Compression Sock and Hosiery Guide

Compression Guide

Compression stockings and socks can be confusing to understand: what are the different types, what are they used for, which should I choose and how do I wear them? This guide will answer those questions and help you navigate the options. Please remember that this is a guide only and is not meant to be medical advice. If you have concerns about leg health, please consult your healthcare professional.

Choosing the right stocking

While you’ll probably see uniform compression hosiery in stores, most health professionals agree that graduated compression is more beneficial. Graduated compression is measured by the level of tightness, known as compression strength. For graduated compression, the unit of measure is millimeters of Mercury (mmHg, the same standard your doctor uses when taking your blood pressure). You may see it described with numbers ranging from 8 mmHg (light mild compression) through 30-40 mmHg and higher (medical weight). 

Compression Level Guide

Compression stockings are sized a few different ways: by height and weight or by several leg measurements. Some compression socks, for both men and women, are sized by shoe size. In most cases, it’s important to take some accurate measurements before ordering. Wearing the correct size will maximize both the benefits and your comfort.


Choosing the Correct Size

Follow these steps to get the measurements you’ll need:

Wearing Compression Stockings

Putting on compression hose is not quite like slipping into a pair of socks or pulling up your pantyhose. The elasticity and resistance of the material can make it hard to handle and some styles can actually be difficult to put on.

We recommend NOT rolling and bunching the stocking before putting it on, but creating a heel pocket instead. With this method, follow these steps:

Below is a video that demonstration of heel pocket method.

There are a few things that may make it easier to put on compression stockings:

Things to look for:

You should contact your doctor or other healthcare professional if:

Wearing Compression Hosiery for Travel

There is a potential, although slight, risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis during long plane flights. This even has a name, ‘economy class syndrome.’ The key is to increase blood flow and compression hose can help with that. The Independent Traveler has some useful steps to help you avoid the threat of DVT or other leg health problems that can arise during flights:

Compression hosiery has been shown to reduce the risk of DVT caused by air travel, according to the Nation Health Service, UK. You should wear the stockings for the duration of the flight. And as always, consult with your doctor first.

What is Compression Hosiery?

Compression stockings are medically designed to improve circulation, and relieve the symptoms of edema, vein diseases and other leg discomforts. and guard against further progression of such venous disorders. Compression hosiery has much higher content of elastic fibers like Lycra® and spandex than other stockings or socks and can be made from a variety of materials, including cotton and microfiber.

There are two main types of compression hosiery: uniform and graduated. Uniform compression, as the name states, offers the same amount of compression to all parts of the leg. According to studies, including one in the British Journal of Surgery, graduated compression hosiery is much more effective in treating vein diseases. Graduated compression is tightest at the ankle and pressure gradually decreases as it moves up the leg. When circulation is impaired, blood tends to pool in the lower extremities, causing circulation problems. The graduated compression helps move blood through veins towards the heart. Graduated Compression is measured in millimeters of mercury and ranges from light support in 8-15 mmHg up to 30-40 mmHg and above. The higher the number the greater the support.

Compression hosiery is available in several styles, including socks, stockings, knee-highs, thigh-highs and pantyhose for both men and women.

 

What is compression hosiery used for?

Graduated compression hosiery is used to improve circulation and aid in leg health. When circulation is constricted, it can cause all kinds of vein disorders and other circulation conditions. Some of these disorders can be extremely serious.

Edema

Edema is swelling that occurs when fluid builds up in tissue. It happens most frequently in feet, ankles and legs and can be caused by injury or illness: something as simple as a sprained ankle or as serious as heart disease. Edema is also a common result of diabetes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, other causes include some medications, allergies, standing or sitting too long and pregnancy. Graduated compression stockings prevent or slow fluids from pooling in legs and ankles.

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a swelling in an arm or leg that’s caused when the flow of lymph fluids is blocked and fluids can’t drain well. The lymphatic system is a crucial element of the circulatory and immune systems. Along with swelling, the limb may ache and feel heavy. There may be restricted range of motion or recurring infections as well.

Vein Diseases

Nearly half of adults in the U.S. suffer from some sort of vein condition-- from the unsightly and uncomfortable to the life threatening.

Varicose veins are swollen, twisted veins just below the skin’s surface. A paper in the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains that varicose veins are often more of a cosmetic problem than a medical one. But they can cause pain and swelling. Varicose veins can be caused by standing for long periods of time, obesity or pregnancy and tend to be genetic. Spider veins are a less pronounced version of varicose veins and can be a result of injury, a change in hormones, pregnancy, genetics, alcohol use and sun exposure. While not usually serious, they can be unattractive and uncomfortable.

Phlebitis is an inflammation of a vein. Superficial phlebitis may be painful, but is not life threatening. It’s often associated with varicose veins or caused by an IV. It can also develop during pregnancy or in people who are bed-ridden.

There are several serious vein diseases that can be treated or slowed with the use of compression stockings. Graduated compression hosiery is used after surgery to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis. (DVT) is a blood clot that typically forms in a deep vein in the leg. The blood clot can travel through the bloodstream to the lung, leading to a Pulmonary Embolism, which can be fatal. In fact, according to PreventDVT, “Complications from DVT blood clots kill up to 300,000 people in the U.S. each year — more than AIDS and breast cancer combined.”

Compression stockings increase venous blood flow and help blood valves work efficiently. This improves circulation and helps move fluid back into blood vessels. Compression keeps blood flowing smoothly and reduces swelling and leg pain.

Other Medical Uses of Compression Stockings

Pregnancy can also cause vein conditions. One their website, The American College of Phlebology explains that during pregnancy, the combination of increased blood volume and hormones can contribute to a weakening of the vein walls. In most cases, these issues can be improved with compression hosiery and will disappear after pregnancy.

Who else can benefit from compression hosiery?

If you have experienced tired, aching legs, compression stockings may bring relief. People who spend all day standing or sitting, like nurses, hair stylists, factory workers, wait staff and truck drivers may find compression hose useful. Some athletes swear by compression socks or compression leg sleeves to reduce muscle fatigue. Air travellers find compression hose relieves leg discomfort caused by inactivity and cramped seating. In general, for anyone who wants to improve circulation, compression stockings are the first step towards leg health.

When NOT to use compressions stockings

As beneficial as compression can be, it should not be used by people with certain conditions, including severe uncontrolled congestive heart failure and advanced arterial disease. Compression pushes blood away from the leg and may not be recommended for smokers and anyone with a decreased blood supply to the legs. Poor blood flow in arteries is different from vein conditions and compression hosiery is usually not advised. Those with diabetes, neuropathy, skin infections and allergies should check with a healthcare professional. In fact, it is always wise to consult a physician before using compression therapy.

The Vascular Disease Foundation offers an in-depth overview on vein diseases and conditions that can benefit from compression therapy.