While compression therapy has been known about for thousands of years – compression socks or stockings as we know them today, have only been around since the late 1930s. Physicians in ancient Egypt, for example, used a primitive form of compression bandage to bind and treat leg injuries but it was only just before the Second World War when Conrad Jobst a German-born tool and die maker needed something to alleviate his leg pain and swelling caused by chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Jobst noticed that the act of swimming aided his poor circulation and eased his discomfort and put it down to the gentle pressure of the water on his long-suffering legs. So he sought to make a stocking-like product that would emulate the gentle pressure on his legs – and hence, the first compression sock was born.
Compression Socks – How They Work
One of the most important factors in vein health is good circulation, Poor circulation particularly in the leg area can lead to a whole host of problems including spider veins, varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), and even deep vein thrombosis (DVT), Compression socks work by applying gentle but sustained pressure to the legs which force the blood to flow upwards through the deep veins and back to the heart.
Although most people consider vein problems to be an elderly condition, modern compression socks are worn by people of all ages. Many athletes, for example, wear compression garments to help them reach peak performance and to promote a faster recovery, while frequent travelers such as airline pilots use them to combat the issues of DVT. Expectant mums also wear compression stockings to help manage the risk of leg swelling during pregnancy. So while compression socks or stockings may not be particularly glamorous, they have several benefits. Let’s take a closer look…
How wearing Compression Socks Can Help
Compression stockings can prevent legs from becoming tired and achy. They have also been proven to ease swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles and can prevent – and to a certain extent, treat – troublesome and annoying varicose and spider veins. They can even prevent you from feeling dizzy or lightheaded when you stand up.
Levels of Compression
Modern compression garments come in many styles, the most popular of which are made for the lower body, like compression socks or stockings. They come in 5 levels of compression ranging from light or mild through to extra firm.
Mild compression garments, for example, help those who have a healthy circulation but want to alleviate mild symptoms like leg or ankle swelling. They are particularly good for those who spend a lot of time sitting or standing in one position and are generally available to purchase over the counter.
Medium compression stockings are the most commonly worn type of compression garment and are the type most recommended by the majority of doctors as an introduction. Just like mild compression socks they are available to buy from your local pharmacy and will help combat swelling and alleviate achy or tired limbs. In addition, however, tighter compression can also ease discomfort caused by other venous issues including varicose veins, spider veins and chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Firm compression socks should only be worn if and when your doctor suggests it. Primarily they are worn to help with more serious limb conditions such as lymphatic edema, a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand (otherwise known as orthostatic hypertension), the management of problematic leg ulcers, and manifestations of post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS).
Naturally, this level of compression will help address those minor complaints like swelling and spider/varicose veins, but firm compression garments are more likely to be worn by people with more complex limb issues.
Finally, we have extra firm and extra, extra firm compression garments. These are only used to manage the most serious of venous issues including severe lymphedema and should never be used unless recommended or authorized by a doctor.
Compression Socks – The Big Challenge
Although compression socks come in a range of sizes ranging from knee to thigh high, the hardest part for any patient is getting them on. Because they need to be tight all over it can be difficult to pull them into position. A top tip that you may want to try is to first ensure your legs are completely dry. Then providing you have no open wounds or cuts, apply some non-perfumed talcum powder to the leg area – baby powder is ideal. Failing this, you can also use a little corn starch. In theory, this should help the stockings or socks slide into position a little easier. If you are still having problems, there is a handy gadget available called a stocking donner which is made to help you pull up the sock or stocking with minimal effort. Once on, the compression sock should sit smoothly but snugly against your skin without feeling painful
So How Long Should You Wear Compression Socks?
In reality that depends upon your condition. For mild cases, you may just want to wear them for a few hours a day to maintain circulation. Alternatively, for more complex or severe vein issues, they may need to be worn all day. Avoid wearing compression socks at night during sleep unless prescribed by your doctor. Compression socks by their very nature move blood away from the feet and this can block blood flow when lying in a prone position.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about compression socks and how they can help you to combat a host or circulatory and vein problems. If you suffer from leg pain, swelling, or have unsightly veins, then come and talk to the team at Midwest Institute for Non-Surgical Therapy (MINT) Dr. Goke Akinwande is a highly experienced practitioner in vein health and has several modern treatments that can help. Why not schedule a consultation online today at one of our 5 clinics, including the latest addition in Chicago, IL and let’s talk about your options.