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When the lymphatic system is blocked or damaged, fluid can build up around soft tissues in the body. This typically happens in the arms and legs and can be caused by other health problems including things like cancer and cellulitis. However, the condition can be genetic.
There are several ways that you might manage lymphedema, including through the use of a lymphedema pump. This guide aims to provide you with detailed information on choosing the right pump for your needs.
What is a Lymphedema Pump?
A lymphedema pump is a device used in the treatment of lymphedema. You may sometimes hear these pumps being called pneumatic compression devices or sequential compression devices.
They are designed to reduce swelling in the affected area by applying pressure which forces the fluid into the bloodstream to be redistributed around the body.
The pump features a compression wrap which fills with air which is why they are sometimes called pneumatic compression devices (PCD). You would normally see a physical therapist for this type of treatment, although it is possible to buy a device for use at home.
What is a Lymphedema Pump Used for?
Lymphedema pumps are a common treatment for lymphedema. However, since lymphedema and cellulitis are often connected, it’s useful to know that studies have shown a reduction in the rate of cellulitis episodes in patients that have been treated with a PCD.
While lymphedema is most common in the arms and legs, it can also occur in other parts of the body including the neck, genitals, and chest. As such, different pumps are available for different parts of the body.
These pumps are not only used to treat patients with lymphedema. They are also often used to improve blood flow where there may be a risk of blood clots, particularly in a hospital environment. It’s very common for patients whose activity is limited when recovering from surgery and injury.
As well as encouraging the distribution of fluid and stimulating blood flow, the use of a PCD can decrease pain associated with lymphedema.
Are There Any Side Effects to Using Pneumatic Compression Devices?
While a lymphedema pump may provide you with a lot of benefits, there are some things to keep in mind. There are a few side effects that may make this treatment unsuitable for some patients or may mean that you have to cease treatment and find alternative methods.
- When the sleeve is applied, you may have a warm or tingling sensation. However, this should not feel painful. If you experience any pain, you should stop using the pump immediately.
- Patients with infections or severe inflammation should avoid this type of treatment.
- Sometimes, the use of a lymphedema pump can cause skin irritation, such as redness or skin breakdown.
- In some cases, the treatment can cause temporary or permanent nerve damage.
- Owing to the pressure used in the treatment, it is possible to develop a pressure injury or compartment syndrome, which should be treated as a medical emergency.
How Often Should You Use a Lymphedema Pump?
It’s important not to go over the top when using any kind of physical therapy. When it comes to using a lymphedema pump, you’ll start your therapy with 3 one hour sessions each day. However, once you have initially encouraged fluid redistribution, you’ll generally only need a single one-hour session every day.
With that in mind, it is essential to follow the advice of your doctor as your care plan may deviate away from this general information. Moreover, you should not suddenly stop using the pump without consulting your physician as this can exacerbate conditions like swelling.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Lymphedema Pump
If you are going to purchase a lymphedema pump for home use, then there are certain factors that you must take into consideration. By doing this, you will ensure that you get the right type of pump for your personal needs.
A lymphedema pump works by using compression, but there are two different types of compression to choose between. These are sequential and intermittent.
An intermittent pressure system is the most common on modern PCDs and works on a series of inflation and deflation cycles that can be set by the users.
Sequential pressure isn’t typically seen on home devices and is usually reserved for clinical studies. This type of pressure maintains a distal hold throughout the cycle which prevents any fluid from flowing back to the original site. The sleeve will still inflate and deflate, which simulates the natural flow of fluid through the body.
Your lymphedema pump sleeve will feature a number of air chambers. Generally speaking, those with multiple chambers are considered to be more effective as this better enables the sleeve to perform a ‘milking’ action.
Sleeves with a single chamber behave more like a tourniquet when applying pressure which isn’t deemed to be as effective.
While it is still necessary to do more research to determine the optimal number of chambers, most home pumps will have around five.
The amount of pressure needed will vary from person to person depending on how severe the lymphedema is. This is why it’s important to check the pressure range of the device and look at whether the pressure can be adjusted.
As with the number of chambers, there isn’t any guidance on the perfect pressure, so it’s important to work closely with your physician to determine what is right for you.
The pressure of a lymphedema pump is measured in the same way as blood pressure, using millimetres of mercury (mmHg.) Normally, anything between 25 – 50 mmHg at the peak of the inflation should be suitable for most people. Doctors may recommend using slightly higher pressure for the lower limbs than they would for the arms. Again, we must reiterate that only your own physician will be able to provide tailored advice for your needs.
The size of the sleeve will depend on the area of the body you are treating. You’ll notice that different pumps come in different sizes designed for the arms, legs, and other body parts.
It’s also important to look at the fit of the sleeve as some designs may affect function. For example, if you have particularly large legs, then you may find that a cuffed sleeve is uncomfortable. On the other hand, this design may not deliver the correct amount of pressure for people with very small legs.
Segmented & Non-Segmented Garment Sleeves
Segmented sleeves are those with multiple chambers, whereas non segmented sleeves are those with a single chamber. The key difference here is how the sleeve works when pressure is applied.
For segmented sleeves, there will be varying but continual pressure, whereas with a non-segmented sleeve, there is constant fixed pressure all over the treatment area. Segmented sleeves normally begin by applying pressure at the distal end and gradually moving this pressure along the affected area.
Best Lymphedema Pumps
Choosing the best lymphedema pump based on the features is a wise way to shop. However, if you’re having trouble finding the right pump, our list of some of the best might point you in the right direction.
1. Rapid Reboot Pneumatic Compression Device
The Rapid Reboot PCD is great for home use because of how easy it is to use and how quietly it operates. The controls are so simple and you have a choice of ten preset pressures making this a very versatile piece of equipment.
You’ll also notice that the device comes with a timer and three preset programs, so you don’t have to worry about timing the session yourself. Simply set everything up and sit back and relax while the rapid Reboot PCD does all the work for you.
This pump uses sequential pressure over four chambers, so it’s great for encouraging the movement of lymphatic fluid around the body. But this isn’t the only use for this machine since it’s also perfect for speeding up recovery from athletic injuries and improving circulation.
The Rapid Reboot is extremely well made and the sleeve fabric does feel comfortable on the skin. However, a lot of people have noted that the sleeve can be a little tricky to put on. That said, once you’ve got it in place, it’s secured using a strong zipper which gives you peace of mind that it isn’t going to shift during use.
2. Doctor Life Pneumatic Compression Device
If you are looking for a good quality lymphedema pump for your arm then the Doctor Life PCD is well worth considering. This machine is ideal for people on the go since it is incredibly compact and lightweight at just 4.4 lbs (2 kg). If you travel regularly, everything fits into the carry case and you’re good to go.
This four chamber device comes with adjustable pressure, which you can alter using a dial on the control panel. The variety in terms of pressure is excellent, with the option to go up to 240mmHG, although this is far beyond what most physical therapists would recommend. There are also three preset programs of 10, 20 or 30 minutes which can be set using the simple buttons on the controller. If you want something that is easy to use, this is an excellent option.
The Doctor Life PCD benefits from comfortable and durable sleeve material. However, we couldn’t help but notice that it only comes in one size. For average sized people, this won’t be an issue, but if you’re particularly large or small, the sleeve may not fit correctly. That said, there is an option to buy an extender but no option to make the sleeve any smaller.
3. DSMAREF Pneumatic Compression Device
For people who are looking for the complete package, the DSMAREF pneumatic compression device has it all. It comes with the machine, hoses and three sleeves for the leg, arm and waist. If you have problems with lymphedema in various locations around the body or simply want a way to boost your circulation and reduce pain, this comprehensive kit might be right for you.
Yes, it is slightly more expensive, but that’s because of its versatility. Also note that the sleeves come in a choice of sizes ranging between large and 2 XL. That said, there have been many reports that the large is quite small, so it’s worth checking the sizing before you buy.
The DSMAREF comes with a two year warranty which is great for your peace of mind. But it’s unlikely that you’ll need it as this is a very well performing piece of equipment. There are two pressure modes; one for pain relief and one for relaxation as well as an easy to use control panel. However, we should point out that the display is a little more complicated than some of the other devices we have looked at.
The sleeves are super comfortable and made from durable materials, so this is something that you’ll get a lot of use out of. What’s more, when you’re on the go, everything fits neatly into the included carry bag.