Compression for venous leg ulcers

Susan O'Meara, Nicky A. Cullum, E. Andrea Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review



Around one percent of people in industrialised countries will suffer from a leg ulcer at some time. The majority of these leg ulcers are due to problems in the veins, resulting in an accumulation of blood in the legs. Leg ulcers arising from venous problems are called venous (varicose or stasis) ulcers. The main treatment has been a firm compression garment (bandage or stocking) in order to aid venous return. There is a large number of compression garments available and it is unclear whether they are effective in treating venous ulcers and which compression garment is the most effective.


To undertake a systematic review of all randomised controlled trials of the clinical effectiveness of compression bandage or stocking systems in the treatment of venous leg ulceration.

Specific questions addressed by the review are:

1. Does the application of compression bandages or stockings aid venous ulcer healing?

2. Which compression bandage or stocking system is the most effective?

Search strategy

For this update we searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (14/10/08); The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library Issue 4 2008); Ovid MEDLINE (1950 to October Week 1 2008); Ovid EMBASE (1980 to 2008 Week 41) and Ovid CINAHL (1982 to October Week 1 2008). No date or language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials recruiting people with venous leg ulceration that evaluated any type of compression bandage system or compression hosiery were eligible for inclusion. Comparators included no compression (e. g. primary dressing alone, non-compressive bandage) or an alternative type of compression. Trials had to report an objective measure of ulcer healing in order to be included (primary outcome for the review). Secondary outcomes of the review included ulcer recurrence, costs, quality of life, pain, adverse events and withdrawals. There was no restriction on date, language or publication status of trials.

Data collection and analysis

Details of eligible studies were extracted and summarised using a data extraction table. Data extraction was performed by one review author and verified independently by a second review author.

Main results

Overall, 39 RCTs reporting 47 comparisons were included. Review question 1: there was reasonable evidence from seven RCTs that venous ulcers heal more rapidly with compression than without.

Review question 2: findings from six trials of single-component compression suggested that this strategy was less effective than multicomponent compression. Evidence from compression systems with two components (3 trials) and three components (4 trials) suggested better outcomes when an elastic component was included. Different versions of compression with four-components (based on the Charing Cross four-layer bandage system) have similar effectiveness (3 trials). Compression with four components (variants of the Charing Cross four-layer bandage) is more effective thanmulti-component compression that includes a short-stretch bandage (6 trials). It is difficult to determine the relative effectiveness of the four-layer bandage compared with paste bandage systems because of differences in the paste systems (5 trials). There was no difference in effectiveness between the adjustable compression boot and compression bandages (2 trials) or between single-layer compression stockings and paste bandages (2 trials). Two-layer stockings appeared more effective than the short-stretch bandage (2 trials). The relative effectiveness of tubular compression when compared with compression bandages was not clear from current evidence (2 trials).

Three trials reported ulcer recurrence; because of sparseness of data and trials not being primarily designed to assess this outcome, firm conclusions could not be drawn. Although several trials included cost data, only one reported a rigorously conducted cost-effectiveness analysis with findings suggesting that the four-layer bandage was more cost-effective than multi-component compression comprising a short-stretch bandage. Seven trials assessed health-related quality of life and none observed significant differences between treatment groups. Several trials evaluated pain either as a stand-alone outcome, or as part of the assessment of adverse events. In general, the data did not indicate clear differences between treatment groups. It is possible that stockings could be associated with less pain than bandages but in view of scarcity of available data this requires further evaluation. Many of the trials reported adverse events and / or withdrawals. Overall, these outcomes appeared similar across different treatment groups.

Authors' conclusions

Compression increases ulcer healing rates compared with no compression. Multi-component systems are more effective than single-component systems. Multi-component systems containing an elastic bandage appear more effective than those composed mainly of inelastic constituents.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD000265
Number of pages155
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009



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