What Is a Compression Bandage?

Compression bandages are often fitted with a gauze center.
A medical professional wrapping a person's knee with a compression bandage.
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  • Written By: Harriette Halepis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
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The term compression bandage can apply to many different types of bandages. A bandage is an material that is used to support a part of the body, or keep a medical device intact. Bandages come in various sizes and shapes, though a bandage can also refer to any material that is wrapped around an injury, including cloth, leather, and even leaves.

Bandages have been used since prehistoric times, though bandage materials have largely changed since then. Animal hides, leaves, plants, and strips of fabric were often used to prevent wounds from bleeding. The Ancient Egyptians were highly skilled at bandaging deceased persons, and at ensuring that no bacteria could seep into a casket. In addition, any general doctor that applied bandages to wounds prior to the 17th century had to have extensive skills in order to prevent further injury.

During the 17th century, lace-up stockings were often used to compress leg ulcers. These stockings were made from dogskin or leather, and they proved to be somewhat useful, though many people died from wounds that were allowed to become infested with bacteria. When the 19th century rolled around, plastic compression bandages were invented.

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Within the broader category of bandage is the term compression bandage. Compression bandages can be split into two basic categories: short stretch compression bandages and long stretch compression bandages. A short stretch compression bandage does not apply additional pressure to a wound, since it shortens following application. These bandages are often used to treat limb wounds that must be bandaged for a long period of time. Long stretch bandages cannot be left on a wound for a long period of time, since they will cause additional pressure resulting in harm.

Hospitals, care facilities, and individuals may all purchase bandages that are used for compression purposes. In addition to treating minor wounds, compression bandages are also used to treat venous leg ulcers. The pressure caused by a compression bandage can help a leg ulcer heal with speed.

Compression bandages can be made from various materials, though most of them are made from plastic that has been fitted with a gauze center. Popular compression bandage brands include Setopress®, and Convotec®. These bandages can be purchased in some pharmacies, though bigger bandages must be purchased through specialty stores.

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ZipLine
Post 3

The compression bandages used for first aid are slightly different than the ones used for sports injuries. The first aid compression bandages apply a lot more pressure.

I usually use self-adhering, stretch compression bandages when I have an ankle or wrist sprain. It immobilizes the area so that I can do things without pain and allow it to heal.

literally45
Post 2

@fBoyle-- Yes, compression bandages are mostly elastic bandages. But which type you should use depends on what you're using it for. If you're trying to compress an area after an injury to prevent bleeding or to help healing after a sprain, then a long stretch elastic bandage is the right choice. If you're trying to treat something like leg ulcers, then a short stretch compression bandage is best.

Before using either though, you should check with your doctor first. If a compression bandage is used improperly or for too long, it can cause serious damage. It could cut off blood supply to limbs completely, eventually leading to necrosis or tissue death. If limbs, fingers or toes become cold or start looking purple, the bandage needs to be removed immediately.

fBoyle
Post 1

Can I use any elastic bandage for compression then? Or does it need to be a specific type of elastic bandage?

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