When worn consistently and properly applied, compression stockings can alleviate the symptoms of serious medical problems like deep vein thrombosis (blood clots) and venous diseases. They are also helpful for recovering from vein treatments. Learn how compression socks work and what conditions they can help with.
How compression socks work
Compression socks or stockings are strong elastic leg wear that apply graduated pressure from the ankle upward to improve circulation. Blood and fluids must work against gravity to travel back up your legs to the heart. Compression stockings improve the efficiency of this process.
Compression stockings are tightest at the ankles and lessen in compression the higher up they go toward the knee and thigh. This is why they are also called 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 compressed, the blood flow through the vein is accelerated and potentially dangerous blood pooling is prevented.
Compression stockings also help to reduce leg swelling, which can result from poor circulation or other health conditions that affect your lymphatic system. Lower leg and ankle swelling is the most common problem they treat.
What do compression socks help with?
Common medical conditions that are treated with 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
It's also a good idea to wear compression stockings during long travel times (more than three hours per journey) via airplane, car or train. This can be especially beneficial for post-surgical cases and women who are pregnant.
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.
Sports compression garments
Compression stockings also minimize leg muscle fatigue by keeping muscle fibers close together, which makes them popular with athletes.
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.
Many professional sports teams and organizations include compression therapy for their athletes to help them recover from training. Pneumatic compression devices go beyond conventional compression garments by using air pressure to inflate and deflate sleeves to further improve the efficacy of compression for athletes.
What compression socks are the best?
Therapeutic compression stockings and socks 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 and venous insufficiency.
Over the counter compression hose can help you with mild symptoms, and prescription strength hose can help with more severe symptoms. The strength of compression can vary, and there are different sizes and lengths available. It's important to discuss with your doctor what type of compression hose are right for you.