What are compression stockings?
Compression stockings are a non-surgical treatment option for varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. The stockings are designed to improve blood flow from the legs back up to the heart, by applying varying grades of pressure from the foot to the knee or upper leg. Compression stockings come in a wide range of sizes and strengths, allowing a physician to customize treatment to a patient’s specific needs.
Compression stockings are not an effective way to eliminate varicose and spider veins that have already appeared. However, these stockings may help relieve symptoms that commonly accompany varicose veins, such as pain, swelling and cramping. They may also prevent additional varicose veins from forming. Compression stockings are often recommended after most venous treatments, to prevent blood clots from forming and promote healthy blood flow.
When are they used?
Compression stockings are often the first line of treatment for many types of venous conditions. The stockings fit tight around the foot, with tightness gradually diminishing as the socks move up the leg. The strength of the compression stocking ensures consistent squeezing of the leg muscles, which helps to move blood back up from the foot to the heart.
Compression stockings may be recommended alone or in conjunction with other vein treatments. They may also be prescribed after other types of surgery, to prevent blood clots from forming after a procedure. Compression stockings may be worn in a hospital setting or at home. Because they drive blood flow away from the leg, they are not recommended for patients with diabetes or smokers.
How do compression stockings work?
There are a number of variations on compression stockings, including the strength of the pressure, length of the sock and even colors. Compression strengths are measured by millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and include:
- Light compression (16-20 mm Hg)
- Class I – moderate compression (20-30 mm Hg)
- Class II - heavy compression (30-40 mm Hg)
- Class III – maximum compression (40-50 mm Hg)
Stockings are prescribed by a physician, based on the specific needs of the patient. Compression stockings are typically put on first thing in the morning, and worn throughout the day until bedtime.
Compression stockings should fit snugly, but they should not be too tight or uncomfortable in any way. They can be difficult to put on, particularly for those who have lost some dexterity in their fingers due to arthritis or other conditions. Tools are available to help those patients get their compression stockings on more easily.
The length of time for using compression stockings will also vary, based on the specific needs of the patient and the doctor’s recommendation. In some cases, compression stockings may be worn for a short period of time, to promote healing after surgery or another vein treatment. In other cases, compression stockings may be worn for many weeks or even months, to promote healthy blood flow in the legs over the long term.
Most compression stockings are designed to last approximately four to six months before they lose their strength. At that time, compression stockings must be replaced to maintain the positive effects.
How much do compression stockings cost?
Medical-grade compression stockings run anywhere from $30 to $100 per pair. Less expensive varieties are available in drugstores and department stores, but these stockings are not as strong or durable as the ones only available by prescription. If varicose veins are symptomatic and varicose veins are prescribed to alleviate symptoms, they may be covered at least in part by insurance. Insurance companies might also cover the cost of compression stockings used after surgical procedures to prevent the formation of blood clots.