Living With Chronic Pain

How to Use a Compression Bandage

We’ve all pulled out the handy compression bandage, also know by its brand name, ACE, when we’ve injured a joint or muscle and wanted a little extra support to let it heal. It’s a common staple of first aid kits. But understanding exactly when, how, where and for how long they should be used is often overlooked.

Here are those answers.

Compression wraps are used on an area that has been injured, e.g. strains and sprains, to minimize swelling by keeping fluids from accumulating and improve stabilization. It’s a long strip of stretchable material that can be wrapped around the area of concern.

They can temporarily aid in:

  • acute mild knee, wrist, ankle injuries
  • muscle aches to keep them warm
  • swollen limbs to encourage the fluid back to the heart
  • engorged, painful varicose veins
  • contusions 
  • recovering from a surgery but ONLY if directed by your healthcare provider.

They are also a wonderful way to:

  • hold an ice pack in place 
  • keep bandages secure, clean and dry
  • secure a temporary splint when a joint needs to be immobilized

Used properly they can be a great help:

  • Always clean and bandage any open wound before using a wrap. Don’t apply to an open wound.
  • Don’t wrap too tightly. If there’s tingling, swelling above orbelow the wrap, discoloration adjust it immediately.
  • Re-wrap several times to reassess the injury or wounds progress. 
  • Ensure bumps or wrinkles are removed.otherwise they can cause uneven pressure on the wounded area.
  • Keep them clean and dry. Wash by hand in warm soapy water and we dry when needed.
  • Cover the lower extremity with a lightweight sock if needed to keep it clean but don’t add more compression it may cause too much pressure.
  • Avoid placing restrictive socks or clothing over the ace wrap.
  • To minimize swelling keep the affected area above the level of the heart as much as possible. 
  • Use ice the first 48-72 hours. Place in a plastic bag and wrap around the injured area.

How to apply:

  • Make sure to use the right size. A knee injury won’t require the same width as an ankle.
  • Maintain the proper position the area should be in while wrapping.
  • Flex the joint slightly when wrapping to ensure mobility.
  • Apply with even pressure, not too loose or too tight. I prefer to lie the bandage against the skin and roll it evenly along the area of concern. Don’t pick it up. That’s a great way to pull too tight, or allow it to become too loose.
  • Keep fingers and toes exposed that way they can still move and encourage circulation as well as alert you to a concern e.g redness, warmth, worse swelling.
  • Check circulation frequently. Press down on a nail bed. It will launch but then turn red quickly when the pressure is relieved. If that doesn’t happen loosen the wrap.
  • Start above the injured area.
  • Cover the exposed end by wrapping around it twice then move down in spiral wraps making sure each new layer covers half of the one before it to ensure proper support and prevent unraveling.
  • Loosen at night.

How to wrap an ankle:

  • Start with a 3-4 inch wrap.
  • Put a cotton ball in the hollowed out ares of the ankles under the two protruding bones on each side. This will help keep pressure in these areas when you wrap yo prevent swelling.
  • Start with the ankle in a 90 degree angle.
  • Start at the top of the foot at the toes. 
  • Wrap around the foot and arch.
  • When you get to the ankle do a figure eight pattern circling from the arch , around the heel to the other side of the foot. 
  • It should cover from the base of the toes to approximately 10 cm above the ankle. 
  • Make sure it’s snug but not too tight.

How to wrap a wrist:

  • Start with a 2-3 inch wrap. 
  • Wrap around the wrist staring at the little finger palm facing down.
  • Pull it yo the thumb side, across the palm.
  • Cross back yo the wrist and wrap around it again
  • Wrap around the little finger back down to the wrist. 
  • After a couple of passes wrap the wrist two more times for stability.
  • It should be snug but not so tight the fingers turn blue, tingle or feel numb.

How to wrap a knee:

  • Use a larger 4-6 inch wrap.
  • Start by covering the kneecap.
  • Wrap behind the knee and over the kneecap twice for stability.
  • Then carry it slightly above and below the knee in a figure eight pattern.
  • It should be snug but not restrict movement.

Compression bandages are only meant to be short term interventions. If you suspect a severe sprain/ strain, fracture, infection or the area of concern isn’t improving within 48 hours seek immediate care.



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