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By Dr. John Rusin

Intermittent Pneumatic Compression

Intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) technology is now used to reduce limb edema and to decrease the risks of deep vein thrombosis. Use in athletic arenas has not been that widely used so far but it is beginning to gain traction because of the mechanism used. Arterial and venous blood flow is increased through the use of compression cuffs, which are inflated periodically, which has proven to be useful in athletic cooldown activities. It also assists in removing the waste products, such as lactic acid, which results in a lower risk of injury and a decrease in DOMS.

The cuffs used are in the form of boots, gloves or sleeves along with an air pump.  The sleeve, glove or boot is placed around the limb that needs the treatment and is connected to the air pump via pressure lines. When the pump is activated, it will push air into the chambers on the sleeve, etc. to put pressure on the limb tissues. This forces the lymph, blood and other fluids out of the limb. Then, after a short period, the pressure is decreased so that blood can flow back.

The main aim of this device is to push the blood out of the deep veins and, provided the valves in these veins are working correctly, the blood is proximally displaced. Then the compression sieve is deflated and the veins will refill with blood. Intermittent compressions ensure that the venous blood keeps moving as it should.

There are two modes of intermittent compression:

  1. Peristaltic – These devices use compression sleeves that have separate inflation chambers. These put pressure on the limb at individual points rather than the whole limb. When one chamber has deflated, the next will inflate and go to work; this carries on through each chamber.

  2. Sequential – A sequential compression device or SCD also uses compression sleeves that have separate areas for inflation. These are squeezed on the limb in a kind of ‘milking’ action, with the distal areas inflating, followed by the other pockets in sequence.


The range of intermittent pressure is from 0 to 240 mmHg, which is six times more than a traditional compression sock. And because both Peristaltic and Sequential devices have medical support and backup, they are being used a lot more by professionals.

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