What is Compression Therapy?
Declining mobility, muscle mass, and strength are all common causes of inactivity among older adults. This can have several serious health implications, including weight-related diseases, reduced mental well-being, and venous disorders.
Reduced muscular function can often impair the venous and lymphatic systems of senior citizens, as the veins, arteries, and vessels rely on muscle contractions to pump blood throughout the body. This is particularly true in the lower limbs, where blood and lymphatic fluids must fight gravity to move up the legs.
Impaired vascular strength and damage to the valves can lead to pooling of blood and lymphatic fluids in the limbs, causing disorders such as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) and Lymphedema. Conditions like these can arise because of clotting in the blood (most commonly known as deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) and insufficient movement of fluids, resulting in swelling of the legs.
While these conditions are often an unavoidable aspect of aging, they can be effectively treated and managed with the use of compression garments.
What is Compression Therapy?
Compression therapy involves the use of compression garments — stockings, sleeves, or socks — as an effective way of encouraging the movement of blood and lymph throughout the body. Compression stockings are most suitable for the treatment of CVI and Lymphedema and work by applying graduated compression to the leg. These garments exert the greatest degree of compression at the ankle, and the level of compression gradually decreases up the length of the garment.
This creates pressure that reduces the diameter of the veins in the legs, increasing the volume and flow of blood in the legs. This pressure also helps to aid the movement of lymphatic fluids into the blood, preventing pooling and swelling in the legs and helping to manage the symptoms of CVI and Lymphedema.
Treatment of Chronic Venous Insufficiency
Blood clots commonly cause CVI in the legs, which often arise because of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition caused by impaired valve function.
The purpose of valves in the veins is to prevent blood from flowing the ‘wrong way,’ so when their function is compromised, they can allow blood to pool in the veins. This can lead to swelling, pain, heaviness in the limbs, skin discoloration, varicose veins, and, in some cases, slow-healing sores or ulcers on the legs.
CVI is a common condition that is thought to affect up to 40 percent of Americans, but in most cases can be successfully treated with compression therapy. Using compression stockings in conjunction with regular exercise produces the most significant benefits. In some cases, weight loss may also help to alleviate the condition.
Treatment of Lymphedema
Lymphedema is an incurable, chronic condition that is caused by the accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the limbs. This is often a result of impaired veins and lymphatic vessels that are unable to transport these fluids efficiently, and it usually begins with swelling in the hands and feet. Over time, this swelling can become more severe and widespread, causing considerable discomfort and pain.
If left untreated, Lymphedema can result in the decreased transportation of oxygen, which can delay the healing of wounds and increase the chance of bacterial infection within the lymphatic system.
Compression therapy is the primary form of treatment for this condition, as applying firm but gentle pressure to the affected limbs can encourage the lymphatic fluids to move back into the bloodstream. This can reduce swelling, as well as the likelihood of infection or other complications, alleviating pain and discomfort. Compression therapy is also an effective method of treating ulcers that may arise as a secondary symptom of the condition.
Compression therapy is most commonly used to alleviate the pooling of blood and lymphatic fluids in the limbs, which can help to reduce swelling and discomfort and prevent further complications. This treatment also has many other secondary benefits, particularly for elderly patients, and can result in improved sleeping habits, higher activity levels, and better mental health.
Finding the Right Garment
Compression garments come in a wide range of sizes and levels of compression, so finding the ideal sleeve, stocking, or sock for your loved one can be confusing.
It is critical to choose carefully when purchasing a compression garment, as garments that are too tight can exert too much pressure, causing further damage. These can also hinder movement, making them uncomfortable to wear. If the compression garment is too loose, it is unlikely to have the desired effect.
Compression garments are designed for ease of use and can be put on and removed without assistance. They are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time and have been proven effective in treating venous disorders commonly affecting the elderly, such as CVI and Lymphedema.
- Becky McDowell