Graduated compression therapy is an effective treatment for venous disease by compressing the surface veins, decreasing their diameter, and forcing blood into to the deep venous system. Research has proven that when compression is used to treat medical disease such as varicose veins and leg swelling, it should be at least 20 to 30 mmHg and in most cases, knee high stockings are enough. Research has not proven that wearing thigh high or full compression panty hose are of any more benefit but some people are more comfortable in higher compression depending on their situation. It is also well known that compression stockings help control swelling, regardless of the cause.
Graduated compression means that the tension in the stockings at the foot is at the highest level and it gradually decreases towards the knee. This empties the blood from the surface vessels and pushes it into the deep system and encourages upward flow so it can more effectively be returned to the heart. They also increase the speed at which the blood flow through the deep vein.
Who benefits from compression therapy?
Simple answer is everyone. Compression stockings can decrease symptoms such as tired, achy or swollen legs. They are generally prescribed for people with venous insufficiency, varicose veins, venous reflux, chronic swelling, lymphedema and an active or healed leg ulcer.
Compression therapy is not a new treatment. The use of compression therapy for treatment of venous disease is mentioned in the Old Testament and was performed by Hippocrates in the fourth century BC. There is also documentation of Roman soldiers binding their legs prior to long marches to improve their endurance and prevent leg fatigue. Unfortunately, it is a much underutilized treatment that is non-invasive and very effective.
How often and for how long should I wear the compression stockings?
Compression works best when they are applied first thing in the morning and removed at bedtime. Compression only helps manage symptoms. Whatever condition you have that gives you symptoms will still be there when you remove the stockings and can progressively get worse.
What do I do if the compression doesn’t help?
Compression hose should be fitted to your leg shape. It is important to be measured by someone who is trained to fit them. There are many different companies that make compression stockings and some fit different body shapes better than others. The good news is that compression is not just ugly hose, there are many different types now some that resemble cotton tube socks and microfiber dress socks. If your compression stockings are uncomfortable, have them checked to be sure you have the correct size. Also, if there is an underlying health condition that makes wearing compression painful, it should be evaluated by a health care professional and treated.