The effectiveness of intermittent pneumatic compression in long-term therapy of lymphedema of lower limbs

Lymphat Res Biol. 2014 Jun;12(2):103-9. doi: 10.1089/lrb.2013.0033.


Background: The manual lymphatic drainage in lymphedema has proved to be successful; however, this method cannot be applied to millions of patients around the world. The only solution is to offer inexpensive, easily accessible mechanical devices for pneumatic compression (IPC). These devices should be designed on parameters of edema fluid hydromechanics. Recent data point to high pressures and long time of compression.

Aim: To validate the effects of 3 years daily high pressure, long inflation time IPC therapy in terms of decrease of limb circumference/volume, tissue elasticity, histological changes, and incidental complications.

Methods: A group of 18 patients with unilateral leg lymphedema stage II to IV was treated for a period of 3 years using an 8-chamber sleeve, sequential inflation of chambers to 100-120 mmHg for 50 sec (total 400 sec). Limb circumference and tissue tonicity were measured at monthly intervals. Correlation between decrease in calf and thigh circumference and increase in elasticity was done.

Results: The treatment revealed durable permanent decrease of limb circumference and increased elasticity of tissues. The improvement was most expressed in the calf above the ankle and mid-calf. No complications as thigh ring or chronic genital edema were observed. There was no direct correlation between the decrease in limb circumference and increase in elasticity, most likely due to different mass of fibrous tissue.

Conclusions: IPC takes over the permanently missing function of the obliterated lymphatics by squeezing edema tissue fluid to the regions with normal lymphatic drainage. The limb circumference is decreased or at least does not further increase, elasticity of tissue is increased and maintained. No complications in limb tissues were observed. The long-term, high pressure IPC, long inflation timed therapy can be safely be recommended to patients with lower limb lymphedema.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Elasticity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intermittent Pneumatic Compression Devices*
  • Leg / pathology*
  • Lymphatic System / pathology*
  • Lymphedema / pathology
  • Lymphedema / therapy*
  • Male
  • Manometry
  • Massage / instrumentation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Pressure