Compression Stockings or Compression Socks

Your doctor will likely recommend compression stockings (also known as support hose or compression socks) as the first line of treatment in treating varicose veins, ulcers caused by vein problems, and chronic venous insufficiency.

They're a fairly simple, inexpensive means of treating vein-related problems, and they're part of what's called conservative therapy.

How compression stockings work

Compression stockings squeeze your lower legs in order to help push blood up your legs.

Although compression stockings have been proven to be an effective treatment, how exactly how they improve the healing process is not entirely clear to scientists yet. What is known, however, is that compression stockings improve blood flow in the legs and help reduce swelling by moving extra fluids in the legs into a type of blood vessel called lymphatic channels, which carry them away. They also help prevent blood clots.

Uses and benefits of compression socks

Insurance companies often require patients to try conservative therapy such as compression stockings first before being eligible for other vein treatments. Doctors also prescribe the use of compression stockings after other vein treatments such as sclerotherapy or surgery in order to improve healing and outcomes and reduce complications.

Wearing compression stockings while flying is an effective preventative measure to help reduce the risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a serious, potentially life-threatening condition where blood clots form, typically in the legs, and then move to the lungs. One of the risk factors for DVT is sitting for long periods of time, such as when flying or traveling by car.

Compression stockings have also been shown to help alleviate these symptoms in certain cases:

  • Aches and pains
  • Sensation of heaviness
  • Swelling
  • Healing vein-related ulcers and wounds
  • Leg appearance
  • Vein-related sleep problems

The big challenge with support hose

Following your doctor's orders and actually wearing the stockings as often and as long as you're supposed to is the main challenge in compression therapy. But good news: There's a variety of styles to choose from, and in addition to different lengths and strengths, they now come in all kinds of fashion colors and patterns, so today's compression stockings don't scream "medical hosiery." And worn under pants, they're completely invisible.

Talc or cornstarch helps compression socks to glide a little easier, if you find putting them on challenging. Also, if you use lotion, let it dry first.

There are also devices designed to make it easier to put compression stockings on, if you have weak hands or arthristis.

Costs of compression stockings

They can range in price anywhere from about $20 to more than $100 and may or may not be covered by your insurance, so be sure to check. Over-the-counter hose offer less compression than the prescription kind and the compression level may not be sufficient. If you need prescription ones, your doctor will either supply them directly or will give you a prescription to fill on your own at a medical equipment store. Some stores can measure your legs to ensure you get the right size.

If you're wearing your compression stockings long term, be sure to replace them every three to six months, because over time they tend to stretch out and lose their strength and effectiveness.

Updated: October 6, 2014

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