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FAQs About Lymphedema Garments and Bandaging

Andrea Branas, MSE, MPT, CLT & Joy Cohn, PT, DPT, CLT
Good Shepherd Penn Partners

What types of bandages are used to treat lymphedema?

The bandages used during Complete Decongestive Therapy are called "short-stretch" bandages. They are made of 100% cotton. They look like "ACE™" bandages, but they are different. ACE™ bandages are made of elastic and cotton, while lymphedema bandages are 100% cotton.

Can I use ACE™ bandages for my lymphedema?

No – you should not use ACE™ bandages to treat lymphedema. The elastic in the ACE™ bandages will create a tourniquet effect on your limb, which may make your lymphedema worse.

Where can I get lymphedema bandages?

Your therapist should help you decide which bandages you need to order. There are many companies on the web who sell lymphedema products.

If I have swelling, can I purchase a garment?

If you have swelling, it is best to have a doctor, nurse or therapist examine you to determine whether you have lymphedema. If you have lymphedema, you should be seen by a Lymphedema Therapist to determine the best type of compression for you. Purchasing a garment without the help of a professional may lead to improper fitting and may potentially make your lymphedema worse.

Elastic garments are very uncomfortable if worn on a swollen limb, but very comfortable and prevent new swelling when worn after a limb has been treated and reduced in size.

When should I wear my garment?

You should wear your garment throughout the day. Put it on first thing on the morning, and remove in the evening as directed by your therapist.

Can I sleep with my garments?

Compression garments are NOT worn for sleeping at night. They can cause a tourniquet effect in bed and cause more swelling or limit blood flow. Compression garments are replaced by bandaging or specially made nighttime garments for sleeping.

When do I need to replace my garments?

Your compression garment MUST be replaced every 4-6 months. If have been measured by a professional and have no changes in swelling, you can order them directly from the manufacturer. If your body part has changed size, you will need to be remeasured for a new garment. Also, if this was your first garment, you should definitely be measured before ordering a new one.

How do I care for my garments?

Garments must be washed AT LEAST every other day. Sweating can cause rapid breakdown of the garment leading to a costly replacement if not washed often. Washing instructions are included with each garment. In general, hand OR machine wash with a mild detergent in warm water, then roll in a towel to squeeze out excess moisture (do not wring) and HANG TO DRY.

Use a mild liquid detergent like Ivory or Dreft (not detergents formulated to wash woolens). Some manufacturers make their own washing solutions as well. Garments dry better when hung in an airy location. Also, do not hang outside; sunlight may cause premature loss of garment stretch

What is the best way to put my garments on?

Household latex rubber gloves should be used to correctly and safely don your garment. The gloves protect the garments from pulls and snags caused by jewelry and fingernails. Gloves also allow you to 'smooth' or 'massage' the garment into place without excessive stretching or 'pinching and pulling'. Put the garment on in stages as you have been taught, small sections at a time.

To achieve a proper fit, align the fabric and seams so the lines run vertically and straight. DO NOT fold the garment over or let it roll. It is a common mistake to overstretch the garment when putting it on. If the garment is bunching up, use the gloves to spread the fabric down.

Can I use a moisturizer before putting my garment on?

Use skin moisturizer just prior to bandaging or after bathing and allow to absorb well. Do not use right before putting on your garment. Fabrics are less tolerant of all lotions and ointments. Use only a light dusting of cornstarch if needed to help the garment go on. Ointments with a petroleum base are not recommended as they can damage some elastic garments.

If you have trouble slipping your garment on despite a slight amount of cornstarch, there are other options. One simple option is a silicone 'fitting' solution called Alps, which is made by the Juzo Company. It is available via the Internet (just Google "ALPS") or from some dealers of medical equipment. Other options can be discussed with your therapist.

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