Certified wound, ostomy and continence nurses see people with wounds of many different sizes and types. One common slow-healing wound is found on the lower legs of people with disease of their veins. Compression therapy helps improve the circulation of blood through your body and refers to the wearing of special elasticized compression stockings or boots that apply graduated pressure to the lower legs. Graduated pressure means that there is a certain amount of pressure at the ankle which decreases as the stocking goes up the leg. The pumping action of the calf muscles during normal walking combines with the graduated pressure of compression therapy to help circulate blood back to the heart.
Why is compression therapy important?
Good circulation is important for healing wounds. When the circulation in the lower legs is not working well, it can take wounds longer to heal because the new tissue in the healing wound does not receive enough oxygen or nutrients to complete the healing process.
Is compression therapy right for me?
There are two types of vessels that blood flows through, arteries and veins. Occasionally a leg wound is slow to heal because the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the legs contain a buildup of plaque that keeps the oxygenated blood from getting to the wound. If your slow healing is caused by artery disease, compression therapy will not work for you. It would only squeeze the arteries even more and stop blood from flowing through them. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you think you need compression therapy. Swollen legs or wounds that do not heal due to disease of the veins can be helped by various types of compression therapy.
What kinds of compression therapies are there?
One kind of compression therapy is a paste and elastic bandage called an Unna boot that is often used for patients who can walk. The salve in the paste helps soothe the wound and the elastic compression squeezes fluid back into the veins where it can get back to the heart. These boots are applied by a specially-trained nurse. They must be kept dry and are usually changed weekly.
Patients may benefit from other types of elastic or compression stockings that provide appropriate pressure as determined by your doctor or nurse. Sometimes these stockings can be put on like a sock, other times they are applied with Velcro wraps that tighten the elastic around the calf muscles. Compression stockings come in a variety of sizes and colors and can even be stylish. There are devices that can help with putting them on and insurance will often cover their cost. The most effective stocking for you can be prescribed by your doctor and should be fitted by a trained professional. It is important to note that if your doctor has prescribed compression therapy, you should wear your compression every day for best results!
You can make an appointment with one of our local certified wound ostomy nurses by calling the Wound Healing Center, a department of Pen Bay Medical Center. For more information about our patient-centered team approach to diagnose, treat and provide wound and ostomy care, please call 593-5777 or visit www.pbmc.org/woundcare.
Karen Pier, RN, BS, is a wound, ostomy and continence nurse at Pen Bay’s Wound Healing Cent