venous insufficiency, also known as CVI, which can lead to the development of venous leg ulcers, occurs when the walls of the veins in the legs or the valves within the veins are not working properly and are ineffective at allowing blood to return from the legs back to the heart. This condition causes blood to pool within the leg veins, which can trigger swelling and discomfort and lead to more serious problems. The first treatment prescribed for this condition is the use of compression stockings as a means for improving blood flow in the leg veins.
There are a few expected results of the utilization of compression stockings:
- Increased venous blood flow
- Reduced venous blood pressure
- Reduced reflux (backward flow) in veins
- Reduced pathologically elevated venous blood pressure
The use of compression therapy is also meant to reduce edema and inflammation, sustain recuperative processes and improve the movement of joints and tendons.
Compression Therapy Effectiveness
Compression therapy has been well studied and proven effective in the healing of wounds. It has also been shown to improve the quality of life in patients. Not only have symptoms such as pain, swelling and skin discoloration shown improvement through the use of compression, but there is also documented evidence as to its efficacy in the increase of activity levels, decrease in depression and improvement of sleep.
In addition to wound healing and treatment for those suffering CVI, compression therapy may also be the treatment of choice for those with leg injuries or those who are recuperating from leg surgeries, those with excessive weight gain or obesity, individuals experiencing prolonged periods of non-movement, or those with venous blood clots.
Expected results of compression therapy are only achievable, however, when the garments are put on and worn as directed. Medical compression socks will only work when worn, and non-compliance with the doctor's directions is the main reason for their failure. Elderly, obese or other patients experiencing difficulty in putting on their compression stockings may require the assistance of a helper for proper donning.
Compression stockings and sleeves are graded according to the amount of pressure they exert. It's important that a patient using this therapy is properly diagnosed by a qualified clinician and prescribed a garment appropriate to their particular situation. Pressure designations are expressed in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), similar to the scale used in a blood pressure reading. There are four generally accepted pressure designations used in compression therapy:
Mild - less than 20-mmHg
Moderate – 20-40-mmHg
Strong – 40-60-mmHg
Very Strong - more than 60-mmHg
Strong compression is commonly prescribed for leg ulcers. Those suffering from severe arterial disease are not candidates for any level of compression therapy.
Both athletic performance and tissue rehabilitation may be enhanced by the use of compression garments as a result of improved blood flow and muscular, tendon and joint support. Maximizing athletic performance and reducing recovery time are just two benefits of utilizing sports compression garments.
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