Compression therapy is one of the most effective edema management techniques to help reduce swelling by working your muscles and moving lymph fluid.
What is compression therapy?
Pressure is applied to the affected area with layered bandaging or garments, which help the lymphatic system keep fluid moving into the bloodstream while stopping it from collecting in the affected area. By stimulating the flow of lymph fluid through damaged or faulty lymph nodes or vessels, compression therapy can help reduce existing swelling and prevent further swelling.
Lymphedema is a chronic, lifelong condition that cannot be cured but can be managed. It is caused by a buildup of lymphatic fluid that leads to tissue swelling. In breast cancer patients, this swelling is usually in the arm on the affected side, but it can also occur in the face, neck, hands and arms, feet and legs, or trunk of the body. Breast Rehab therapists are certified lymphedema therapists and can help clients with lymphedema to manage their condition and prevent it from progressing.
How compression therapy helps
There are several kinds of compression therapy used to manage lymphedema. The type of compression depends on different factors, including whether the goal of treatment is to reduce or maintain existing swelling.
One effective method is to wear compression garments that support the lymphatic system in the affected areas, even when you’re sleeping. These include day and/or night compression sleeves, gloves, socks, or full leg garments. Compression garments are used when the goal of lymphedema management is to maintain the current size of the affected area and to prevent an increase in swelling.
Breast Rehab therapists can advise you on the types of compression garments that are available and recommend suppliers. Compression garments are covered under ADP and most extended health care plans.
Compression bandaging is the other form of therapy most often used for lymphedema. For many years, lymphedema was treated with bulky bandages that were difficult to fit under normal clothing. The old-style bandages were bulky over the limb(s) being treated and did not aid circulation or lymph flow.
At Breast Rehab, we use 3M Coban™ 2 bandaging to help stimulate lymphatic flow, move excess lymph fluid, and reduce swelling. Coban bandaging is made from lightweight, flexible materials that give you more freedom of movement and range of motion than old-style bandaging. It is made up of two different layers that work together as one single, comfortable layer.
- The first layer has a soft foam surface, which is applied directly to the skin. The foam helps to grip the skin and prevent slippage but is applied without any tension.
- The second layer is made from material that can contract and compress, to help reduce your swelling. It sticks nicely to the first layer and is applied at full stretch.
- The two layers stick together and form a “sleeve” that your muscles work against to reduce the swelling.
The two layers of the Coban system work the muscles that pump the venous system and lymphatic system, helping to stimulate lymphatic flow, move excess lymph fluid and reduce swelling. Coban bandaging is usually applied twice a week by a certified lymphedema therapist, though sometimes it can be worn for up to seven days before it is re-applied. The lightweight Coban layers let you wear your regular clothing and shoes, helping you feel less self-conscious as you go about your everyday life. Coban is used to help reduce your swelling to the point where you can be custom fitted for compression garments. Your physiotherapist will be able to recommend where to go for the proper fitting of day and night compression garments.
Compression therapy and other lymphedema management techniques are just some of the ways we can help you get back to doing what you love.