Compressions stockings are often the first line of defence when treating varicose veins, but they are used to treat many conditions. Compression stockings also ease the ache in your legs caused by pregnancy or a career that demands long periods of standing. These medical garments may also help prolong the onset of varicose and spider veins. Athletes favor compression wear to assist in their performance and recovery. When considering the option of wearing compression stockings, it is essential to know how to choose the correct compression level and how to use them.
Ideally, compression stockings are prescribed by a healthcare professional, who may want to have your first pair professionally fit. If you are choosing compression on your own, it’s good to know that stocking manufacturers publish their measurement guides. You can learn how to measure for your own fit, and use those measurements to determine your size. You will need to measure the following areas:
- Your ankle
- Your calf at the widest point
- Your thigh (for thigh high compression)
- Your inseam (for thigh highs and compression tights)
The Many Benefits of Compression Stockings
Graduated compression stockings assist with proper circulation. The compression is strongest at your ankle and gradually decreases toward the top of your stocking. The additional pressure will keep your blood from pooling in your legs and reduce swelling. You could benefit from wearing compression stockings for any of the following conditions or concerns:
- Varicose or spider veins
- To help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- To reduce leg swelling during pregnancy
- After vein treatment to promote healing
- To help keep blood pressure from dropping (orthostatic hypotension)
- To assist with athletic performance through increased circulation
- To aid athletic recovery by accelerating the healing process
Understanding Compression Levels
The compression provided by your stockings is measured the same way a health care professional measures your blood pressure, in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). There are several compression levels to choose from.
15-20 mmHg (Over the Counter)
This level of compression is best to combat leg fatigue and swelling if you are on your feet for extended periods. You have a choice of knee highs, thigh highs or pantyhose. This is also the level of compression beneficial for athletic recovery and performance.
20-30 mmHg (Medical Grade Class I)
This level applies enough pressure for most people without being too strong. This compression level is commonly prescribed to manage varicose veins, reduce leg swelling and alleviate leg heaviness during pregnancy. 20-30 mmHg is also the most 30-40mmHg often prescribed level of compression for DVT.
30-40 mmHg (Medical Grade Class II)
This heavy level of compression is likely to be prescribed for a person with severe leg symptoms. It is also prescribed for those diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and lymphedema. For A high level of compression, it is recommended to purchase a durable fabric.
40-50 mmHg (Medical Grade Class III)
This level of compression is quite strong and should only be purchased under the advice of your physician. This compression level is not used as often as the others and is most often used to treat severe lymphedema and to treat wounds and ulcers caused by restricted circulation.
When to Wear Compression
Depending on your reasons for wearing compression, you may not need them every day. Some choose to wear compression stockings for work, travel or sports. For those wearing compression for varicose veins, edema or orthostatic issues, stockings are worn daily. While your stockings may seem difficult to get on at first, you will find that the following steps get easier with practice.
- Fold your stocking inside-out to the heel
- Place your toes and heal into the socking
- Pull up the stocking over your leg
- Do not let the stocking wrinkle or bunch
Donning gloves are available to help keep your fingers from damaging your stockings, and to help guide the stockings up your legs. Ordinary kitchen gloves will also work. If you still have difficulty, consider purchasing a stocking donner at a medical supply store.
Compression stockings can reduce the discomfort caused by swelling and varicose veins. They can help you feel more comfortable on the job or during pregnancy. Your stockings should be replaced every 3-6 months. How often you need to replace your stockings will depend on how you use them.