Varicose veins are quite common in legs and feet and often present as blue, rope-like vessels under the skin. Typically caused by reflux from valves not working properly, this reversal or pooling of blood is often painful for patients leading to heaviness, fatigue, swelling, cramping, pain, itching and burning. According to the American Society for Vascular Surgery, approximately 20-25 million Americans have varicose veins.
In order to improve circulation, lessen pain or discomfort and minimize the chance of varicose veins getting worse, doctors often recommend compression stockings.
What are compression stockings?
Compression stockings or socks are a particular type of elastic hosiery designed to improve the flow or circulation of blood. They are often recommended for patients with chronic venous disease including venous insufficiency, spider veins and varicose veins.
How do compression stockings work?
The concept of compression stockings dates back to Roman soldiers wrapping their legs in leather straps to improve circulation during long marches. Fast forward to modern day compression stockings and the styles/designs are much more sophisticated offering consistent pressure in the legs to enable blood to flow back to the heart with ease. Since stockings typically exert added pressure in the foot and ankle area, the extra push helps to promote blood flow. Numerous studies support the theory that compression stockings will help to reduce the pain and discomfort of varicose veins, but little evidence supports the notion that stockings alone will eliminate them.
What are the different types of compression stockings?
Stockings should be selected based on type and underlying cause of the varicose veins. There are three main types:
- Support pantyhose: These apply light pressure.
- Compression stockings/socks: Available in varying degrees of pressure, these stocking can easily be purchased at most local drugstores, pharmacies or online.
- Prescription compression stockings: Providing the highest degree of pressure, these stockings should be fitted by a specialist to ensure they aren’t so tight that they negatively impact circulation.
Stockings typically come knee-high (for exercise) or thigh-high (for varicose veins or to prevent blot clots post-surgery).
What are the different levels of compression stockings and for what conditions are they recommended?
Before selecting a level of compression stockings, it is highly recommended that you speak with you doctor. There are four levels of compression stockings:
How do you select the correct size of compressions socks?
- Mild compression: recommended for mild chronic venous insufficiency to enhance blood flow.
- Moderate compression: recommended for varicose and spider veins.
- Firm and extra firm compression: recommended by doctors in more serious cases of chronic venous disease including deep vein thrombosis (DVT), leg ulcers and lymphatic edema.
In order to ensure proper fit for optimal effectiveness and comfort, measurements should be taken.
Take measurements of your legs in the morning before getting out of bed.
For knee-high socks, take measurement of the smallest part of your ankle and the largest part of your calf. Sitting with your legs at a 90-degree angle to the floor, measure between your knee and the floor.
For thigh-high stockings, use the same initial measurements as knee-high socks. Stand up to measure your thighs under your buttocks and then measure from your buttock to the floor.
If you have any questions or doubts on any of these measurements, contact your local doctor.
When should compression stockings be worn?
Compression stockings are typically recommended during the day or after surgery to prevent or reduce circulation issues. However, a doctor may also recommend wearing them at night. Contact your doctor to see what is recommended for you.
What risks are associated with compression stockings?
Compression stockings are designed to be tight which make them more difficult to put on. Make sure your skin is clean and dry. Common side effects of wearing compression stockings include itching, irritated skin/rash, discomfort, broken skin or brief skin indentations.
To minimize risks, make sure stockings are:
- Wrinkle free
- Worn correctly
- Correct size
- Not worn too long (remove daily)
If a person suffers from peripheral neuropathy, which may result in nerve damage to legs, it’s important to pay close attention as to whether the stockings are too tight or too loose as they may not feel the level of pressure.
How do you wash/care for compression stockings?
In order to preserve the quality of your compression stockings, hand wash them in cold water, use only soap and not fabric softener and hang to dry (never use a dryer).
Although compression stockings may not prevent varicose veins from forming, they will enhance blood flow which will help to minimize the pain and discomfort often associated with them.
To learn more about varicose veins and other treatment options, visit our treatment page.