Compression stockings are used in varicose veins for two main reasons – as a form of treatment and secondly as an adjunct to definitive surgical treatment. Proper compression stockings are graduated with respect to the support they give to the leg – what that means is that they are designed to be tighter at the bottom of the leg than at the top. This is to encourage the blood to be pushed back up the leg in the correct direction. The sizing of the stocking is important – for example a large size stocking will not exert much compression on a very slim leg.
Compression stockings are graded in a variety of ways depending on how tightly they squeeze the leg. In the UK a Type 1 stockings is the lightest compression (also referred to as 10 – 15 mmHg compression). Type 2 (12 – 20 mmHg) and Type 3 are progressively tighter and Type 4 are the most compressive but also extremely difficult to get on!
For the vast majority of patients a type 1 or Type 2 stocking is suitable.
Stockings as a treatment option
Much of the aching and soreness caused by varicose veins is as a consequence of the stretching of the veins by the backflow of the blood in the vessels. Surgery will fix this problem by closing the leaking pipe, but stockings perform the same function by compressing the vein from the outside.
Stockings are also used as the main treatment for patients suffering from lymphedema which cannot be cured by surgery.
Stockings as an adjunct to surgery
After surgery there are a few days where the leg is a little sore and bruised. During this time wearing a pair of compression stockings is very helpful for reducing the inevitable post-operative discomfort by providing a n element of external support for the leg. By using stockings patients usually find they need to take fewer painkillers after surgery, so compression stockings can be considered as a painkiller that does not need to be swallowed!