Compression stockings or socks are special stockings used for the treatment of venous diseases such as varicose veins. These stockings can exert pressure around the circumference of the legs in order to help propel the blood in the veins toward the heart.
Uses of Compression Stockings
Varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency are among the venous conditions and diseases for which compression stockings are used. These conditions are caused by the defective function of the venous valves, which are necessary for good circulation and prevent the backflow of blood. When these valves fail to work properly, the blood accumulates or pools in the extremities, particularly the legs. As a result, the blood pressure inside the veins increases, giving rise to a condition known as venous hypertension. This causes engorgement of the veins (as seen in varicose veins) and forces fluid inside the veins to leak out to the interstitial space, causing edema. The development of edema may lead to ischemia (lack of oxygen and nutrients) of the leg tissues and ultimately cause the development of nonhealing ulcers (venous leg ulcers).
How Compression Stockings Work
Compression stockings are made of an elastic material that can exert different degrees of pressure on different segments of the leg (providing graduated compression therapy). The area with the highest compression or pressure is the ankles, because most of the blood in the veins accumulates in this area due to gravity. The pressure exerted by the stockings gradually decreases in the upper parts of the legs, as gravity has less effect on the blood in these areas. Compression stockings reduce venous hypertension by forcing the venous blood flow from the legs to the heart. They are also able to reduce edema by preventing further leakage of fluids out of the veins. The benefits produced by the reduction of the venous pressure and edema are the following:
- Improved blood flow, which reduces the chances of developing blood clots
- Reduction or removal of ischemia, which promotes healing of ulcers
Compression stockings have been proven in several clinical studies to effectively decrease venous pressure.
There are no special preparations or procedures for using compression stockings. However, prior consultation with a physician is necessary in order to choose the most appropriate compression stocking. It is also recommended that physical activities, such as walking (if feasible), accompany graduated compression therapy.
Advantages over Other Treatments
The wearing of compression stockings is the most common treatment for venous insufficiency. They provide continuous therapeutic effects as long as they are worn and have fewer side effects on the body than other treatments for venous insufficiency, such as anticoagulants (oral medications).
Who Is a Candidate
Patients with varicose veins or other venous diseases may receive graduated compression therapy with compression stockings under the direction of their physicians. Compression stockings can also be used in the presence of active venous leg ulcers.