Last Updated February 11, 2020
Perhaps you have been seeing them everywhere, wondering what they really are or what they do.
Or maybe you never even heard of them…
Either way, this is the right place to come. This article would help you understand what compression stockings are, what they are used for, how to wear them and the benefits of wearing them.
Compression stockings, simply put, are specialized socks.
Yes, specialized socks that are usually worn around the leg or thighs. They are composed of strong elastic fibers which serve to make the socks very taut and firm when they are worn.
They usually come in different sizes and the amount of pressure applied on the leg also varies.
WHAT ARE COMPRESSION SOCKS USED FOR AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
As specialized socks, they are used to apply pressure on the veins of the legs.
A little background information on the veins:
Veins are low pressure blood vessels, meaning that blood flow in them is slower than is seen in arteries. They also have wider diameters and valves which prevent the backflow of blood; the valves help to ensure that blood flows in one direction – forward
Now, all these features are more prominent in the veins in the legs. So, this makes it easier for blood clots to form (a process known as thrombosis).
These blood clots that are formed can impede the flow of blood in the blood vessels. They can also dislodge from where they are formed and go to lodge in the brain, the lungs, the heart and cause stroke or fatal damage. This is what happens in Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT).
In the legs, the blood is moving upwards, against gravity, which further reduces its speed in the veins and can lead to stasis (blood stops moving).
Due to all these factors, there is also a higher chance of the blood vessels present in the legs getting inflamed; this is known as phlebitis.
Hope you are still with me?
Now, back to compression socks.
Compression socks would prevent all these aforementioned conditions by decreasing the diameter of the veins present in the legs and increasing their pressure. This would inadvertently lead to an increased blood flow in these veins, preventing thrombosis, stasis and phlebitis.
Again, the calf muscles are sometimes called the ‘second heart’. This term is used to describe them because they compress leg veins during movement which would help to push or ‘pump’ blood further up in the veins. However, during long periods of sitting or standing, this function is not active, because the calf muscles need movement to function.
Hence, the need for compression stockings.
Compression socks would compress the muscles of the calf which would lead to an increased and better blood flow in the legs.
Furthermore, they can be also worn for comfort. They are elastic and can be used to make standing easier, especially in jobs that require standing for long periods of time.
Lastly, they can be worn for fashion. Compression socks come in different colors and styles and can be used as matching or complementing outfits.
WHERE DID COMPRESSION SOCKS ORIGINATE FROM?
Interestingly, the principle of compression for therapy is not a new concept. It has been around for as far back as 5000BC.
Now, that is some way back!
Some carvings of soldiers of the era were discovered wearing some form of bandage around their legs, presumably because they had to travel long distances.
During the Middle Ages (a period between the 5th and 15th century) there was widespread use of compression bandages mainly for therapeutic purposes
In the 17th century, newer innovations came to the fore as a link between external pressure and stasis of blood flow was established. There was also the introduction of different materials for the production of compression stockings such as silk, polyester, coconut and nylon.
In the 19th century, it was established that compression socks could be used in the treatment of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and this was a major turning point in compression therapy.
So, compression socks have gone through different modifications to become what they are today. It’s quite a story if you ask me!
WHO SHOULD WEAR COMPRESSION STOCKINGS?
Several classes of people have found compression stockings useful over the years and they include:
- Those with a high risk of having impaired circulation like Deep Venous thrombosis (DVT), diabetes or people with varicose veins – Varicose veins are veins just below the skin surface that have become visibly enlarged and dilated
- People who just had surgery: The reason for this is not far-fetched; they might not get moving immediately and compression stockings would help to improve circulation during this period.
- Those who have difficulty in moving their legs: If there is immobility of the legs, then stasis of blood flow may occur and this can lead to blood clots and other conditions mentioned earlier.
- People who spend a lot of time standing or sitting all day long like nurses, office attendants, receptionist, waiters… the list is so long.
- Those who spend several hours at a stretch on a plane like pilots, attendants
- Pregnant women: Hormones released during pregnancy and the size of the expanding uterus can cause a compression of the Inferior vena cava (a large vein in the abdomen) which would reduce venous return in the legs. This can lead to other complications like thrombosis, varicose veins and deep venous thrombosis.
TYPES OF COMPRESSION STOCKINGS
There are several types of compression socks around.
Based on the amount of pressure, there are low and high pressure socks. The low pressure socks are usually at a pressure of 10 – 15 mmHg (usually called a class 1). Pressures higher than 15mmHg are high and in some countries would usually require a prescription to get them and some knowledge on the part of the user.
They can also come in different styles like the compression sleeves, pantyhose, the knee-length, the thigh length, the maternity pantyhose and waist attachment.
- Graduated compression stockings have a higher pressure at the level of the ankles and this pressure decreases in value upwards. They exert more pressure around the ankles so that there can be a natural return of blood to the heart. They are typically used in people that can move around. Graduated compression is the best as it prevents cutting off the blood supply at the level of the knee, since the pressure gradually eases as it moves upwards.
- Anti-embolism stockings or TED hoses are designed for those who cannot move around. These would prevent formation of clots and help to improve the venous return of blood. They are particularly effective against Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT).
BENEFITS OF WEARING COMPRESSION SOCKS
- They can attenuate pain and swelling at the ankle and knee. This is especially true for those who have to stand for long periods of time. The gentle pressure applied by the compression would keep the joints firm and provide comfort and support for tired or aching legs.
- It prevents the pooling of blood in the leg veins. This is very important; no pooling of blood means no stasis and no deep venous thrombosis (formation of blood clots)
- Orthostatic hypotension is a kind of hypotension that happens when a person stands from rest. Compression socks help to prevent this by improving circulation in the legs. This could prevent the dip in blood pressure that happens in orthostatic hypotension.
- The gentle pressure applied by compression socks can also help to improve the lymphatic drainage. Impaired lymphatic drainage would lead to edema (swelling) and discomfort.
- In athletes, compression socks would prevent the build-up of lactic acid and might also lead to better performance. It is also very useful after exercise; it helps better recovery and helps you prepare for the next performance.
- It prevents deep venous thrombosis in flights that last for long hours. Studies have shown that people who travel in flights that last for more than 4 hours are prone to developing deep venous thrombosis. As earlier mentioned, the most common site for clot formation is usually in the legs. Wearing compression socks would help to reduce this risk by compressing the calf muscles to ensure better circulation. It would also prevent swelling of the legs.
- It also helps to prevent DVT in patients who have just had surgery. This is especially important when a person might not be able to move for a while after the surgery. It is more common in surgeries that involve the hip, thighs or abdomen.
- Compression socks are healthy and trendy. I mean, who does not love a pair of cool socks? They come in different sizes, colors and designs and you can use them to also make a fashion statement.
WEARING COMPRESSION SOCKS
Wearing nonmedical compression socks are very easy, but some things to take note of include:
- Fit: Ensure that the compression socks fit properly so that there would be no irritation or redness on your legs if it is too tight. Also, the fit is what determines how effective the stockings would be; a loose, large fitting would not give the benefit of wearing the socks. You can have your legs measured at the pharmacy before purchase so they can get your size.
- Ensure that your skin is clean and dry before wearing compression socks. Any lotion that might have been previously applied should be completely absorbed; avoid a most skin surface as much as possible.
- There should be no broken skin or injuries on the legs when compression socks would be worn so that it does not get infected and the healing process is not impaired.
- Some people might be allergic to some materials used to make compression socks. Any allergies should be noted and the particular materials avoided.
- The stockings should be put on for as long as needed. Wear it throughout the flight, the job or whatever activity it was needed for.
HOW TO EASILY WEAR COMPRESSION SOCKS
So many people order for a pair of compression socks and then are faced with a supposedly herculean task when it is time to wear it. However, it should not be that difficult.
The method many people use – bunching, is what makes wearing compression stockings difficult or impossible. Bunching should not be used!
Instead use the following tips:
- Ensure that all nails are cut regularly so that they don’t pierce the stockings
- Avoid all anklets or foot jewelry when you want to use compression socks
- You can apply Talcum powder to make the process of wearing the socks smoother.
- You can also wear stocking aid, usually in form of a slip on
- Place your hands inside the socks and then hold the heel pocket and reverse it. Male sure you do not lose the heel pocket.
- Gently wear the stockings through the reversed heel pocket you are still holding. Pull it up until it gets to the heel.
- Then with caution, you can pull the rest of the stocking from the tip of your toes upwards.
- Adjust all wrinkles and ensure that it is smooth.
- You can then remove the slip on
- This method eliminates all the struggle and stress that comes with bunching.
Another good method of wearing compression socks is to use a stocking application device. It is very simple and easy to use.
While wearing, do not use your fingernails to pull the compression stockings. If a single thread gets pulled out, most likely, the entire compression stockings would be damaged.
Also, compression stockings should not be machine washed. They should be washed in lukewarm water and mild detergent. Avoid using harsh detergent while washing them. Also avoid brushing and when you are done washing, dry in air in a cool place. Avoid drying in the hot sun.
All these tips that are given above would help to promote the longevity of your compression socks and retain its firmness. These tips would also ensure that it remains tight so that it can perform its function.
For medical compression socks:
- Your doctor or nurse would most likely prescribe the exact type and pressure needed for you. Make sure you do not buy something different.
- You have to wear it once you wake up in the morning and then remove them before you sleep at night. The idea is to wear the compression stockings before your leg swells.
- It is usually recommended that you have at least to pairs so you can wear one while the other is washed.
- You might be asked to come back in a few months to for your condition to be assessed and then a decision is made on whether to change the pressure or continue or stop altogether
As we have seen in this article, compression stockings are easy and effective. They provide a cheap and efficient solution to various medical problems and significantly reduce the risk of acquiring others. They have become a classy method of staying healthy.
You can maintain your circulation while still going about your normal activities without any form of stress. Plus, there is the added advantage of looking so good in the stockings!
You should definitely try out one pair of compression socks today!