What do compressions socks do?
Compression stockings are a helpful solution to optimize blood flow, or circulation, by applying pressure to your lower legs. They can also help improve blood flow from your legs to your heart, reducing discomfort and swelling. Compression socks may be prescribed by your GP if you have varicose veins or other conditions that cause poor blood flow. In addition, they aid in preventing blood clots and reducing pain, fatigue, and swelling.
The Advantages of Compression Socks
Your doctor may advise you to wear compression socks to:
- Improve circulation in your legs
- Prevent blood from pooling in your leg
- Support veins
- Reduce leg swelling
- Reduce orthostatic hypotension, which causes lightheadedness or unsteadiness when standing assistance avoid venous ulcers
- Prevent developing deep vein thrombosis in your legs
- Alleviate the pain caused by varicose veins
- Enhance lymphatic drainage
How do they work?
Compression stockings put pressure on your legs and ankles, which can:
- reduce the diameter of major veins by increasing the volume and velocity of blood flow
- help blood flow up toward the heart
- help prevent blood from refluxing downward to the foot or into superficial veins
Types of compression stockings
The three primary types of compression stockings are:
graduated compression stockings
nonmedical support hosiery
The level of compression in graduated compression stockings is greatest at the ankle and gradually decreases towards the top. They are intended for mobility as well as to meet specific length and strength medical specifications.
Graduated compression stockings are typically fitted by a professional. Stockings that end just below the knee help to reduce lower leg swelling (peripheral edema) caused by fluid accumulation. Stockings that reach the thigh or waist help prevent orthostatic hypotension by reducing blood pooling in the legs. Some suppliers provide options for personal preferences, such as colour and open- or closed-toe socks.
Anti-embolism stockings help to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. They provide gradient compression, similar to graduated stockings. However, the degree of compression varies. Anti-embolism stockings are intended for people who are unable to move, and want the option of open or closed toe.
Non-medical support hosiery
Non-medical support hosiery usually does not require a prescription. They include elastic support hose and flight socks, both of which are marketed as potential remedies for tired, aching legs. These provide uniform compression while putting less pressure on the legs than prescription compression stockings. Non-medical compression stockings are available at most pharmacies and online.
How to Pick the Right Compression Socks
How do you decide which compression socks to wear? There are numerous options available, including different compression grades, height, style, and even colours! While the style and colour are mostly a matter of personal preference, the compression grade and height can be determined by your specific requirements.
The most common compression grades are 15-20mmHg for prevention and 20-30mmHg for medical reasons. The other extremes are represented by the 8-12mmHg and 30-40mmHg grades. If you have any medical conditions and compression levels of 20-30mmHg or higher, consult your doctor to determine the proper compression level.
Compression can be worn up to the knee, thigh, or full pantyhose length. Look for any varicose veins or swelling to determine which height is the best. To provide proper support, the sock should cover the affected area. Because the affected area is usually in the lower leg, knee high socks are a popular choice. This is especially true in the case of swelling, as the fluids will be drawn down to the lower leg by gravity. The knee high sock is a great place to start if you have swelling in your ankles.
Make an appointment with your local Canadian Certified Pedorthist for more information and a pedorthic assessment to find the right compression socks for you.
The main point
Compression socks apply pressure to your legs and ankles in order to increase blood flow from your lower extremities to your heart.
If your doctor prescribes compression socks to treat a condition like venous insufficiency, remember to:
- Get properly fitted
- Follow the instructions for properly putting them on and taking them off.
- Follow all of your doctor’s recommendations, including when and how long you should wear them.
- Keep an eye out for any skin changes in the areas where the stockings come into contact with your skin.
Talk to your local Canadian Certified Pedorthist to help you with compression socks.
Written by Reza Sands, C. Ped (C)