Compression therapy unit - Dr. Zatrok’s blog

Compression therapy unit

What is it For? How can you choose the right type?

A compression therapy unit is also known as air pressure or air wave device. These names refer to the same device. You can also find it under these names: pressotherapy unit, intermittent compression therapy unit or rarely, lymphatic massage machine. They can also be used in medical treatment rooms, cosmetic-beauty practices and for home treatment. In this article, I am writing about what you should know before buying a lymphatic massage machine. 

The name “lymphatic massage machine” is misleading, because the device can be used not only by lymphatic patients, but in many conditions!

compression therapy unit for home use

The compression therapy unit is not for pressing the muscles deeply, it is not a substitute for the sports masseur! If you prefer to have your muscles worked on powerfully, go to a masseur!

This device is for supporting and improving the blood and lymphatic circulations!

Application modes of the compression therapy unit

  • for the treatment of the primary, i.e. congenital form of lymphoedema (lymphatic congestion)
  • for symptomatic treatment of the secondary, i.e., acquired form of lymphoedema. This includes, but is not limited to, the treatment of arm swelling after breast cancer removal.
  • for the symptomatic treatment of lipoedema (Lip- fat, oedema- swelling)
  • to reduce the symptoms of lower limb varicose vein insufficiency
  • to reduce varicose vein complaints during pregnancy
  • for the prevention of deep vein thrombosis (for example, in the case of a permanently bedridden patient), or thrombosis relapse
  • for the treatment of a residual condition after thrombosis (post-thrombotic syndrome, PTS)
  • to improve muscle regeneration (recovery) in athletes

What is a compression therapy unit?

This is actually an air compressor. In accordance with the programming, it blows air into the air chambers of the treatment cuffs, which you connected to the unit. You can control the pressure very precisely in line with the requirements of the medical treatment. In particular, it is important that you can inflate each chamber separately, individually or jointly. The pressure, which the inflated air chamber exerts, creates the beneficial effect, i.e., the displacement and diversion of blood and lymph.

Treatment cuffs

You can place the treatment cuffs on the legs, arms and trunk, depending on which part of the body you want to treat. In this figure you can see how many types of cuffs you can choose from – of course not all manufacturers recommend all of these.

Choose a cuff depending on what symptoms you have.

cuff varioations for compression therapy unit

Arm cuff

Lymphoedema of the arm is usually unilateral, meaning you may need only one cuff. If you are buying the device as an athlete to improve muscle regeneration, it is worth buying 2 arm cuffs so that you can treat both arms at the same time. The arm cuff has a Velcro strap that allows you to secure it under your opposite armpit.

Half-length leg cuff

This approximately knee-length cuff is designed specifically for the treatment of the condition occurring after thrombosis (post-thrombotic syndrome). You can start using it 3-4 months after thrombosis, in order to treat the residual symptoms of thrombosis. You should use this cuff in lymphoedema only if the swelling affects the foot, and spreads upwards, at most to the ankle. If it spreads higher than this level, you will need a longer cuff.

Thigh-high leg cuff

This cuff is excellent for the treatment of leg lymphoedema, varicosity or post-thrombotic condition. It is suitable for athletes to improve muscle regeneration.

Depending on whether your oedema affects one leg or both of your legs, you can buy only one piece of cuff, or of course, a pair of cuffs. If the “base” sizes are not appropriate, the size/circumference of the leg sleeve (leg cuff) can be “enlarged” with the help of the extensions (extension zippers).

Waist cuff (abdominal band)

Buy this type of cuff if your lymphoedema extends all the way to your thighs. In this case, in addition to your feet, your also have to treat your trunk. You have to put on the waist cuff like a belt, starting from the upper edge of the leg sleeve. People use it to treat cellulite / orange peel skin – although for this purpose, a short pant cuff is more effective.

Short pant cuff

It makes the treatment of the upper thigh, buttocks and lower abdomen more effective. It is an optimal supplementary tool for beauty treatments, especially in the treatment of cellulite, orange peel skin. You can also apply it after (ultrasonic) cavitation therapy.

Cuff combinations

In some cases, it may be necessary to combine the cuffs, i.e., use multiple cuffs at the same time. You should not use these combinations in cases of heart failure, post-infarction condition, cardiomyopathy, or high blood pressure (despite treatment).

Waist and leg cuffs

One can use them in lymphatic and fatty oedemas (lymphoedema and lipoedema). Moreover, these are suitable also for cosmetic treatments (cellulite, orange peel skin therapies, and enhancing the effect of cavitation treatment). This combination is cheaper but somewhat less effective than the next one.

Short pant and leg cuffs

It’s an optimal combination for cosmetic treatments (cellulite, orange peel skin, after cavitation), for lymphoedema treatment (extending to the thighs and hips). Moreover, it’s optimal for the management of lipoedema.

It is important to choose the right cuff size. If the cuff is too large, the treatment effect may be lacking or smaller. Measure your wrist-elbow-upper arm, ankle-lower leg-knee-thigh, and abdomen-waist-hip circumferences and choose a cuff size accordingly.

cuff combinations for compression therapy unit

Number and significance of air compartments

Based on the number of compartments in the cuff, there are 4, 6, and 12 air compartment tools. In this figure, you can compare the 4-5 and 12 air chamber leg cuffs.

cuff sections for compression therapy unit

With multi-compartment devices, the area the unit inflates simultaneously is smaller, so you can control the treatment more finely and precisely. The more the air compartments, the faster the desired effect can be achieved. However, with an increase in the number of compartments, the prices of the control unit and the cuffs are rising sharply. And, of course, the use and set up of the device is getting more and more complicated.

Treatment programs

The simplest home appliances usually provide a single “program”. The control unit inflates the cuff compartments from the bottom upwards. In case of a leg cuff it inflates first the compartment at the ankle, then the lower leg, later the knee, finally the thigh compartment. The pressure is the same in all air compartments. In such a device, you can set only the operating pressure and the duration of treatment. We can use these simple devices successfully also for the treatment of mild oedema, varicose complaints, and post-thrombotic conditions.

If your oedema is more severe and older, reappears quickly, or there are complications (dripping, ulcers), too, please choose a superior level device. Try to use a more high-tech machine. They are more efficient than the basic devices, but their prices are also higher.

Mid-level compression therapy units already provide multiple inflation programs, however, still, you can set the same pressure on them.

The most effective devices are those in which you can adjust the treatment cuff pressure for each air compartment. Moreover, you can also control the pressure time and the length of the rest periods between the inflation cycles in these compression therapy units. According to medical studies, it provides a more effective lymphoedema treatment if the pressure in the lower air compartments is higher than in the upper ones. Similarly, it is of the same importance that the pressure time (pressure holding time) be adjustable so that a full cycle lasts for at least 45 seconds.

How often can you use these compression therapy units?

You can apply the mechanical lymphatic massage if necessary. This means that as soon as you feel the tension, swelling, treat it as soon as possible.

If you wait for it to harden (tissues are under high tension), swell, it will be much harder to fight it back!

Depending on how quickly the swelling comes back, you can treat it more than once a day! However, the total daily treatment time should not exceed 120 minutes.

Doctors recommend more frequent and short treatments rather than one long session.

Choosing the right treatment pressure

I have written about this before: a lymphatic massage machine is for improving the lymph and blood circulation. Lymphatic massage is not a substitute for sports massage, that is, you should not set a strong, painful pressure mode. The purpose of lymphatic massage is to improve and stimulate venous and lymphatic circulation. This requires the application of a low pressure mode.

According to most medical studies, it is sufficient to apply a pressure range between 20 and 60 mmHg during the lymphatic massage treatment session. Obviously, the lower the pressure you apply, the longer it takes to achieve the effect. (If you drive the car at a speed of 60 km/h, you will reach your destination more slowly than if you were driving at a speed of 120 km/h)

With a high pressure above 100 mmHg you will worsen your condition, and you will make your lymphoedema unmanageable over time!

In addition, too high a pressure can put a strain on your heart. So be especially careful in case of heart disease, high blood pressure, thus a pressure of less than 60 mmHg is recommended. This low pressure range is also effective in lymphoedema!

Optimal settings

If your device is capable of doing so, adjust the cuff pressure so that the pressure in the lower air compartment is higher and decreases upwards. The pressure value per air chamber pattern should be of 60-50-50-40 mmHg (foot-calf-knee-thigh) for 4 air chamber cuffs, while 60-60-50-50-40-40 when using 6 air chamber cuffs.

The treatment time should be 20 to 30 minutes at a time. In general, you can achieve a reduction in swelling/oedema in 10-15 days.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with it anymore! The swelling returns, so you need to use the lymphatic massage machine daily for the rest of your life. This will help you reduce swelling and avoid constant complaints.

Which lymphatic massage machine to choose?

Which aspects influence my choice?

The main differences between the machines are in the number of the air compartments, the fineness of the pressure control and the durability of the device.

The number of air compartments

The area the machine is capable to squeeze at one time depends on the number of air chambers in the treatment cuff. The more air compartments a cuff consists of, the more finely the lymph can be guided. More precise treatment provides results with a shorter treatment time.

The fineness of pressure control

The compressors of cheap machines produce the very same pressure in each air compartment. Better quality devices are able to set different pressures in each air compartment. This is especially important in the treatment of the lower extremities. The treatment is more effective if a so-called pressure gradient can be set, that is to say, when the pressure is higher in the foot than when going upwards. This allows the lymph to flow faster.

The pressure sensor controls the programs of cheap machines. The compressor pumps air into the air compartment and as soon as the set pressure is reached, it stops and starts pumping the next compartment. In the case of more precise machines, when the pressure reaches the set value, the device maintains the pressure for a set period of time. This gives more time for the lymph to move forward. Machines with adjustable pressure time provide more efficient handling.

Machine weight, operation time

Some of the devices, especially the cheaper, 4-chamber ones are designed for home use, and for 1-2 hours of treatment per day. They usually weigh 2-3 kg and you can even take them on a trip. The 6-12 or more air-chamber appliances are usually for hospital, and outpatient clinical use. They can operate in a continuous operation for up to 12-16 hours a day. They are significantly larger in size, weighing 10kg or more.

My advice

If you can afford it (financially), choose a compression therapy unit using 6 or more air chambers cuffs.

I strongly believe that a better quality, 4-air chamber compression therapy unit is mostly completely suitable for home, maintenance treatment.

I recommend purchasing a simple and inexpensive device when the symptoms are mild and there are no complications yet. For the elderly, who have difficulty managing technological devices, even the simplest machine is better than leaving the oedema untreated.

In case of significant overweight, moderate or severe oedema, complications like ulcer, the basic-level equipment is not sufficient. In such cases, I recommend devices with more setting options and higher treatment precision. You should choose this also if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, as in such cases it’s very essential to treat with precisely set pressure.

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