Upper limb

Compression garments

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Compression helps with treatment of lymphoedema

Compression garments and their role in lymphoedema management

Oedema is defined as subcutaneous soft tissue swelling. Lymphoedema develops when the lymphatic system can no longer transport lymph, a tissue fluid, due to insufficiency (primary) or damage caused by trauma (secondary). The resulting pooling of water and protein in the tissues causes the swelling. The protein may cause chronic tissue inflammation which eventually leads to the formation of connective tissue fibres.

Compression plays an important part in the treatment of lymphoedema, be it primary or secondary, and usually affects the arms or legs, although in some cases there may be swelling in the chest, head or genitals.

With a correctly fitting garment, the pressure within the tissues increases, encouraging lymph to re-distribute and drain. It also reinforces the skin making a firm wall to the limb thereby increasing the efficiency of the muscle pump systems. This encourages lymph flow and drainage in the compromised limb.

Compression garments are an essential part of ongoing care and must always be worn to ensure reductions in limb volume are maintained.

Compression hosiery reduces new lymph formation, ie capillary filtration, and enhances lymph drainage by improving muscle pump efficiency.