What are Compression Stockings?
Compression stockings are specially designed stockings or socks that apply pressure to your lower legs, helping to maintain blood flow and reduce discomfort and swelling. They may be prescribed by your doctor for conditions that cause poor blood flow in your legs, such as varicose veins (swollen and enlarged veins), venous leg ulcers (a sore, damaged area of skin that takes weeks to heal) and lymphoedema (when your body’s tissues swell up painfully). They are often also prescribed as part of follow-up and ongoing care after diagnosis of DVT to help reduce swelling, increase blood flow and regulate pain.
Why Wear Compression?
Compression therapy is important to recovery from DVT because it helps to slow the progression of vein disease and promotes a stronger circulatory system by supporting weak or wavy (also known as incompetent) veins and valves and accelerating blood flow back to the heart. If you have a DVT, it is recommended that you wear compression stockings for up to two years after your DVT and in some cases, for the rest of your life to promote good circulation and help prevent Post Thrombotic Syndrome (PTS).
Recent studies have indicated that wearing compression may not be as beneficial as once thought in preventing long-term problems after DVT, although many medical professional have concluded that more research is needed.
What Kind of Compression to Get
Medical grade compression stockings come in a variety of compression strengths (known as mmHg), depending on what you need. Be sure to discuss your situation with your doctor to get the right compression for you. The grades include:
- 15-20 mmHg (Mild) – Generally for mild spider veins, slight varicose veins, achy legs.
- 20-30 mmHg (Moderate) – Generally for leg fatigue and heaviness, moderate spider veins, pronounced varicose veins.
- 30-40 mmHG (Firm) – Generally for severe varicose veins, post sclerotherapy and prevention of post-thrombotic syndrome.
Get fitted! Compression stockings have graduated pressure, meaning the pressure is strongest and the ankle and decreases as it goes up the leg. It is really important to get fitted by a professional for the correct size of compression stockings. A Certified Fitter (found at medical supply stores and some pharmacies, call ahead to ask about specifics) measures your calf and ankle sizes and also the length of your leg to make sure you have the right size to maximize compression benefits. Try to get fitted as early in the day as possible before swelling increases.
Compression stockings come in a variety of basic colors including beige, black, navy, sheer and nude. They also come in thigh-high, knee-high, waist-high and open-toed (which I love to wear in the summer!).
Where to Buy Compression
- Medical Supply Stores (i.e. places where prosthetics, orthotics, wheelchairs, etc. are sold) – Many insurance companies will cover or supplement the cost of compression stockings if they are ordered through a medical supply store so I recommend checking there first. Most, if not all, medical supply dealers require a prescription from your doctor so be sure to ask for one. Also, check with your insurance ahead of time for a list of pre-approved dealers in your area. If insurance does not supplement your stockings, you will most likely pay full price at a medical supply store.
- Chain Drug Stores/Pharmacies (i.e. CVS, Walgreens, Discount Drug Mart, etc.) – Pharmacies and drug stores are a great option to look for compression stockings because they often offer a less expensive selection of compression stockings.
- Hospital Pharmacies – Many physicians will prescribe you a pair of stockings before you are discharged. Ask if you can return to the pharmacy to get a new pair in the future.
- Online – You may be able to purchase compression stockings online (especially novelty ones, like colors and patterns!). Just be sure if you are purchasing from an online retailer, you are still getting the right grade compression for your needs. A quick Google Search should turn up a variety of fashionable compression stockings.
The Cost of Compression
Compression stockings are not cheap. Generally, you can expect to spend anywhere from $29-$110 per pair. Many of the drug store stores offer an “economy brand” of stockings that are in the $29-$40 range. Stockings ordered from medical supply shops range from $60 to upwards of $110. The cost of compression stockings vary depending on the length (thigh-high, knee-high or waist-high); material; brand and whether or not your insurance offers any coverage for compression stockings.
Medical Compression vs. Sport Compression
It is important to note there is a difference between what are known as medical-grade compression stockings and sport or recovery compression stockings. Runners and other athletes sometimes use compression socks to increase blood flow during exercise, which some think may reduce soreness, increase endurance and performance, stabilize joints, activate blood flow and increase coordination, although the research is not conclusive on this stance. Examples of sport compression stockings can be found from CEP and Zensah and range from $40-$60. Athletic compression stockings are not as pressurized as medical grade stockings and may not be suitable for your recovery needs.
What to Expect
Compression stockings take a little while to get used to and can seem painful or even cause a burning sensation when first wearing them. As with many things dealing with recovery from DVT and PE, give your body a chance to adapt and a chance for them to start working.
Compression stockings may be work on one or both legs. You should expect to replace them every 3-6 months depending on how often you wear each stocking or pair of stockings.
- Wear your compression stockings when you are going to be sitting and/or standing for long periods of time (i.e. at work – sitting or standing).
- Put your stockings on as soon as you can in the morning when swelling is minimal and they will be easier to put on then.
- You do not need to wear your compression stockings when you go to bed or if you are going to be lying flat. Blood flow is optimized when you are lying down so they are not needed. Your body actually needs a break from compression at some point and nighttime is the perfect time to take one.
- Rotate your stockings (if you have more than one pair) for maximum wearability.
- Be sure to follow the packaging instructions for washing your stockings. Contrary to what you may think, many types actually suggest machine washing and drying to extend the life of the stocking.
- Many medical supply stores offer additional products to assist you in getting compression stockings on, for example, if you are struggling or do not have a lot of strength to pull them up.
- Wear compression stockings when you are travelling (a long flight or car ride) to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of DVT.
- You don’t have to have a DVT to wear compression! People who primarily sit or stand during the day can wear compression as a preventative measure to decrease the risk of DVT.
- Wearing compression stockings can be damaging to your self-esteem because unless you wear pants and closed-toe shoes, they are not easy to hide. I’ve been wearing them in spite of my self-esteem lately and decided I am proud to show I am a Survivor.
Reader Writes In. Do you wear compression stockings? Why or why not? What kind do you wear? Have you noticed that compression stockings help or hurt you?
There is hope for healing and you are not alone,