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What is a Compression Garment?

By Michelle Baugh
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A compression garment is a piece of support clothing most commonly used by people who have recently undergone some type of surgical procedure. Using a compression garment may help reduce swelling by increasing blood circulation throughout the body and preventing the build up of potentially harmful fluids around the surgical site. There are compression garments for nearly every type of surgical procedure, including liposuction, arm lifts, breast reduction, and abdominoplasty.

Immediately after surgery, first-stage compression garments are worn 24 hours a day to reduce swelling. After the initial checkup, doctors may recommend that patients move down to second-stage garments like bicycle shorts and camisoles. A second-stage compression garment offers less compression and is less noticeable, often being completely concealed under regular clothing. Depending on the surgical procedure performed, a second-stage compression garment may need to be worn anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after surgery.

Another reason doctors may prescribe a compression garment is to help patients who have undergone certain surgeries, namely liposuction and abdominoplasty, see results faster. Long-term changes from these surgeries can take months to manifest, and sometimes wearing a compression garment, like body shapers, can help patients see artificial results immediately. A high-compression body shaper is intended to help the skin mold to its new shape immediately following surgery, which some doctors believe may reduce overall recovery time.

People who have not recently undergone surgery may also find some benefits in using compression garments. Those with disorders that reduce blood circulation, like diabetes, are among the biggest users of compression garments for non-surgical reasons. Workers who stand on their feet for long hours during the day and professional athletes often purchase compression socks or pantyhose to provide relief to their lower legs and feet. In addition, people who travel frequently sometimes use compression stockings on flights to reduce their risk of developing deep vein thrombosis.

Most compression garments fall under either first-stage or second-stage labels, but compression hosiery is rated by degree. This degree measurement is taken at the ankle and is determined by how much pressure is needed to raise a single level of mercury (Hg) over a distance measured by millimeters (mm), which results in a reading of mmHg. For most people using compression garments for recreational purposes, hosiery with a compression of 12 to 18 mmHg will suffice and will be readily available over the counter. Anything higher than that is usually reserved for post-surgery patients or individuals with specific ailments, and requires a doctor's prescription.

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Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Sep 01, 2014

@burcinc-- I wore a compression garment after giving birth by c-section. It was very helpful and not uncomfortable. I believe the one I used was also used by women after liposuction and tummy tuck. So I don't think that it will be uncomfortable. It should certainly not deter you from surgery if it is needed or desired. You should talk to your doctor about this.

Even if you are required to wear a compression garment for a month or more, you will be switching to a looser one every couple of weeks. Compression garments also help reduce pain after surgery. So I actually that they are very beneficial and desirable.

By burcinc — On Aug 31, 2014

Compression garments are one of the reasons why I don't want to get liposuction. I've read that they have to be worn for a long time after the surgery, not just for the swelling but to also prevent sagging. I've also heard that they're fairly uncomfortable.

By stoneMason — On Aug 31, 2014

Even non-athletes wear compression garments these days. Those who like to run or bike for long periods of time often wear compression shorts. There are many benefits to these. They don't only help improve blood circulation but also wick away moisture from the body during exercise. Compression shorts also prevent chafing.

I use one when I go jogging or hiking. It's comfortable, keeps me dry and my feet and legs don't swell up afterward.

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