Compression stockings are specialized socks that are used to improve blood flow, decrease the risk of blood clots, and help control leg swelling and fatigue by preventing the pooling of blood in the lower extremities. There are many uses for compression socks, but it is important to know when and how to use them, so you can benefit the most from wearing them.
The Calf Muscle Pump System
The body’s vascular system consists largely of a network of arteries and veins. For the most part, arteries carry blood away from the heart while the veins take blood back towards the heart. In the lower extremities, it is more difficult for blood to flow back towards heart because it has to go against gravity. As you walk or run, though, your calf muscles squeeze the veins in the lower extremities, helping to push blood back up upwards towards the heart (see "healthy vein" pictured below). Unfortunately, when you stand or sit for long periods of time, the calf muscles are not helping to push the blood upwards. Over time, this can lead to venous disease, including varicose & spider veins, leg edema & ulcerations, and chronic venous insufficiency (see "venous disease" pictured below).
The Role of Compression Socks
The purpose of compression socks is to have a system that helps push blood back towards the heart. Therefore, the socks are graduated, meaning that they are tighter in the foot region and then gradually become looser as they go up the leg. They are measured in millimeters of mercy (mmHg), and the higher the number is the more pressure, or compression, there is placed on the extremity while wearing.
While standing or sitting for long periods of time
During long flights
During long runs
For DVT prevention
For prevention of varicose veins
It is best to put the socks on in the morning, when the swelling is typically at its lowest, so it is easier to get them on. They should not be worn while laying down in bed at night, unless otherwise specified by a healthcare professional.
Precautions & Contraindications
People with peripheral arterial disease, peripheral neuropathy, and skin abnormalities, such as sensitivities, a rash, or an ulceration, consult their doctor before using compression socks.
How to Choose Which Is Right for You?
Compression socks come in several different lengths (e.g. knee-high level, thigh-high level, maternity hose) and pressures (ranging from 8-15mmHg to 40-50mmHg). Theoretically, the higher the sock goes up the extremity, the more support one will receive; however, not everyone will tolerate thigh-high compression stockings. They can be more difficult to put on and more uncomfortable to wear throughout the day. Therefore, knee-high stockings are the ones I have most commonly prescribed or recommended. To help you decide which type of sock is best for you, as well as the amount of pressure to use, it is best to consult a healthcare professional. The Discount Surgical Stockings website also has a great compression therapy guide that can be used as an additional reference, but should not be used in place of a professional opinion.
DISCLAIMER: The above information is meant for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult the doctor, or your own healthcare professional, should you have questions or concerns related to your health.