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Compression Therapy

What Is Compression Therapy?

When the veins in your legs become enlarged and can’t return enough blood to your heart, fluid will start to build up.

Doctors prescribe compression therapy to treat these types of vein conditions.

Compression therapy treats a range of vascular conditions, such as:

Other conditions compression therapy improves include:

For people with venous ulcers, compression therapy helps the healing process by putting constant pressure on the wound. Compression stockings also help those at risk of blood clots.

Before buying or using compression stockings for any of these conditions, make sure you check with your doctor.

Contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

Types of Compression Therapy

  • Compression stockings: These improve blood flow by applying pressure to your foot, ankle, and calf muscles. They are tightest at the ankles and loosen the further up they go, stopping fluid build-up in your legs. You wear the stockings all day and take them off at night.
  • Compression bandage (ace wrap): Ace wraps work somewhat like compression stockings. They aid in healing venous ulcers and also reduce swelling in your legs.
  • Compression boot/dressing: This bandage wraps around your lower leg to reduce large amounts of swelling and helps heal venous ulcers. The bandage applies more pressure when you flex your leg.
  • Sequential compression device (SCD): SCDs are sleeves that wrap around the legs and inflate with air. The increased air pressure on the veins helps restore blood flow to your heart, reducing fluid and swelling in your legs. SCDs also help prevent blood clots. People who have higher-risk health problems, like obesity or diabetes, may benefit more from the use of an SCD. Your care team will often use SCDs around the time of surgery.
  • Lymphedema pump: You use this pump for one hour a day on each lower limb. You should remove compression stockings before using the pump.

What to Expect During Your Treatment

Compression stockings or wraps

If you're using compression stockings, your doctor will show you how to wear them.

Normally, doctors specially fit compression stockings to your legs, and you wear them all day.

In some cases, your doctor may apply compression wraps before prescribing the stockings. Doctors most often use wraps to treat venous ulcers.

SCDs or lymphedema pumps

If you're using an SCD or a lymphedema pump, a doctor will:

  • Apply special compression sleeves to your legs — either your calves, thighs, or both — based on your condition.
  • Attach the sleeves to a control unit and slowly increase the amount of pressure to improve circulation.

What to Expect After Your Compression Treatment

If you use an SCD or an active compression pump, your doctor may prescribe compression stockings to use at home. You should only take them off to bathe and sleep. You shouldn't stop wearing them unless your doctor tells you to.

If your compression therapy is part of post-op recovery or to treat an injury, your doctor will give you a treatment timeline.

If you're wearing compression stockings for varicose veins or a chronic heart problem, you may need to use them long-term.

Risks and Complications of Compression Therapy

You should avoid compression therapy if you have a condition that affects your skin or your ability to feel.

These include:

Other risks include improper use of compression stockings. They're usually safe to use when they're smooth, without any wrinkles, and fit properly.

Wrongly applying compression stockings can cause skin damage or, in some cases, act as a tourniquet.

To learn more about compression therapy or find a doctor, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.