What Is a Sequential Compression Device?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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A sequential compression device is a piece of medical equipment used to inflate cuffs on the arms and legs to stimulate circulation. Use of the device may be recommended by a physician in a patient at risk of clotting and swelling in the extremities. It can be operated by a nurse or technician if a patient cannot successfully handle the equipment. In other cases, people may use the device at home after receiving instruction and advice on its use from a care providers.

Most commonly, the sequential compression device is used in a patient who is immobile because of trauma, disease, or other medical issues. Patients who spend long amounts of time in bed can be at a high risk of deep vein thrombosis and peripheral edema. These can create pain and discomfort in addition to exposing the patient to other risks, like strokes caused by clotting. One option to manage clotting and swelling is to offer medications and control fluid intake, but mechanical means can also be helpful.

This equipment attaches to a sleeve with three or more chambers that slips over an arm or leg. When the sequential compression device is turned on, it inflates the chambers one after another. This applies even, firm compression to the extremity. Circulation should be stimulated by this compression, especially when it is applied on a regular basis and at an appropriate pressure setting.


Better circulation can decrease the risk of clotting by keeping the blood moving through the extremity, rather than allowing it to pool. It can also prevent edema by forcing fluid into the trunk of the body, where it can be recirculated or eliminated in the urine, depending on the patient’s level of hydration. Patients who use a sequential compression device regularly may not require more invasive treatments, like high doses of anti-clotting medication. The devices can also reduce the risk of bed sores, another common problem for immobilized patients.

It is important to comply with usage recommendations from care providers. This includes properly checking and inflating the device at each use and not skipping sessions, although they may be boring and uncomfortable. Patients who experience a problem like extreme pain while using the sequential compression device can report it to a care provider. A medical evaluation can determine the nature of the problem; for example, the compression setting might be too high, and an adjustment could potentially resolve the issue.


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