Lymphedema and Compression Sleeves – The Basics
Lymphedema is the swelling of tissue because of a lymphatic system malfunction. A healthy lymphatic system removes fluid, waste, viruses and bacteria from your body. If the system is damaged, the fluids and waste accumulate and the tissue swells. This can happen anywhere on the body, but it most often affects the arms and legs. There are two types of lymphedema, primary and secondary. Primary occurs on its own, secondary which accounts for about 95% of lymphedema cases, occurs because of damage to the lymph system, usually by disease, medication, or surgery. Most of our customers have lymphedema or are trying to prevent its occurrence, because lymph nodes were removed during breast surgery. Even when there aren’t any signs of the condition, women who have had breast surgery are encouraged to wear a compression sleeve on their arm as a preventative measure when engaged in activities that might trigger swelling, such as exercise and air travel.
Therapeutic compression sleeves, like stockings, have graduated compression, with the highest compression at the wrist that gradually decreases as it goes up the arm towards the axilla or armpit. If there is swelling in the wrist, hand, or fingers, a compression glove or gauntlet is worn in combination with the sleeve. There are even combination sleeves, that have a gauntlet knit-in. These eliminate the possibility of any overlap compression at the wrist. Most compression sleeves are seamless, having been knit in a circular fashion, woven on the same machines using the same nylon and spandex fibers as stockings.
Most compression sleeves have a top-band with dots of silicone on the inside. These grip the skin and keep the sleeve from sliding down during the day. Sleeves are also available with a shoulder strap to keep them in place, or “It Stays” body adhesive can be used with a plain knit top-band.
Sleeves come in 3 ready-to-wear compressions, 15-20, 20-30, and 30-40mmHg. The bigger the numbers, the greater the compression. If you’re wearing a sleeve as a preventative measure, and there aren’t any signs of lymphedema, your doctor will typically recommend 15-20mmHg or 20-30mmHg. If you already have lymphedema and are wearing a sleeve to control swelling, one of the higher compressions will most likely be prescribed.
In terms of fashion and comfort, compression sleeves have come a long way in the past 10 years. The color choices used to be beige and an uglier beige. Now there are companies that just make sleeves in prints and patterns. LympheDivas, a company founded by two young women fighting lymphedema as a result of breast cancer surgery, would not accept beige as the only option. They now turn out dozens of beautiful new patterns and prints every year. Juzo, another manufacturer of compression armsleeves, started their Dream Sleeve line about five years ago. Every Spring and Fall they introduce five new fashion-forward seasonal “Dream” colors that can be ordered as solids, or tie-dyed with a black or white background.
Athletes have recently embraced compression arm sleeves as a way to boost their performance. We are starting to see sportier styles for men as well as women. We expect that the variety of armsleeve options will continue to increase. BrightLife Direct will always be at the forefront offering you the latest in style and design with the assurance of true medical efficacy.
By: Pete@BrightLife Direct