Compression stockings, or compression socks, are specially designed pieces of clothing that provide pressure on the legs (usually the lower leg) to reduce the likelihood of blood clots, deep venous thrombosis (DVT), edema, varicose veins, achy legs, and other issues related to swelling and the pooling of blood or fluid in the leg.
How Compression Stockings Work
Blood needs to circulate to keep from clotting. When blood clots form in blood that circulates freely, they are often reabsorbed by the body. If circulation is poor, however, blood clots can pile up and block a vein, as in DVT, or the clots can travel throughout the body and do serious damage elsewhere by creating an embolism.
Compression socks work to increase circulation by offering graduated compression, meaning the stocking is tighter at the ankle, and less tight at the top of the stocking. Much like squeezing the bottom of a tube of toothpaste, this assists in moving blood and fluid up the leg.
Using Compression Stockings
Like regular socks, compression socks are generally worn throughout the day or night. This allows the stockings to work and provide consistent blood flow over a long period of time. Individual requirements vary, however, so those considering using compression socks should be sure to consult a doctor.
Compression stockings can feel uncomfortable at first, due to their tight fit. Usually this discomfort will subside after a few days. Since stockings can be prescribed for long periods of time, from days to months to the rest of a patient's life, it is very important to ensure the stockings are comfortable.
Finding the Right Compression Stocking
It is not difficult to find stockings available for purchase over the counter at a local pharmacy or medical supply store. Most often, however, they are prescribed by a doctor for patients with low levels of activity, those who have recently undergone surgery, or following diagnosis of a condition such as deep venous thrombosis.
Many compression stockings can be found in a wide variety of sizes, lengths, styles, colors, and levels of compression to suit any user. Some stockings will only reach the knee, while others are designed to fit all the way up to the waist. There are stockings that cover the whole foot or have open toes, but some leave the whole foot exposed.
Sizing of compression stockings is very important; an improperly fitted stocking will not provide the correct amount of compression. Often, the medical supply companies that sell compression stockings will have reliable methods for measuring the legs of a patient to ensure proper stocking fit. A doctor prescribing compression stockings should be able to recommend a good company.
Higher-grade stockings are designed with specific pressure ranges in mind, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The higher the mmHg rating, the higher the level of compression the stocking provides.
A large number of health insurance companies will pay for compression stockings, assuming the stockings are prescribed by a doctor. A quick call to the insurance company can determine whether or not stockings are covered.