Elastic Compression Stockings

What are elastic compression stockings?

Elastic compression stockings are specially designed stockings designed to be worn around the legs. They’re quite different to regular socks in that they typically cover the entire lower leg, from the toes to just below the knee. They’re designed to stretch, and fit snugly.

Elastic compression stockings are designed to gently squeeze your leg and apply specific levels of pressure at different points along the limb, beginning at the ankle and decreasing gradually towards your knee.

This lets them provide graduated pressure towards your heart, which is where your blood needs to return to. If it begins to pool in your veins instead of continuing its journey to back to your heart, varicose veins can result.

This pressure gradient is intended to prevent flood flowing back toward the ankles (a process known as venous reflux).

How do elastic compression stockings work?

By compressing the leg, these special stockings help to decrease the diameter of swollen veins, which increases the speed of blood flow up the leg, and the volume of blood moving through the veins.

Elastic compression stockings help the calf muscles with their pumping action, further increasing the upwards flow of blood.

Who should wear compression stockings?
You don’t need to wait until you have visible varicose veins to start wearing compression stockings. If your work or your lifestyle involves long periods of inactivity (either sitting or standing, or in vehicles or planes) then these stockings can help with blood flow and actually help prevent you developing chronic venous disease or oedema.

If you experience heaviness, restlessness or itching of the legs, you could also benefit from wearing these stockings.

Are compression socks suitable for everyone?

While no prescription is needed for compression socks, it is worth seeking medical advice before starting to wear them. They are not suitable for some people, such as older patients and anyone suffering from malnutrition, whose skin may be more susceptible to breaking.

They should only be worn by patients who are ambulatory – that is, able to move around on their own. Patients who are bedbound, for example, should use TED (Thrombo-Embolus Deterrent) stockings instead.

Compression stockings are also not recommended for anyone who has peripheral vascular disease or ischaemic disease (where plaque builds up inside blood vessels and restricts blood flow).

Are compression stockings safe?

Yes, for most people. We definitely recommend having any compression garments fitted by an orthotist. Compression stockings that don’t fit correctly can be at best uncomfortable and at worst can lead to complications including pressure necrosis (similar to bedsores) and even ischaemia of the leg.

How long should I wear compression stockings for?

As long as they feel comfortable, elastic compression stockings can be worn for the whole day, although you should not wear them to sleep in. Before beginning to wear compression stockings regularly, you should seek medical advice, as mentioned above.

Are there different grades of compression stockings?

Yes – compression stockings are available in Grades 1, 2 and 3. This classification is based on the level of pressure exerted at the ankle. Grade 1 provides the least pressure (up to 20mmHg – that is, the equivalent pressure exerted by a 20mm column of mercury – the same unit of measurement that is used for calculating your blood pressure). Grade 2 compression stockings provide 20 to 30mmHg, with Grade 3 compression stockings exerting over 30mmHg.

When used correctly, elastic compression stockings are a simple, cost-effective way to combat venous reflex disease. Unless you have an existing condition that makes them unsuitable for you, we may well recommend them as part of your overall varicose veins treatment and management plan.

For more information on treatment options for varicose veins, or to arrange a consultation, contact Dr Francois Steyn on 012 993 4161 or 012 993 0911, or at francois@surgeon.co.za