Do you know about compression therapy? It is a proven medical treatment that has been practiced for centuries. This method increases blood circulation in the limbs, especially in the lower body. You’ll especially see this method being practiced at sports events.
Maybe you’ve noticed the athletes wearing leg paddings or compression shorts. These things are not accessories but for enhancing performance or maintaining condition. How about those injured players with bandages wrapped around their injuries? In case you haven’t noticed, those situations display what compression therapy is.
There can be many tools used for compression therapy. The most common is applying a self adhesive bandage wrap. The two types of bandages are short-stretch and long-stretch. Even though the names already give away a hint of what they are, it seems that we need a thorough understanding of what their purposes are and when one can use them. We will discuss them more in this article.
What Are Short-Stretch and Long-Stretch Bandages?
Before we compare the two types of bandages, let us first define each of them. Bandages can be very useful in a lot of ways. They can reduce swelling from an injury, prevent any further inflammation, shield open wounds from infection, and deal with chronic issues like lymphedema and venous ulcers. There are multiple quality brands available in the market like Hampton Adams.
A short-stretch bandage is basically any bandage capable of stretching just below 100% of its overall length. For example, you have a 100-cm bandage. If that can be stretched up to 199 cm only, which indicates a 99-percent elongation, then that is a short-stretch bandage.
The same is also applicable if you have another 100-cm bandage that can be stretched up to 101 cm only. While it may indicate a 1-percent elongation, it is still considered a short-stretch bandage. But what’s the relevance? Having that limitation on elasticity means the priority of that bandage is to restrain body movement. We’ll discuss more about that later.
Obviously, the opposite of a short-stretch bandage is a long-stretch bandage. It is any bandage that can be stretched 100% of its length and beyond, with some reaching up to 300% elongation. If translated into mathematical terms, we can use the following as an example.
You have a 50-cm bandage. If it can be stretched up to 100% of its length, then the overall length will be twice the original. Mathematically, the fully stretched length = 50 cm (the original) + 50 cm (elongation of 100% of the original length) = 100 cm (which obviously is twice the original).
What’s the purpose of having a bandage that is so stretchy? That is because elasticity can be used for supporting body movement. Even if you are injured on a limb that you have to consistently use, a long-stretch bandage can give you an adequate range of motion without risking your recovery.
Short-Stretch vs Long-Stretch
Now that we have defined the two types of bandages, let’s compare the two types according to their natural properties and their impacts on users.
Extensibility of The Material
Extensibility, elasticity, and stretchability are all related words that simply mean the stretching ability of a material without significant deformation. Since long-stretch bandages can stretch more than short-stretch bandages, the former has greater extensibility than the latter.
Consequently, since the short-stretch bandages have less extensibility, they apply more pressure on the covered area compared to long-stretch bandages. Short-stretch bandages are usually made from pure breathable cotton.
The material is then woven into interlocking fibers, giving that great tensile strength. The said bandages are used commonly in situations like vascular insufficiency or disruption of blood flow from the limbs. We’ll get to the matter of medical issues later on.
Meanwhile, long-stretch bandages are infused with a more elastic material. They are mainly used for supporting movement while the area covered in a bandage is still injured. Also, recovered athletes use them in order to prevent repeating the same injury from happening.
Capability of Healing
How do bandages aid in healing? For starters, they do not contain chemicals that have healing properties or trigger a biological response in order for the body to recover. So, stop treating them as if they are magical. They simply just aid the blood circulation in the body, especially the parts they are covering.
There are many medical issues that self adhesive bandages can help minimize. By applying bandages, you can reduce the number of visible veins and swelling, especially on the lower body. The causes of these issues can be irregular movement, pregnancy, overwork, or injury. If these issues are not dealt with carefully and urgently, they can result in impaired blood flow or worse, blood clotting.
Additionally, bandages can limit the movements that can trigger blockage in the blood flow. What does this mean? Notice when you sit on a chair for hours and when you stand up, your legs become so numb. That happens because the blood circulation on your lower body is blocked because your legs and knees are bent for hours, which act as obstacles.
With the help of bandages, you will not be able to fully bend limbs and put them into a situation wherein they become obstacles to blood circulation. That is what is meant by the capability to heal. In most cases, there is no difference in the healing capability between using a short-stretch bandage and a long-stretch one.
- Management Of Lymphedema
Lymphedema is a condition wherein the tissue of a limb swells due to the accumulation of fluid that is rich in protein. This fluid is normally drained through the lymphatic system but because of various unhealthy reasons, there’s a failure in that process. Having this condition is not pretty at all. The swelling can make your limbs look like those of an elephant.
The purpose of bandages is to reduce the swelling as much as possible. With the added compression from the bandage, there’s a chance of reducing the re-accumulation of the said fluid. In this situation, the best type to use is the short-stretch bandage.
Since the bandage has limited extensibility, the tension is concentrated on the covered area. This means that additional pressure is being applied, thus making the affected area feel compressed. If a long-stretch bandage is to be used, you can still make it work.
You can cover the affected area and roll the long-stretch bandage layer after layer. This method will reduce its extensibility. Therefore, the bandage will function similarly to that of a short-stretch bandage wherein more pressure is applied to the affected area.
- Management of Venous Ulcers
With a condition termed as ‘venous ulcer’, you know that can’t be good since the two words separately already have negative connotations. Venous ulcers are extreme cases of leg ulcers. When you have this condition, open wounds on the leg may not heal. This medical condition may be a bit more common than you think. If you want a visual aid, try picturing leprosy.
Fortunately, bandages can help in the healing process. Aside from aiding blood circulation, the bandage can prevent the open wound from being exposed to infection and invasive organisms. Based on a number of studies, there is no difference whether you use a short-stretch or long-stretch bandage. As long as there is compression, then it is already helpful.
Method of Application
Although bandages can be easily purchased, applying them in a manner where you can optimize the healing capability needs training. Yes, you are not misunderstanding it: “Applying bandages properly needs training.” Between the short-stretch and the long-stretch bandage, the type of bandage that needs more time for training on the application is the latter.
You may think that a short-stretch bandage is more affordable since it has the word ‘short’, and short means less material being sold. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Since bandages cover the injured part, they are usually exposed to dirt, dust, and fluids.
For that reason, they need to be changed from time to time, regardless of if the patient is still injured or recovering. Whether the bandage is short-stretch or long-stretch, it is cost-effective to choose washable and reusable ones.
Additionally, the patient’s physical measurements matter. A leg with a larger circumference needs larger bandages. If you use short-stretch bandages, you might need another one if the length cannot cover the entire affected area. Selecting a bandage with a longer length may be more comfortable than cascading the two bandages, even though the former will cost more.
Satisfaction From Patients
Since we are talking about the comfort of the patient, that aspect is important in choosing either a short-stretch or a long-stretch bandage, and in attaining satisfaction. There are two considerations in order to keep the patient satisfied: their mobility and their quality of life.
As previously mentioned, short-stretch bandages are focused more on limiting body movement. This is due to the added compression on the area covered. If you have an injured limb that needs to stay still in order to recover, then short-stretch bandages provide that rigidity needed by the patients.
If a patient wants mobility but the injured area has only a short comfortable range, then long-stretch bandages are to be used. With those, the limbs can be moved further without worry that it might either aggravate the injury or reinjuring a recently healed area.
- Quality of Life
For patients suffering from leg ulcers, applying short-stretch bandages can reduce complications and promote the healing process. This also includes lessening pain felt from the open wound, improving sleep, and reducing stress.
For motion-limiting injuries such as dislocation or fracture, applying long-stretch bandages can enable the patients to move as normal as possible. With such support, they don’t have to worry about worsening the injury. Furthermore, they can do some activities that will keep them from being unhealthy.
It is clear that both short-stretch bandages and long-stretch bandages have their own purposes. For situations wherein you need stability to improve one’s condition, choose a short-stretch bandage. For situations wherein you need support as you move, choose a long-stretch bandage.
Bandages may be available in your local supermarkets but it doesn’t mean that you are considered capable of applying them. It is strongly recommended to leave that task to someone who is medically trained in order to optimize the benefits of compression therapy.