Although lymphedema has been observed for centuries, until recently little was understood about the disease. Only in the past 10 to 15 years have clinicians begun to seriously focus on its causes and treatment.
Compression pumps are increasingly recognized as an effective treatment for lymphedema. The compression pump system consists of an air pump and an appliance (sleeve) that fits over the affected extremity. Air pressure is applied to the appliance, which in turn applies pressure to the extremity. A basic pump applies uniform pressure over the entire extremity. The high-quality devices consist of a pump and an appliance with three or more segments that apply sequential pressure along the extremity, distally to proximally (from the hand or foot toward the torso).
Since lymphatic pressure is greater distally (in the hand or foot) than it is proximally (near the torso), the preferred method of compression therapy mimics the different pressures that are a normal part of a healthy lymphatic system. This is accomplished by means of a pump that applies gradient pressure to the segmented appliance, putting more pressure on the hand or foot and less pressure near the torso.
This type of system creates a gentle massaging action, moving the accumulated fluid from the affected extremities back into the body, where it can be naturally eliminated. Pressure and the subsequent effectiveness of the treatment can be gradually increased as the patient becomes more tolerant.
These devices are low in cost, lightweight, quiet, comfortable, and easy to use for home therapy. Because of their comfort and ease of use, patient compliance is very high. Gradient pump systems are a cost-effective way to treat lymphedema and venous insufficiency.
Compression therapy is also extremely effective in curing decubitus ulcers that occur on the lower extremities.