Compression stockings are strong elastic stockings, which are worn for a variety of medical reasons. They apply graduated pressure from the ankle upward to improve circulation. Blood and fluids must work against gravity to travel back up the leg to the heart. Compression stockings lend assistance to the circulatory and lymphatic systems to help improve the efficiency of this process.
Therapeutic compression stockings are available in knee-high and full-leg lengths. There are over-the-counter stocking choices available as well as those that are professionally measured or custom fit, which provide greater compression for specific medical conditions, such as varicose veins.
Conditions that warrant compression stockings
The medical conditions that are treated and benefit most from the prescribed use of compression stockings include, but are not limited to:
- Varicose veins
- Spider veins
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Venous leg ulcers
- Leg edema
- Poor circulation, often due to diabetes
- Leg muscle fatigue
Life experience situations that warrant compression stockings include long duration travel (more than three hours per journey) via airplane, car or train, post-surgical cases and pregnancy. Each medical case is unique and a licensed healthcare professional is the best resource to determine if you should wear compression stockings and for how long a period of time.
How they work
Compression stockings are tightest at the ankles and lessen in compression the higher up they go toward the knee and thigh. This mechanism justifies the alternate name of graduated compression stockings. The stockings work to continually compress and release the leg muscles, which mimics the natural leg muscle pumping mechanism.
By applying pressure gradually along the legs, the elastic stockings help to reduce the size of swollen veins or varicosities. When distended veins are decompressed, the blood flow through the vein is accelerated and potentially dangerous blood pooling is prevented.
By working the leg muscles, compression stockings enhance blood flow back towards the heart. This is the result of the compression from the elastic stockings and the muscle pumping action of the calf muscles. It prevents blood from pooling in the lower legs and clots from forming.
Compression stockings also help to reduce leg swelling, which can result from poor circulation. Lower leg and ankle swelling is the most common problem they treat. Compression stockings minimize leg muscle fatigue by keeping muscle fibers close together.
Medical sports experts have added compression stockings, as well as other types of compression clothing, to their uniform recommendations or requirements. Compression stockings improve leg muscle efficacy by actually stabilizing them. They also enhance blood circulation and help to remove muscle-damaging lactic acid, which is produced with exercise.
The case for compression stockings
When worn consistently and properly applied, compression stockings are effective in treating and preventing some serious medical problems. Your compliance, as the wearer, is critical in getting the most benefit from compression stockings.