A Quick Guide to Compression Stockings

Though many people have heard of compression stockings and socks, most still have a lot of questions.

  1. How much should you spend on them?
    • They can cost anywhere from as little as $30 to over $100.
  2. What do the different pressure ratings mean?
    • Physicians prescribe different levels of compression for different conditions
    • Consult your doctor to see what is best for you
  3. Can you wear them for non-medical reasons?
    • They can be used for preventative use or for travel

At Quarry Chiropractic and Wellness Centre, we’re used to fielding questions like these.

Here are some answers to the questions we most commonly get:

What are compression stockings?

Graduated medical compression stocking and socks apply pressure to your legs to improve circulation and reduce discomfort and swelling. They come in various styles and sizes from ankle length to full length, different strengths of compression, and many more colours than nude.

They may be prescribed by a doctor to treat conditions that cause poor blood flow return to the heart, like varicose veins or venous insufficiency, or you may choose to wear them to help with a variety of foot and leg complaints, for example to ease swollen feet when you are pregnant.

Who should wear compression stockings?

From patients recovering from surgery to marathon runners—many people wear compression stockings. The most obvious candidates for compression therapy are people with various leg conditions, including venous problems, like varicose veins; patients with leg swelling (edema); people with circulatory problems; and those who are at risk for blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis.

Additionally, people who spend a lot of time on their feet, like flight attendants, doctors and nurses, and athletes, like runners and basketball players, wear them to reduce leg discomfort.

How do compression stockings work?

Blood has to work hard against gravity to flow back to your heart. As you walk, the calf muscles around your veins help move the blood back up toward your heart. The pressure of compression stockings acts as an additional layer of muscle.

Anything that impedes blood flow in your legs—circulation problems, being bedridden (especially after injury or surgery), or weakness in the walls of your veins (venous insufficiency)—causes blood to pool in the veins of your lower legs or feet. This results in swelling, achiness, and leg fatigue, and can also make you vulnerable to blood clots.

By mimicking muscles and squeezing the leg tissues and walls of your veins, compression stockings help circulate your blood. They can also improve the flow of fluid around the cells in your legs, referred to as lymph, which can help reduce tissue swelling. This can also benefit healthy wearers. For example, some people find that improving blood and lymph flow makes their legs feel less tired.

What do the compression ratings mean?

Compression stockings come in several different levels of compression, measured in millimeters of mercury or mmHg. The higher the level, the more pressure is applied to your legs. Healthy people, like workers with tired feet, should choose lighter pressure.

Moderate compression (15 to 20 mmHg) can help with minor leg and foot problems, like mild leg swelling. Higher compression levels (20 to 30 mmHg, 30 to 40 mmHg, and more than 40 mmHg), sometimes referred to as “medical-grade,” are for use in medical treatment.

What is the difference between anti-embolism stockings and compression stockings?

The biggest difference is the compression rating. Anti-embolism stockings, which are intended for people who are bedridden, have a lower rating, usually of 8–18mmHg, while compression stockings have a higher rating, generally of 15–20mmHg or higher, and are meant for people who are ambulatory.

How do I know what size and kind to get?

Since there is no universal standard for sizing, measurements will have to be taken of different parts of your leg. Depending on the type of stocking, you may need to know the circumference of your ankle, calf, or thigh and the distance from your knee or thigh to the floor.

Contact us at 613-542-9822 and we can help you find the right compression stockings for you.

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