When and How to Use a Compression Bandage

Compression bandages can reduce swelling and pain while helping to stabilize a strained or sprained joint. Here’s how and when you should use them.

Conditions That May Require a Compression Bandage

Using a compression bandage may help with certain mild injuries and other conditions. If you experience lingering pain, if you can’t move or flex an affected joint, or if you feel numbness or tingling in the joint, you should consult your healthcare provider.


Strains: A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon (the tissues that connect your muscles to your bones). Symptoms can include pain, swelling, muscle spasms, and trouble moving the affected muscle. A compression bandage can help reduce the pain and swelling.


Sprains: A sprain is a stretched or torn ligament (the tissues that connect bones at a joint). Sprains commonly occur in the wrist and ankle. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, bruising, and being unable to move the affected joint. A compression bandage can help reduce the pain and swelling.


Circulation problems: Compression bandages or wraps on the legs are sometimes used to improve blood flow to the heart in people with blood flow problems.


Venous leg ulcers: A venous leg ulcer is a chronic sore that usually develops on the lower leg, just above the ankle. If you have a leg ulcer, consult your healthcare provider. They may advise wearing a compression bandage or wrap to improve circulation in your leg and promote healing. Don’t try to apply the bandage yourself; this is a specialized procedure done by a nurse.


Lymphedema: Compression bandages and sleeves may help reduce lymphedema (the buildup of lymphatic fluid) in limbs. Don’t try to bandage yourself without the guidance of your doctor or lymphedema specialist, as this is a specialized technique.

How to Use a Compression Bandage

To use a compression bandage on your ankle:

  • If fluid retention is a problem, cut out a few horseshoe-shaped pieces of felt and stack them to make a soft pad. Place the pad under your anklebone to prevent fluid from pooling there.
  • Keep your ankle in a neutral, 90-degree position. Beginning with a rolled bandage, wrap it once around the ball of your foot.
  • Continue wrapping around the arch of your foot, then pull the bandage over the top of your foot and wrap it around the ankle.
  • Wrap the ankle a few times in a figure-8 pattern, passing the bandage under the arch of your foot each time after you wrap around the ankle. Then, continue up the calf.
  • When the compression bandage covers the entire foot, the ankle and the area above the ankle, secure the end with a hook closure, clip fastener or tape.

To use a compression bandage on your wrist:

  • Hold the end of the bandage between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Wrap the bandage once around your wrist.
  • Wrap in an X-pattern: between your thumb and fingers, then around the wrist, then again between your thumb and fingers.
  • Continue wrapping up the wrist, then secure the end with a hook closure, clip fastener or tape.

For the best results when applying a compression bandage:

  • Don’t wrap the affected area too tightly. You don’t want to cut off circulation. If your toes or fingers are numb, tingly, cold, purple or blue, take off the compression bandage and rewrap it.
  • If you’re using the compression bandage to wrap a sprained ankle or knee, don’t put weight on the affected limb. The bandage alone is not enough to support your injured joint.
  • Loosen the compression bandage before you go to sleep.
  • You can wash and reuse compression bandages according to package directions.

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