Compression therapy is an easy at-home solution to achy sore muscles and injuries.
Whether you are just hearing about compression therapy for the first time or are experienced with compression, you can find value in this article as it will go into detail about what compression therapy is, how it works, where you can utilize compression, the benefits of compression, as well as people and occupations that should consider compression therapy,
What is Compression Therapy?
Compression therapy is a name that may sound more complicated than it needs to be. Compression therapy is simply the utilization of some device to apply pressure evenly on a part of the body.
There are many different ways of achieving compression:
- Compression Socks – Compression socks are amongst the most popular forms of compression garments out there. Compression socks are popular because many people need compression therapy in the lower extremities of the feet and legs to support blood flow.
- Compression Tights – Compression tights are a garment that can provide compression from the feet all the way to the hips. Compression tights are commonly used in a sports setting where the compression is utilized to reduce soreness during and after intensive exercise.
- Compression Wraps – Compression wraps are typically utilized as a first-line treatment for muscle or ligament injuries. Because a compression wrap can fit all body types, it makes a compression wrap ideal for a first response.
- Pneumatic Compression Device – A pneumatic compression device is a unique way of achieving compression as it provides a deeper compression, but intermittently. The device works through the use of boots that gradually increase the squeeze applied to the leg and then once tight, releases the compression. This compression method is typically only found in the healthcare setting and is utilized as a preventative against deep vein thrombosis after surgery.
- Compression Sleeves – Compression sleeves are a compression wear garment that covers the arms. Compression sleeves are typically utilized by athletes to reduce inflammation in the arm muscles while also potentially decreasing the recovery time of the muscle groups.
- Compression Shirts – Compression shirts are also often found in the athletic realm, mostly to again, help support blood flow, but also usually for their breathability and moisture-wicking capabilities.
- Compression Gloves – Compression gloves are a compression garment that specifically targets arthritic pains and inflammation in the hands.
- Compression Knee Brace – A compression knee brace is a compressive therapy device that helps reduce excess inflammation in the knees as well as provides support for your knees throughout the day. The compression achieved through the use of a compressive knee brace can allow you to stand longer by stabilizing and ensuring proper alignment of your knee.
The list above illustrates how compression therapy and the many different ways of achieving the right compression for your needs. Whether you are an athlete looking for an edge, or an individual experiencing some inflammation, compression therapy is a good place to look for possible solutions.
How Does Compression Work?
With so many options to achieve compression, there must be something to scientifically back up all of these garments and compression devices. Thankfully, there is — compression acts in two ways.
The first of which is the support of veins. Veins are the blood vessels that bring blood back to the heart. For parts of the body like the legs, veins have a more difficult time because they must bring blood back to the heart from the feet. These veins are constantly fighting the forces of gravity while a person is standing or their legs are in an upright position. Over time this constant struggle against gravity can cause the walls of the veins to fail to result in the ballooning of veins and varicose veins.
Compression wear acts as an external support brace to the vein walls. This is able to improve circulation while keeping the vein walls from ballooning.
The second way that compression works is by reducing fluid retention. As stated previously, compression therapy is the application of an even pressure across a part of the body. This pressure is a great way of minimizing fluid retention in tissues. Compression is able to minimize this because the pressure exerted by the compression squeezes excess fluid between tissues out of the area.
For those suffering from inflammation, compression therapy is often used to give your body a helping hand in getting rid of pooling fluid in the extremities. Compression therapy interventions like compression socks or compression socks are ideal for people suffering from swollen legs.
Benefits of Compression
Improves Blood Flow
As stated previously, compression is able to give a helping hand to the venous walls within the body through the application of external pressure. While this helps the veins, it also allows for better overall blood flow.
Having better blood flow carries a long list of benefits:
- Reduces the risk of developing varicose veins
- Decreases risk of blood clots
- Helps heal leg ulcers
Improve Lymphatic Flow
Blood is not the only fluid that benefits from the utilization of compression. The lymphatic system is a circulatory system that is responsible for returning interstitial fluids back to the bloodstream to retain proper blood volume and circulation.
Compression helps the lymphatic flow by pushing pooled areas of fluid back up to the heart and into circulation. Improving lymph flow is able to reduce swelling and reduce the feeling of swelling associated pains.
Who Should Use Compression Therapy?
While almost everyone could benefit from a little compression therapy, there are certain people that would get the largest benefit. Those who stand long hours for work, are at risk for blood clots, travel, and are pregnant will greatly benefit from compression.
Standing Workers: Those who stand for long hours can definitely find a lot of value from compression devices of the legs. Some common jobs that may use compression are healthcare providers, factory workers, restaurant workers, and cashiers. If you are standing for long periods of time, blood is able to pool in your lower extremities, and without frequent walking, the blood will not be easily returned to the heart. Without compression devices, over time you could experience varicose veins or venous insufficiency. Compression devices can both prevent and help to mitigate these problems, so it is better to start early before you are even seeing issues.
Pregnant Women: Pregnant women may notice swelling in their lower extremities. In pregnancy, there is extra fluid retained in your body, as well as increased pressure on your leg veins to keep up with the blood flow demand. Because of this, you may notice swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet. Compression garments are just one helpful solution to this, but you can wear them throughout the day and night to enhance blood flow return and decrease fluid retention in the legs. Overall, compression devices in pregnant women are a great addition to the maternity wardrobe.
Travelers: When traveling frequently or long distances you are at increased risk for a blood clot, especially a deep vein thrombosis. The stagnant blood has more time to coagulate and form clots that could be life-threatening. Compression devices can again help to get your blood flowing since you will be sitting and stagnant for a long time. You can wear the compression garments under your regular pants, so no one will even know you are wearing them. You can also pair your garments with frequent walks down the aisle of a plane or train, and stopping at rest stops for a walk to get your blood flowing and decrease risks of complications.
With so many types of compression devices to reduce the work of your cardiovascular system and reduce excess fluid retention or edema, there is something for everyone to fit their needs.
Compression seems like such a simple idea but can truly improve the lives and health of many. Compression works and can be helpful for many groups of people.
As with any health-related device it is advised that you speak with your health care provider to determine if compression is right for you. Edema and venous insufficiency could be a serious health problem so it is important that it is addressed with your primary care provider.