If you have psoriatic arthritis (PsA), you may be experiencing a range of inflammation-related joint issues that lead to stiffness, swelling, soreness, pain, and other complications. Compression sleeves, gloves, and socks may help you manage these symptoms and make everyday activities easier so you can get past the discomfort and get on with your life.
The research-based evidence when it comes to using compression garments for alleviating arthritis symptoms is mixed. But the mild pressure that compression clothing applies to joints can help with inflammation and swelling, notes Creaky Joints. They may aid in mobility, improved circulation, offer some comfort, and help with pain reduction.
Most compression garments are made with an elastic, knitted fabric and are available in a range of colors, sizes, and pressure levels, which are measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg
Light compression (8 to 15 mmHg) can work for nonspecific indications, such as tired legs. Mild compression (15 to 20 mmHg) is best for minor swelling, while moderate pressure (20 to 30 mmHg) is usually used for moderate swelling and venous conditions. High pressure (30 to 40 mmHg and above) may be used for severe varicose veins, swelling, lymphedema, and other medical conditions. Medical-grade compression wear provides the highest pressure (40mmHg and above) and requires a prescription, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
In addition to the correct pressure, it’s important to get the right fit — not too tight but not too loose.
A word of caution: Don’t wear compression clothing on parts of the body where the skin is red, scaly, or otherwise irritated (common symptoms of PsA), as this can make these problems worse. People with peripheral artery disease shouldn’t use them. And as always, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. Compression garments may help you manage PsA as part of a treatment plan, but they are not a substitute for medication and other therapies.
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Here are five things compression clothing can do for you:
1. Alleviate the Perception of Pain
According to Karena Wu, DPT, owner and clinical director at ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York City, compression clothing can ease the pain of psoriatic arthritis by reducing stress on key pressure points.
2. Ease Swelling in Hands and Feets
For people with PsA, “swelling tends to happen in hands and feet,” says Jesse Lewis, DPT, founder of District Performance & Physio in Washington, DC. The body typically has difficulty reducing swelling in the extremities, he says, but compression clothing can help.
3. Reduce Flare-Ups
“If you’re trying to prevent a psoriatic arthritis flare-up during an activity that typically leads to problems, wear the compression sleeve the whole time and then keep it on for one to two hours afterward,” says Dr. Lewis.
According to Dr. Wu, putting on a piece of compression clothing before starting an activity that typically produces swelling can also head off complications and keep inflammation to a minimum.
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4. Provide a Sense of Joint Stability
According to Lewis, “compression clothing can help some patients by giving them a sense of joint stability. Depending on the symptoms, it can be worn almost all day.” Compression garments can act as a kind of support for muscles and soft tissues around the joint, notes Creaky Joints.
5. Support Muscles During Exercise
“Compression material is designed to support muscles as well as improve joint stability, which in turn reduces soreness,” says Chris Tutt, a physical therapist and founder of ProActive Physical Therapy Specialists, which operates numerous facilities in Washington and Oregon. “Compression sleeves definitely have a place in helping those with psoriatic arthritis.”
A review of research published in Sport Medicine notes that compression garments can “improve perceptions of muscle soreness and pain in the days following exercise.”
Compression clothing can make it easier for people with PsA to engage in aerobic exercise (the low-impact type is easier on your joints) and strength training. For anyone with PsA, exercise can be very beneficial, helping to alleviate symptoms, enhance mood, and increase flexibility and strength. That said, working out in very tight activewear that isn’t breathable could irritate skin, depending on the activity and how intense it is.
People with psoriatic arthritis who decide to take part in any kind of exercise regimen should do so within a medically supervised program under the supervision of a physical therapist who understands their unique needs, says Tutt.
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