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Compression stockings

Compression hose; Pressure stockings; Support stockings; Gradient stockings; Varicose veins - compression stockings; Venous insufficiency - compression stockings

You wear compression stockings to improve blood flow in your legs. Compression stockings gently squeeze your legs to move blood up your legs. This helps prevent leg swelling and, to a lesser extent, blood clots.

If you have varicose veins, spider veins, or have just had surgery, your health care provider may prescribe compression stockings.

Wearing stockings helps with:

  • Aching and heavy feeling in legs
  • Swelling in legs
  • Preventing blood clots, primarily after surgery or injury when you are less active

Types of Compression Stockings

Talk to your provider about what kind of compression stockings are right for you. There are many different compression stockings. They come in different:

  • Pressures, from light pressure to strong pressure
  • Lengths, from knee-high to the top of the thigh
  • Colors

Buying Compression Stockings

Call your health insurance or prescription plan:

  • Find out if they pay for compression stockings.
  • Ask if your durable medical equipment benefit pays for compression stockings.
  • Get a prescription from your doctor.
  • Find a medical equipment store where they can measure your legs so you get a good fit.

Wearing Compression Stockings

Follow instructions on how long each day you need to wear your compression stockings. You may need to wear them all day.

The stockings should feel strong around your legs. You will feel the most pressure around your ankles and less pressure higher up your legs.

Putting on Your Compression Stockings

Put on stockings first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Your legs have the least amount of swelling early in the morning.

  • Hold the top of the stocking and roll it down to the heel.
  • Put your foot into the stocking as far as you can. Put your heel in the heel of the stocking.
  • Pull the stocking up. Unroll the stocking over your leg.
  • After the top of the stocking is in place, smooth out any wrinkles.
  • Do not let the stockings bunch up or wrinkle.
  • Knee length stockings should come to 2 fingers below the knee bend.

Compression Stockings can be Hard to put on

If it's hard for you to put on the stockings, try these tips:

  • Apply lotion on your legs but let it dry before you put on the stockings.
  • Use a little baby powder or cornstarch on your legs. This may help the stockings slide up.
  • Put on rubber dishwashing gloves to help adjust the stockings and smooth them out.
  • Use a special gadget called a stocking donner to slide the stocking over your foot. You can buy a donner at a medical supply store or online.

Wash Your Stockings Every Day

Keep the stockings clean:

  • Wash the stockings each day with mild soap and water. Rinse and air dry.
  • If you can, have 2 pairs. Wear 1 pair each day. Wash and dry the other pair.
  • Replace your stockings every 3 to 6 months so that they maintain their support.

When to Call the Doctor

If your stockings feel too uncomfortable, call your provider. Find out if there is a different kind of stocking that will work for you. Do not stop wearing them without talking to your provider.

References

Caprini JA, Arcelus JI, Tafur AJ. Venous thromboembolic disease: mechanical and pharmacologic prophylaxis. In: Sidawy AN, Perler BA, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 146.

Lim CS, Davies AH. Graduated compression stockings. CMAJ. 2014;186(10):E391-E398. PMID 24591279 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24591279.

  • Varicose veins

    Animation

  •  

    Varicose veins - Animation

    From the outside, your veins look like nothing more than a few faint blue lines under your skin. But inside your body, they work hard to transport blood from your organs to your heart. Sometimes, blood can get stuck in your veins and make them swell up so they really stick out. These swollen veins are called varicose veins. And if you have them, you may be putting a lot of effort into covering them up. Veins have valves in them that prevent blood from flowing the wrong way. They're kind of like the valves in your bathroom plumbing that prevent hot water in the water heater from backing up into the cold water supply. The valves inside your veins make sure that your blood keeps flowing in the right direction, toward your heart. But if those valves aren't working correctly, blood can back up and get stuck inside a vein. As the blood collects, the vein swells. So, what causes the valves in the veins to malfunction? Well, you may have been born with defective valves. Or, you might be putting on extra pressure on the veins in your legs if you stand for long periods of time, or you're pregnant. When you have varicose veins, you, and your doctor, should be able to tell just by looking at them. They look like raised, thick blue or purple veins. Varicose veins can also make your legs ache and your ankles swell. So, how are varicose veins treated? Well, first, your doctor will recommend rest and support for your varicose veins. Avoid standing for long periods of time, and prop up your feet on a pillow or box whenever you sit. Wearing elastic support hose can also help. If you're in a lot of pain from your varicose veins, or their appearance really bothers you, your doctor may recommend a treatment such as lasers to minimize the veins. Or, you may have a type of surgery called vein stripping. During this procedure, the surgeon threads a thin, plastic wire into each varicose vein and then pulls the vein out. At first, varicose veins are more of a cosmetic problem than a health issue. But over time, they can get worse. Some people develop sores, inflammation from phlebitis, clots, or their varicose vein breaks. Talk to your doctor if you have varicose veins, especially if they hurt or they don't improve from wearing support hose or staying off your feet. Call your doctor right away if you have intense pain, swelling, fever, or a sore on your leg.

  • Venous insufficiency

    Animation

  •  

    Venous insufficiency - Animation

    If you have dull, aching, or cramping pain in your legs, and pain that gets worse when you stand, you may have a condition called venous insufficiency. In venous insufficiency, the veins in your legs have trouble sending blood back to your heart. Normally, valves in your legs keep your blood flowing back towards your heart so it doesn't collect in one place. But the valves in varicose veins are either damaged or missing. This causes your veins to remain filled with blood, especially when you're standing. A blockage in your vein from a blood clot, called a deep venous thrombosis, can also cause this problem. So, how do you know if you have venous insufficiency? Well, you'll probably feel a dull aching, heaviness, or cramping in your legs. Your legs will swell up when you're on them too long. Your legs may itch or tingle. Pain will get worse when you stand, and better when you raise your legs. Your legs and ankles may also be red. You may notice skin color changes around your ankles. You may see varicose veins on the surface of your legs. You may feel thickening and hardening of the skin on your legs and ankles. So, what can you do about venous insufficiency? Well, your doctor will tell you to use compression stockings to decrease the swelling in your legs. You'll probably have to avoid long periods of sitting or standing. Even moving your legs slightly will help the blood in your veins return to your heart. Walking helps in that same way. Your doctor may recommend surgery or other treatments for varicose veins if you've tried everything and you still have leg pain that feels heavy or tired, skin ulcers or sores caused by poor blood flow. If blood clots are causing you problems, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulant or blood-thinning medicines, to treat existing blood clots and prevent others. Your doctor may suggest you try to keep your legs elevated above your heart when you lie down. You may improve your circulation through exercise. And finally, if you need to lose weight, weight loss can be a very helpful treatment of venous insufficiency and swelling.

  • Pressure stockings

    Pressure stockings - illustration

    Pressure stockings will improve blood flow in your legs and lower your risk for blood clots. The stockings use graduated pressure to keep blood from pooling. They are tightest at the ankle and gradually decrease in pressure up the leg. Stockings may extend to your knee or up to your thigh.

    Pressure stockings

    illustration

  • Varicose veins

    Animation

  •  

    Varicose veins - Animation

    From the outside, your veins look like nothing more than a few faint blue lines under your skin. But inside your body, they work hard to transport blood from your organs to your heart. Sometimes, blood can get stuck in your veins and make them swell up so they really stick out. These swollen veins are called varicose veins. And if you have them, you may be putting a lot of effort into covering them up. Veins have valves in them that prevent blood from flowing the wrong way. They're kind of like the valves in your bathroom plumbing that prevent hot water in the water heater from backing up into the cold water supply. The valves inside your veins make sure that your blood keeps flowing in the right direction, toward your heart. But if those valves aren't working correctly, blood can back up and get stuck inside a vein. As the blood collects, the vein swells. So, what causes the valves in the veins to malfunction? Well, you may have been born with defective valves. Or, you might be putting on extra pressure on the veins in your legs if you stand for long periods of time, or you're pregnant. When you have varicose veins, you, and your doctor, should be able to tell just by looking at them. They look like raised, thick blue or purple veins. Varicose veins can also make your legs ache and your ankles swell. So, how are varicose veins treated? Well, first, your doctor will recommend rest and support for your varicose veins. Avoid standing for long periods of time, and prop up your feet on a pillow or box whenever you sit. Wearing elastic support hose can also help. If you're in a lot of pain from your varicose veins, or their appearance really bothers you, your doctor may recommend a treatment such as lasers to minimize the veins. Or, you may have a type of surgery called vein stripping. During this procedure, the surgeon threads a thin, plastic wire into each varicose vein and then pulls the vein out. At first, varicose veins are more of a cosmetic problem than a health issue. But over time, they can get worse. Some people develop sores, inflammation from phlebitis, clots, or their varicose vein breaks. Talk to your doctor if you have varicose veins, especially if they hurt or they don't improve from wearing support hose or staying off your feet. Call your doctor right away if you have intense pain, swelling, fever, or a sore on your leg.

  • Venous insufficiency

    Animation

  •  

    Venous insufficiency - Animation

    If you have dull, aching, or cramping pain in your legs, and pain that gets worse when you stand, you may have a condition called venous insufficiency. In venous insufficiency, the veins in your legs have trouble sending blood back to your heart. Normally, valves in your legs keep your blood flowing back towards your heart so it doesn't collect in one place. But the valves in varicose veins are either damaged or missing. This causes your veins to remain filled with blood, especially when you're standing. A blockage in your vein from a blood clot, called a deep venous thrombosis, can also cause this problem. So, how do you know if you have venous insufficiency? Well, you'll probably feel a dull aching, heaviness, or cramping in your legs. Your legs will swell up when you're on them too long. Your legs may itch or tingle. Pain will get worse when you stand, and better when you raise your legs. Your legs and ankles may also be red. You may notice skin color changes around your ankles. You may see varicose veins on the surface of your legs. You may feel thickening and hardening of the skin on your legs and ankles. So, what can you do about venous insufficiency? Well, your doctor will tell you to use compression stockings to decrease the swelling in your legs. You'll probably have to avoid long periods of sitting or standing. Even moving your legs slightly will help the blood in your veins return to your heart. Walking helps in that same way. Your doctor may recommend surgery or other treatments for varicose veins if you've tried everything and you still have leg pain that feels heavy or tired, skin ulcers or sores caused by poor blood flow. If blood clots are causing you problems, your doctor may prescribe anticoagulant or blood-thinning medicines, to treat existing blood clots and prevent others. Your doctor may suggest you try to keep your legs elevated above your heart when you lie down. You may improve your circulation through exercise. And finally, if you need to lose weight, weight loss can be a very helpful treatment of venous insufficiency and swelling.

  • Pressure stockings

    Pressure stockings - illustration

    Pressure stockings will improve blood flow in your legs and lower your risk for blood clots. The stockings use graduated pressure to keep blood from pooling. They are tightest at the ankle and gradually decrease in pressure up the leg. Stockings may extend to your knee or up to your thigh.

    Pressure stockings

    illustration

Self Care

 
 

Review Date: 7/12/2018

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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