Your Guide to 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 professionals 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, and achy legs.
  • 20-30 mmHg (Moderate) – Generally for leg fatigue and heaviness, moderate spider veins, and 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 can be found at medical supply stores and some pharmacies, so call ahead to ask about specifics. They will measure 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 with flip-flops or sandals.

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 great options 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 because not all of them are medical-quality compression stockings. A quick Google Search, or Amazon, 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 and up. The cost of compression stockings varies 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. Check because sometimes they are partially or fully covered with your plan.

Medical Compression vs. Sport Compression

It is important to note there is a difference between what is 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 can even increase coordination, although the research is not conclusive on this stance. Sports compression wear is generally less expensive than medical-grade products, but not always. Athletic compression stockings are not graduated like medical-grade stockings and may not be suitable for your recovery needs. Check with your doctor about what kind of compression you need.

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 worn 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. Wash them according to the packaging instructions to preserve their effectiveness.

Helpful Hints
  • 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.
  • Give your legs a break too! Most medical experts suggest removing your compression stockings when you are going to bed at night. Blood flow is optimized when you are lying down so they are not needed.
  • Rotate your stockings (if you have more than one pair) for maximum wearability.
  • Be sure to follow the packaging instructions for washing your stockings.
  • Many medical supply stores offer additional products to assist you in getting compression stockings on. If you are struggling or do not have a lot of strength to pull them up there are devices that can make it easier for you.
  • Wear compression stockings when you are traveling (a long flight or car ride) to increase blood flow and reduce the risk of DVT.
  • People who primarily sit or stand during the day and are at increased risk for a blood clot may consider wearing compression as a preventative measure to decrease the risk of a blood clot.
  • Wearing compression stockings can be damaging to your self-esteem because they look funny and are not easy to hide. If you’re uncomfortable with them, think about what you can wear to cover them (long skirts, slacks), or recognize that most people don’t take the time to notice you even have them on.

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?

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