About compression garments

Compression can help reduce and control lymphoedema. It does this by limiting lymph fluid build up and helping the fluid move to an area that is draining well. It also provides support that helps muscles pump fluid away.

Compression garments are available in different levels or grades of pressure. The garment you have will depend on how much swelling there is, and the part of the body affected.

It is important that someone who is experienced in measuring and fitting compression garments fits your garment. Your lymphoedema specialist may prescribe and fit you with a compression garment. Your GP can also prescribe garments, but usually only on the advice of your lymphoedema specialist.

Types of compression garment

Depending where the swelling is, you may be fitted with one of the following garments:

  • sleeves for swollen arms
  • stockings for swollen legs
  • garments for lymphoedema in the fingers or toes
  • a compression bra or vest for lymphoedema around the breast or chest area
  • garments for lymphoedema that affects the genital areas.

Putting on and removing compression garments

When you are fitted for your compression garment, you will be shown how to put it on and remove it.

For arm sleeves, start by folding the top down to the elbow or until the garment is in half. You could also hold onto something like a doorknob or handle to help. You can pull against it to pull the sleeve up your arm.

For leg garments, it may help to turn the stocking inside out as far as the ankle or heel part.

Here are some more tips for putting on and removing compression garments:

  • Put your garment on first thing in the morning, when the limb is at its smallest. It is best to wait a short while after a shower or bath. If your skin is damp, it can be difficult to put on.
  • Pull the garment over your hand or foot and ease it up, one bit at a time. Make sure you do not pull it up by the top of the garment.
  • Do not turn or roll the top over. This will restrict the blood flow and cause more swelling.
  • Using a little unperfumed talc on your arm or leg can help ease the garment on. There are also different things available to help put garments on and to take them off. Your lymphoedema specialist will be able to give you information about suppliers.
  • Make sure the material is spread evenly and there are no creases when your garment is on. Wearing a rubber glove can help you put the garment on and smooth out any creases. If you have an arm sleeve, you should put the glove on the opposite hand.
  • Moisturise your skin at night after you take off your garment. Do not do this in the morning, because cream makes the sleeve or stocking difficult to put on.

If you have been fitted with a garment and you notice a change in sensation, the garment may be too tight. Signs of this can be:

  • numbness
  • pins and needles
  • pain
  • a change of colour of your fingers or toes.

If you have any of these, remove the garment straight away and contact your lymphoedema specialist for advice. It is important that you are properly measured and fitted to prevent this happening.

When not to use compression garments

There are some situations when you should not wear compression garments. You should avoid wearing one if:

  • the skin is fragile or damaged
  • the skin is pitted, folded or leaking lymph fluid
  • you have cellulitis in the area.

Using compression garments incorrectly can harm you. It also means they will not help the swelling reduce. The material can form tight bands across the skin and even damage it. If you are unsure, ask your lymphoedema specialist for advice.

If you have been fitted with a garment and you notice a change in sensation, the garment may be too tight. Signs of this can be:

  • numbness
  • pins and needles
  • pain
  • a change of colour of your fingers or toes.

If you have any of these, remove the garment straight away and contact your lymphoedema specialist for advice. It is important that you are properly measured and fitted to prevent this happening.

Compression bandages and pumps

Rarely, your arm or leg can get very swollen or change a lot in shape, making it difficult to fit a compression garment. Or your skin may become fragile from putting on and removing the garment.

To reduce the swelling and improve the shape, you may have special multi-layer compression bandages with padding. A lymphoedema specialist will usually put the bandages on every 1 to 2 days. After a few weeks of bandaging, it may be possible to fit a compression sleeve or stocking.

Sometimes, your lymphoedema specialist may ask you to use a compression pump to treat lymphoedema in a limb. When you turn the pump on, the sleeve slowly inflates and deflates. You can do this at home and your lymphoedema specialist can give you more information.

Before using the pump, it is important to drain lymph fluid from these areas using lymphatic drainage.

Compression garment FAQs

  • When should I wear my compression garment?

    It is important to wear your compression garment all day. You can usually take it off at night, when you are lying down and resting.

  • What if my compression garment feels uncomfortable?

    If the garment feels very uncomfortable at first, you could try only wearing it when you are most active. In time you should find it more comfortable, and can increase the amount of time you wear it for. However, if you still are finding it difficult to wear, ask your lymphoedema specialist to check it fits correctly.

  • How many compression garments will I get?

    You will get at least two garments, so you can have one in the wash while you wear the other. Follow the washing instructions on the garment. The garments usually last longer if you wash them by hand rather than in a washing machine.

  • How long should each compression garment last?

    Each garment should last 3 to 6 months, if you are wearing them every day. So your two garments usually last 6 to 12 months before they need replacing. Your lymphoedema specialist will need to measure you again before you get replacements.

  • What do I do if I lose of gain weight?

    If your weight changes, your lymphoedema specialist may need to measure you again for a new garment. If your compression garment is too loose, it will not control swelling. And if it is too tight, it will restrict blood flow.

  • Do I need to wear the garments in hot weather?

    It is often uncomfortable to wear garments in hot weather. Some manufacturers produce cotton-rich garments. These can be helpful in the summer months, and also for people who have skin allergies.You can cool down your garments by putting the spare one in a plastic bag in the fridge (not freezer).

    It can also help to spray cool water from a spray bottle, over the garment while wearing it. If wearing the garment in hot weather is still too uncomfortable, talk to your lymphoedema specialist. They may have other suggestions to help you.

  • Do I need to wear the garment when travelling over a long distance?

    When travelling a long distance, especially by plane, make sure you wear your compression garment. You need to do this a few hours before your journey, during the whole journey itself and for some hours afterwards.

 

 

How we can help

Macmillan Grants

If you have cancer, you may be able to get a Macmillan Grant to help with the extra costs of cancer. Find out who can apply and how to access our grants.

0808 808 00 00
Every day 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
Every day 8am - 8pm
Online community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.