People tend to have a love-or-hate relationship with compression stockings. Granted, they’re not the most attractive, but they are the most conservative and effective treatment for preventing and treating the symptoms and complications of varicose veins. This article will explain everything you need to know about compression stockings so that, hopefully, you can appreciate them a little more.
So, how do compression stockings work?
The socks exert graduated pressure on the limb to help the blood vessels work better. Maximum pressure is exerted at the ankle and gradually decreases the further up the leg you go. As a result, the arteries transporting the oxygen-rich blood relax, enabling the blood to flow freely. The vein receives a boost returning blood to the heart. Combining external pressure with internal pressure (i.e. from leg muscles when walking or playing sports) increases the effectiveness of the socks, which is why we recommend patients walk or play sports when wearing their compression stockings.
Compression socks can stop your legs from aching or feeling tired. It can also alleviate swelling in the ankle and feet and treat spider and varicose veins. Some patients even find they prevent them from feeling light-headed or dizzy when they stand up.
Because the blood flows freely, the risk of pooling in the veins or making a clot is lowered. Should a clot form and break free, it can travel with the blood and become lodged somewhere dangerous, such as the lungs. Blood clots also make it harder for the blood to flow around them, causing discolored skin, swelling and other problems.
Who should use compression stockings?
- People with, or at risk of, varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and diabetes
- Those whose job involves standing all-day
- Pregnant women
- People who struggle to move their legs or can’t leave their bed
- Anyone spending an extended period on an aeroplane
Compression stockings or socks can also be worn as a preventive measure or even auxiliary aid in the following situations:
- Following varicose vein surgery
- After sclerotherapy and other non-invasive vein therapies
- As a complementary treatment to healing skin ulcers caused by varicose veins
- As a treatment for post-thrombotic syndrome – a sometimes disabling complication of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Leg edema (swelling) – although in this condition, doctors will recommend the patient wears an alternative type of stocking made from a different fabric
- Lymphedema and lipedema (as above, another type of stocking is needed)
Benefits of compression stockings include:
- Effectively improve or remove varicose vein symptoms like heaviness, pain, swelling and fatigue altogether
- Have very few contraindications (few people are advised not to wear compression stockings)
- Virtually no side effects (unless the patient is allergic to latex or any of its components – in which case another situation would need to be sought)
How to wear compression stockings
The correct way to wear compression stockings is to put them on as soon as you get out of bed in the morning. Why? Because at this time of the day, there is less swelling to the legs or none at all, and your varicose veins will be empty because of the recent horizontal position). The stockings should be worn all day (although you can remove them to shower or bathe) and removed before bed. It’s a good idea to apply some moisturizer to the skin on the ankles at this point since this is the area affected the most by venous sufficiency.
What are the different types of compression stockings?
Stockings and sleeves (those without feet) are available in different lengths and colors to cover various body parts. Stockings for DVT, for example, mostly end just below the knee, but there are thigh-high stockings and waist-high tights available, too.
Compression stockings also have different pressure levels, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Generally speaking, the socks should feel snug but not so tight they are painful. Lower numbers offering mild compression should suffice to feel comfortable on your feet all day. However, you’ll need a higher number and a firmer fit to prevent DVT.
Graduated compression stockings are the most common and come in various pressures. These are tightest at the ankle and get looser higher up the leg.
TED (thrombo-embolic deterrent) or anti-embolism stockings are for those who have just had surgery or need to remain in bed. They help maintain blood circulation and lower the risk of severe swelling.
How to pick compression stockings
Buying compression stockings for the first time can be daunting since there are many factors to consider.
You must find the correct length and fit to get the most out of them. For example, if you purchase graduated compression stockings from a store that don’t work well, you may have to consider switching to a prescription grade. The latter, incidentally, is often covered by insurance. Speak to your doctor, as they can help you determine the correct pressure and fit.
Your condition will determine the level of compression you need on your legs. Your options include:
- Low - less than 20 mmHg. These can be purchased online or from your local pharmacy.
- Medium - between 20 and 30 mmHg. Designed to control swelling and pain in those who have had a DVT or varicose veins
- Moderate to high - between 30 and 40 mmHg. There are best suited to those who have severe swelling or pain.
- Firm - between 40 and 50 mmHg. Typically for people with a history of severe vein problems or blood clots.
Varicose veins affect up to 35% of people in the US. Fortunately, in most cases, and when conservative treatment is carried out correctly, it’s possible to control and reduce symptoms, slow the development or growth of varicose veins, and prevent complications. However, you can’t expect varicose veins to heal or disappear purely with conservative treatment. If you wish to remove troublesome varicose veins, consider one or more of the non-surgical therapies we provide here at MINT. Why not schedule a consultation today to learn more about these outpatient treatments? We have 5 convenient locations based in St. Louis, MO, Wentzville MO, Swansea, IL, Evergreen Park, IL and Chicago, IL.