A Little Bit of Pressure and A Little Bit of Heat
By Christine Cheng, R.Ph.
Sometimes we need more from our clothing than just to help us make a fashion statement; sometimes we need our clothing to be functional. There are two common types of functional clothing: compression therapy and far infrared radiation therapy, which uses pressure and heat therapeutically, respectively.
The most common forms of compression therapy are stockings, whether they are knee-high, thigh-high or pantyhose. These stockings are specially designed to improve blood flow from the lower parts of the body back to the heart via the use of graduated compression, i.e., the pressure or compression felt at the ankle is greater than that felt higher up in the stocking. Over-the-counter compression stockings come in two levels of compression: 8-15mmHg and 15-20mmHg. These lower levels of compression can benefit those whose feet feel tired at the end of the day and/or those who spend a lot of time sitting and want to prevent future problems. These lower levels of compression do not require a prescription from the doctor and are beneficial for introducing one’s legs to compression stockings. For those who spend a lot of time on their feet (e.g., nurses, pharmacists, flight attendants, traffic control persons, bank tellers, construction workers, etc) and notice that their feet are a little bit swollen at the end of the day may benefit from higher levels of compression. Pregnant women who experience swelling in the ankles and legs may find compression stockings very useful. Any compression above 20mmHg requires a prescription from the doctor as the actual need and then the level of compression should be properly assessed. Keep in mind that higher levels of compression require a proper fitting by a certified fitter who can also help you choose from the growing styles and fabrics that are available. Two well-known and reliable brands are SIGVARIS and BAUERFEIND®. Bauerfeind® also makes supports and orthoses for many joints in the body that incorporate the use of compression for further support and enhanced mobility.
In the body, Far Infrared Radiation (FIR) has been shown to increase nitric oxide (which is involved in vasodilation), increase blood flow to the surface of the skin, exhibit antioxidant properties and inhibit the enzyme COX-2 (which is involved in inflammatory processes). Clothing that employ the benefits of FIR do so by embedding ceramic particles into fibres that are then woven into fabrics. These ceramic particles absorb FIR energy that is emitted from the body and re-emits the same energy back into the skin. These specially-made garments have been shown to help reduce inflammation, increase circulation, reduce cellulite and even enhance weight loss. Both FIRMA ENERGYWEAR and THERMOFLOW® products employ this FIR-reflecting therapy. Both lines offer an extensive selection of products that target and cover just about every area of the body. For those who are more fashion conscious, products in the Firma EnergyWear line may be preferable.
Due to their therapeutic nature, it may be beneficial to speak with your doctor or pharmacist regarding compression or FIR therapy products to make sure you are using these products safely and effectively. Also keep in mind that extended medical coverage may apply to compression products that offer a compression of 20mmHg or greater and to many of the Firma EnergyWear products if they are prescribed by a physician.
Christine is a registered pharmacist with training in Natural Health Products and a passion for Integrative Medicine. She works alongside her brother, Fred at their unique family-owned and operated Pharmasave in Downtown Cloverdale, BC. They specialize in natural remedies and compounding for both human and veterinarian use.