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What are Lymphedema Bandages?

By Jerry Renshaw
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lymphedema is a condition where lymphatic fluid accumulates under the skin due to injury, blockage, or compromise. This painful condition can be the result of cancer surgery, infection, or parasitic disease. While treatment can involve surgery, laser treatment, or massage, lymphedema bandages are one of the most popular approaches. These bandages apply pressure to the affected area, thereby encouraging the fluid to disperse into the body.

Generally, lymphedema bandages have the advantage of being non-invasive, inexpensive, and easy to apply. Short-stretch bandages are usually preferable to long-stretch bandages, such as Ace™ bandages that are used to wrap sprains or other soft-tissue injuries. Lymphedema bandages typically need to provide an even amount of tension and pressure over the affected area. Long-stretch bandages are not well suited for this and may actually act as a tourniquet and impair circulation.

Short-stretch lymphedema bandages typically will make the lymph vessels work harder during the course of everyday activity. This extra pressure encourages flow of lymphatic fluid, disperses it from the affected area, and softens skin and tissue that has been hardened by edema. The simplicity and effectiveness of short-stretch bandages are what make them a popular choice for lymphedema treatment. They generally are comfortable for long-term wear and do not have to be removed overnight, which is something that typically needs to be done with long-stretch Ace™-style bandages.

A treatment approach that is similar to lymphedema bandages is compression garments. Leggings, underwear, shirts, and other compression garments often are available off-the-rack and ready to wear. Other compression garments can be custom-fit but the general idea is the same as that of a short-stretch lymphedema bandage — applying even, gentle tension and pressure across the edema to encourage the flow and dispersion of lymphatic fluid.

Another advantage of short-stretch lymphedema bandages is the fact that they will relax during periods of inactivity. This characteristic is called "resting pressure" and makes a short-stretch bandage much more comfortable for the wearer. In contrast, the short-stretch bandage is much more resistant to stretching during activity or internal muscle contraction, which is referred to as "working pressure." Lymphedema bandages of this style usually are applied with gauze or padding underneath and several layers of the bandage with clips or tape used to keep the bandage in place.

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