Bandaging (or wrapping) is a self-care tool that you will use time and time again to help control flare-ups and reduce the volume of your limb.
In the early days, I was horrified by the process of bandaging! I was so upset that I had to wear a 4cm thick bandage that went from the end of my toes to my hip – it was so not practical in my life (not to mention extremely un-sexy!) Thankfully, the benefits of bandaging far outweigh the aesthetic downside of having to wear them. It took me a long time to finally get the technique correct but it was so worth the effort to do so.
My view of bandaging has changed a lot over the years. First I thought it was only for flare-ups and decongestion periods (when you bandage intensively 24/7 for an extended period of time to reduce the size of your limb). I have only done one intense bandaging stage, where I bandaged day and night for one month after my SAPL surgery. It was really hard, physically and emotionally but it needed to be done. Nowadays, I see bandaging as an everyday tool that can help me keep my leg healthy and fluid- free (as much as possible anyway!)
In order to be compliant with bandaging, you need to make it work within your lifestyle. For me, wearing bandages during the day is simply not convenient. I prefer to sleep with my bandages on and I do this nearly every single night (see my night compression advice). I find this much more practical and it makes undergoing the whole process much easier mentally.
Here are the basic materials I use when bandaging my leg:
I don’t use bandages on my toes because I really can’t tolerate them (see my explanation below!). I have also added a ‘Malleotrain ankle support’ to my bandaging which is fantastic for reshaping the ankle area (it has silicon moulds in the side that press around the ankle and move the fluid out). It’s not meant to be compressive or overly tight- it sits snugly on my ankle and then I bandage lightly around that area to not compress too much.
The foam is great for increased comfort and helps distribute the pressure evenly over my leg. It also stops the bandages from slipping.
Lastly, the most important part: short-stretch bandages. These are the most suitable type of bandages to use for lymphedema management. Different sized bandages are needed for different sections of the arm or leg. Your lymphedema therapist can advise you on what lengths you need to buy and how many layers of bandages you require.
Go here for a comprehensive list of the basic items you need to get started with bandaging.
If you struggle with bandaging and have given up…
I very often hear from other people that they have tried bandaging but stopped because it was too hard or uncomfortable for them. While I totally understand this, I have this advice to offer: keep persevering and experiment/ practice until you get it right. Bandaging should not be too tight, it should not be uncomfortable. Some people have an allergic reaction to the materials used in bandaging, so this is certainly something to keep in mind. If it is simply a case of ‘my bandages always fall off!‘ or a comfort issue, then rest assured it can be fixed!
The reasons bandaging can be uncomfortable is because often we wrap our limbs too tightly! I used to have this problem myself when I bandaged at night- I would wrap too tightly around my foot and knee areas and wake up at 3am to rip everything off. My leg would be throbbing because the bandages had been too tight and started to cut the circulation off (obviously not good!) This is why it’s important to have someone teach you how to wrap your limbs correctly. A lymphedema therapist will recommend materials and padding to help make bandaging way more comfortable for you (like foam for example- this is amazing to stop bandages cutting into your skin, behind the knees and also helps to stop them slipping down!).
Lastly, if something is really not working for you then improvise and think outside the box. Let me give you a quick example: toe bandaging. How I despise thee! Those stupid little fiddly white bandages that I can never seem to get right on my toes. I fricken haaaate them! I definitely needed to bandage my toes but needed to find an alternative to the bandages- so what was the solution? I use an old toe cap that is fairly stretched and light on the compression- I pop this on and voila, toes are done!
Bandaging is hands down one of the best management practices for your lymphedema! Learn it, use it and benefit from it!!
Online bandaging resources and videos
Below I have included some links to instructional videos that explain how to bandage your limbs. If you don’t have access to a lymphedema therapist then I highly recommend that you watch these videos carefully and keep practising until you get it right.
Lymphedema Wrapping for the arm
Lymphedema wrapping for the leg
Online stores to buy bandaging materials from
Below I have included a list of online vendors that stock bandaging supplies. Keep in mind that it’s also possible to buy bandaging kits with all these components already inside which makes it easier and convenient to use!