What are compression stockings?

Compression stockings are designed to help blood to pass up the leg, back to the heart. In order to do that, they are ‘graduated’ in the squeeze exerted on the leg – in other words they are tighter at the ankle and then less tight as the stocking progresses up the leg. This gradient of pressure squeezes blood and fluid out of the veins and soft tissues of the ankle and calf and pushes it upwards, assisting the normal effect of the vein system. High quality compression stockings are made from durable material that will last for several months, even if worn every day.

Compression stockings are different to TED stockings. TED stockings are given to patients to wear in hospitals during or immediately after surgery when they are immobile. Immobility increases the risk of Deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Wearing TED stockings reduces this risk by about 30%. TED stockings are only designed to work for 10 days – they are made from quite flimsy material. After that time they lose their elasticity and become ineffective. Most TED stockings are made for the full length of the leg. Most compression stockings are worn below the knee only.


Using stockings after surgery

We suggest patients use stockings after surgery for a short period of time (10 to 14 days). This is because it’s more comfortable for the leg to be in a stocking during the immediate post-operative period. We recommend the use of the TED type stocking after surgery, because they are easier to get on and off than a long – term compression stocking and can be thrown away after two weeks maximum use. The worst thing about stockings is the tendency for them to slip down the leg. Use of a suspender belt can be helpful to prevent this.


Who benefits from compression stockings?

Compression stockings are worn by many people suffering from swelling of the legs. This can be as a result of varicose veins, a common condition called lymphedema, or for patients who have had a previous deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Compression stockings are worn by patients to prevent leg swelling – not to prevent the risk of another DVT


Do compression stockings prevent varicose veins?

No. Compression stockings will not prevent you developing varicose veins, but if you have varicose veins they will help reduce some of the symptoms of varicose veins. In other words, compression stockings will stop the legs swelling, feeling heavy, tight or achy. They also reduce the throbbing feeling that people with varicose veins get in the lower calf. If you wear compression stockings regularly, they will also prevent the skin damage that occurs in the lower leg which happens after a DVT or in longstanding varicose veins. This skin damage can eventually deteriorate to a venous ulcer.


Should I wear compression stockings when flying?

If your legs swell significantly when on a plane, then you may benefit from using compression stockings. Everyone gets leg swelling on a plane to a greater or lesser extent, so using compression stockings can help to prevent this. There is no credible scientific evidence that wearing stockings on a plane will reduce the risk of getting a DVT during the flight. Stockings should be worn just up to the knee – not the full length of the leg. Sometimes the stockings can become very tight just behind the knee if they slip down a bit. If that happens on your leg, you are probably better taking them off!


Should I wear compression stockings during pregnancy?

It depends on how much your legs swell up. Most women will get leg swelling in the later stages of pregnancy due to the increasing size of the uterus preventing blood from getting out of the leg and pelvis. Most women will benefit from using compression stockings in the last couple of months of pregnancy to help the symptoms of swelling and aching.


What type of compression stockings should I use?

Only use below knee stockings for long term wear. Full leg stockings are too uncomfortable for long term use – most people cannot tolerate wearing a full leg stocking every day. Comfort is important – if the stocking is uncomfortable, it’s unlikely that you will be able to tolerate using them on a long – term basis.

Only wear a light or moderate compression stocking. There are several different grades of compression stocking – ranging from light compression to very tight! Not surprisingly, the lighter compression grades are more comfortable to wear. It is very rare for a patient to need to wear a very tight stocking. Light or moderate compression is fine for the vast majority of patients

There are lots of different fabrics and styles of compression stockings. Many of them look like normal socks, rather than medical devices, and are available in a wide variety of colours. Some patients like a closed toe. Some prefer an open toe. Lighter fabrics can be used in summer and thicker fabrics for winter wear. Selecting the type of stocking that is comfortable to wear for the whole day is very important – if the stocking is uncomfortable, then it’s unlikely you will tolerate it for very long!


Getting the stockings on and off

One of the loudest complaints about compression stockings is the difficulty in getting them on and off – they have to be quite tight, or they don’t work well. People who can’t bend over very easily, or who have weakness or pain in the hands due to arthritis, find stockings very difficult to get on and off. There are several aids to getting stockings on and off that can help patients with this.  


How long should I wear compression stockings?

The best way to use compression stockings is to put them on at the beginning of the day, when you get out of bed. You will probably have noticed that in the morning your legs are not swollen, but get more swollen during the course of the day. If you put the stockings on right at the beginning, when they are not swollen, you will find it a lot easier to get them on. The stockings can then be worn for the whole day and will prevent the leg from swelling. At the end of the day, when you have your feet up on the sofa, take the stockings off. You should find that this stops the leg swelling and makes it look normal after a couple of weeks.