Guide to Compression Garments

LYMPHEDEMAlymphedema therapists

Lymphedema is a form of swelling that occurs when the lymphatic system cannot adequately drain fluid. Part of the standard treatment for lymphedema is to wear compression garments. Why would you need a guide to compression garments? Compression garments can vary significantly from compression classes to different fabrics to various shapes and sizes. Therefore, I’d like to provide some guidelines to help you decide which compression garment suits you. 

guide to compression garments GUIDE TO COMPRESSION GARMENTS

Compression garments help reduce the swelling caused by lymphedema by adding pressure to the affected area. The pressure helps the trapped lymphatic fluid to flow through the lymphatic system. The compression garment also acts as an extra force for the muscles to work against, allowing fluid to drain out of the area.

Compression garments come in all different shapes, styles, fabrics, colors, and patterns. Compression garments can be worn on almost any lymphedema-affected area of the body, including but not limited to arms, legs, hands, wrists, face, head, neck, and breasts.


When first choosing a compression garment, it is best to have the assistance of a medical professional. Most lymphedema therapists are qualified to measure for compression garments. The knowledge of compression garments and what works best for the different stages of lymphedema is part of the lymphedema therapist training. They will take accurate measurements to determine sizing. Furthermore, they will recommend types of compression depending on the severity of lymphedema and your ability to don and doff garments. measure for stockings

A Guide to Good Compression would look like this:

  • Fits snugly and comfortably
  • It is never painful
  • Covers the entire affected area
  • No baggy or lose areas


measuring compressionThe fabric of a compression garment can affect its firmness and pressure depending on the material. Long fabric tubes create circular knit compression garments. Circular knit fabrics are usually soft, stretchy, and smooth. Circular knit fabric can be thinner than other compression fabrics, lacking stiffness. The fabric may rest in skin creases and may roll at proximal ends. Therefore, this fabric does not work well for more severe lymphedema. This type of fabric generally has no seams and typically comes as ready-to-wear garments rather than custom-fitted.

On the other hand, a flat piece of fabric is knit to create a Flat-Knit Custom compression garment. They are then constructed and sewn into the desired shape. Flat knit compression fabric is generally thicker and stiffer than circular knit and studier than circular knit. A seam is required to construct the garment, which can be a weak point in the design. Flat-knit garments are particularly suited to larger and more complicated shapes.

Cut-and-sewn compression garments are stretch fabric cut and sewn into the required shape. The fabrics vary in stiffness, allowing them to be used for moderate and severe lymphedema. These garments often come with velcro closures, making donning and doffing easier. 


Different standards specify the firmness of classes of compression, which is determined by the pressure the fabric exerts and is measured in mmHg. These compression classes are gradient compression, meaning most compression is distal and decreases as it gets more proximal. Here are the most common classes of gradient compression. guide to compression garments

  • Compression Class 1 (20-30 mmHg)
  • Compression Class 2 (30-40 mmHg)
  • Compression Class 3 (40-50 mmHg)
  • Compression Class 4 (50-60 mmHg)

Patients with mild to moderate lymphedema usually opt for a Class 1 or 2 garment, whereas those with a more severe form of lymphedema typically choose Class 3 or 4 compression garments. I recommend going with the least amount of compression that is still effective. Heavier compression levels can be more difficult to don and doff and uncomfortable than a lighter one. Compliance is one of the keys to effective use of compression, and if the garment is uncomfortable, compliance can become an issue. 


caring for your compression garments Some compression garments may last longer, while others may wear out sooner. However, it is essential to note that the lifespan of a compression garment can vary depending on several factors, such as the quality of the material, the intensity of use, and individual care.

To prolong the lifespan of your compression garment, here are some tips:

1. Wash regularly: Washing your compression garment according to the manufacturer’s instructions helps to remove dirt, body oils, and sweat that can accumulate over time. Regular washing also helps to maintain its elasticity and prevent odor buildup.

2. Avoid excessive stretching: While compression garments are designed to be stretchy, avoid excessive pulling or stretching when putting them on or taking them off. This can lead to faster wear and tear, especially at the seams.

3. Alternate between two garments: Having two compression garments allows you to rotate them, giving each garment time to regain shape and elasticity between uses. This helps to extend the lifespan of both garments.

4. Protect from direct sunlight: Sun exposure can degrade the elasticity of compression garments over time. Whenever possible, avoid leaving your garment in direct sunlight for extended periods. Instead, store them in a cool, dry place when not in use.

5. Avoid using harsh chemicals: Some detergents or fabric softeners


Question min

Choosing compression for lymphedema can be challenging at times. Your lymphedema therapists have the knowledge and the expertise to help guide you in this area. However, lymphedema is not a one-size-fits-all type of condition, and sometimes, we have to try different garments to find the one that works best for your lifestyle and medical needs. 

At The Compression Closet, we want to work with you and your therapists to guide you into the best compression garments. If you have any questions, post below; I will happily answer. 

Disclaimer – This blog is for general information purposes only. Furthermore, the information contained in this blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Always consult a licensed healthcare professional for advice on your specific condition.

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