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What are Compression Garments?

Compression garments are pieces of clothing that apply gentle but firm pressure to specific areas of the body. They are typically made from elastic materials like nylon and elastane, and come in a variety of forms like socks, tights, sleeves, vests or tops.

Why are Compression Garments Needed?

There are many medical applications for Compression Garments, such as:

  • Reduced Swelling:
    Post-surgery or for chronic conditions like lymphoedema, and lipo-lymphoedema, compression garments help control swelling by applying gentle pressure. This pushes fluid away from the limb and back towards the body's core, reducing swelling and discomfort. Conditions such as lipoedema require compression to be worn in hot, humid weather to control foot/leg swelling.

    Breast cancer surgeries often include removal of lymph nodes causing delayed onset of lymphoedema symptoms and need to be managed and controlled as soon as possible with adequate and well fitted compression garments, usually an arm but sometimes this affects the chest area too. There are various garments available.

    Genital cancer surgeries often leave the patient with extremely uncomfortable swelling. There are compression garments available for this.

    Head/Neck Cancer surgeries also leave the patient with swelling, causing discomfort. Again, there are compression garments available for this.
  • Improved Circulation:
    Compression can promote better blood circulation, especially in the legs. This can be beneficial for people who suffer from poor circulation, or intermittent swollen feet, lower legs or full legs (caused by being seated for long periods with little movement, standing on your feet for long periods (therapists, hairdressers), or long-distance flights causing swollen feet/ankles.
  • Pain Management
    The snug fit of compression garments can provide a feeling of security and support, which can help to manage pain, particularly after injuries or surgery (medical and/or cosmetic).

Compression Garments and Lymphoedema

Compression garments are a key part of managing lymphoedema, a condition that causes swelling in a part of the body, usually the arms or leg and it works by applying gentle pressure to the affected arm or leg (or area) which helps to:

  • Reduce and control swelling
  • Improve circulation
  • Prevent further fluid build-up
  • Promote lymph drainage
  • Improve Quality of Life

There are different types of compression garments available, including sleeves, stockings, tights, and wraps. The type of garment you will need will depend on the severity of your lymphoedema and the location of the swelling.

It is important to get compression garments that are fitted properly by a Lymphoedema Therapist, or a Lymphoedema Nurse. This is because garments that are too loose will not be effective, and garments that are too tight can be uncomfortable and may even damage your skin. The type of material and the style of garment is also very important.

If you have lymphoedema, you will likely need to wear compression garments for life. It is therefore extremely important that they are comfortable and that the garment achieves the goal of reducing swelling and improving your quality of life. Compression can be a remarkably effective way to manage the condition, along with self-Lymphatic Drainage exercises at home, a good skincare routine and regular activity.

Compression Garments and Lipoedema

Lipoedema is a chronic condition that causes abnormal fat deposition, typically in the legs, but in the arms too. It can lead to pain, swelling, and difficulty moving. Compression garments can be a key part of managing lipoedema symptoms in some cases.

Here are ways compression garments can help lipoedema patients:

  • Reduce swelling: Compression garments apply gentle pressure to the limbs, which helps to move excess fluid out of the tissues. This can reduce swelling and improve circulation.
  • Manage pain: Swelling and inflammation can contribute to pain in people with lipoedema. Compression garments can help to reduce both swelling and inflammation, which can lead to pain relief.
  • Improve mobility: Swelling and pain can make it difficult to move around. Compression garments help to improve mobility by reducing swelling and easing aches and pains particularly in the lower torso.
  • Lymphatic drainage: In the later stages of Lipoedema, the lymphatic system can be come compromised. Compression garments can help to improve lymphatic drainage by applying pressure to the limbs.
  • Improved circulation: Reducing, controlling, improving thread or spider veins in the legs, commonly found in Lipoedema.

It is important to note that compression garments are not a cure for lipoedema, but they can be a very effective way to manage the symptoms. If you have lipoedema, talk to your Lymphoedema/Lipoedema Therapist or Nurse about whether compression garments are right for you.

Compression Garments for Post Cosmetic Surgery

Compression garments are a crucial part of recovery after many cosmetic surgery procedures. They apply gentle, constant pressure to the surgical site, which can offer a number of benefits, including:

  • Reduced swelling: Compression helps to minimize fluid buildup after surgery, which can lead to swelling and discomfort.
  • Improved circulation: Compression can improve blood flow to the surgical site, which can promote healing and reduce bruising.
  • Reduced pain: Compression can help to stabilize the surgical site and reduce pain.
  • Improved contour: Compression can help the skin conform to the new underlying tissues, which can lead to a smoother, more sculpted appearance.
  • Reduced risk of infection: Compression garments can help to keep the surgical site clean and protected.

Your surgeon will typically recommend that you wear a compression garment for a specific period of time after surgery. The exact duration will vary depending on the type of procedure you had, but it is typically for a few weeks to a few months.

Here are some things to keep in mind when wearing a compression garment:

  • You must wear the garment as directed by your surgeon, typically 24 hours a day except for when showering or bathing.
  • Let your surgeon know if you experience any pain, discomfort, or difficulty breathing while wearing the garment.
  • Check with your MLD Therapist that you are wearing it correctly, and that it fits you correctly. You may need to buy a smaller size after two or three weeks.
  • Surgeons and Surgical Teams are not always the experts when it comes to post surgical compression – if there are any concerns speak to your MLD Therapist, who should have good experience and knowledge in this area.

The Difference Between ‘Off the Shelf’ and ‘Made to Measure’

The main difference between off-the-shelf and made-to-measure compression garments comes down to fit and customization. Here's a breakdown:

Off-the-Shelf (ready-made) Compression

  • Fit: These garments come in standard sizes based on measurements like ankle, calf, and thigh circumference. They may not perfectly conform to your body shape, potentially leading to bunching or loose areas.
  • Customization: Limited options. You'll typically choose from a range of sizes and compression classes (strength of squeeze). Material options are also generally more limited.
  • Pros: Affordable, readily available, and easy to find in drugstores or online retailers.
  • Cons: May not provide optimal compression due to imperfect fit, limited material choices for sensitive skin, and may not be ideal for unusual body shapes.

Made-to-Measure (bespoke and specific to you) Compression

  • Fit: A medical professional will take precise measurements of your body to ensure a perfect fit. This is crucial for targeted compression and maximum effectiveness.
  • Customization: Highly customizable. You can choose the compression class, material (including options for sensitive skin), and features like reinforced areas or open toes.
  • Pros: Provides the most precise and effective compression, more comfortable wear, and caters to specific needs and body shapes.
  • Cons: More expensive than off-the-shelf options, requires a consultation and fitting process, and may take longer to obtain.

Choosing the Right Option:

  • For mild conditions or preventative wear, off-the-shelf compression might be sufficient.
  • For moderate to severe conditions, where optimal fit and targeted compression are crucial, consider made-to-measure garments.
  • Consult a healthcare professional to determine the right type of compression for your needs. They can advise you on compression class, fit, and whether off-the-shelf or made-to-measure is best for you.

Donning and Doffing Aids (getting the compression garments on, and off)

The higher the class of compression, the more difficult it can be to get the garment on – and sometimes getting it off again too.

There are aids available that will help to make this task much easier. These are available in different shapes and sizes from various compression companies and are available on prescription, or direct purchase.

Do’s and Don’ts when wearing Compression Garments


  • Do put on your compression garments first thing in the morning. This is when your legs/arms are least swollen, and it will be easiest to put them on.
  • Do make sure your skin is dry before putting on your compression garments. Lotion/creams can make them much harder to put on.
  • Do trim your toenails and fingernails to avoid snagging your compression garments. A snag can lead to a run or tear, which means you’ll need to replace them sooner. This also creates risk of snagging your skin and causing a bleed, or a leg ulcer.
  • Do wear rubber gloves when putting on compression stockings. This will give you a much better grip and makes it easier to get them on.
  • Do sit down when putting on your compression garments. This will help you apply even pressure and avoid bunching of material behind the knee.
  • Do wash your compression garments daily, if possible, in warm, soapy water and allow them to air dry. Don’t put them in the dryer, as this can damage the fibers.
  • Do wear socks, slippers, or shoes over your compression stockings to protect them from snags and tears.


  • Don't fold or roll down the top of your compression garments. This can create a tight band around your leg and cut off your circulation.
  • Don't wear ripped or torn compression garments. These won’t provide the level of compression you need and could irritate your skin.  Book a re-measure for new garments.
  • Don't wear compression garments that are too tight or too loose. If they are too tight, they could cut off your circulation. If they are too loose, they won’t be effective. If you are unsure about the right size, talk to your doctor.
  • Don’t forget – you should be. -measured every six months in case there is an increase or decrease in size. This may mean you need new garments.

A Little Note

The aim for any Lymphoedema Therapist is to reduce your swelling as much as possible with continued use of compression garments effectively reducing the swelling to a point where your leg or arm (as an example) is looking as normal as possible. Compression may need to be continued for life in Lymphoedema cases, but with the correct treatment and guidelines, your quality of life can be almost normal.

If your compression does not feel right, or you are struggling to put it on, please talk to your Therapist or Practice Nurse so that they can help you find a different garment or help you find a way to make it easier to don and doff the garment.

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