The American Heart Association estimates that 22 million women and around 11 million men suffer from varicose veins. Compression therapy can help with varicose vein issues by applying graduated pressure to help improve circulation and support the veins in the legs. Doctors often prescribe compression stockings as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
The same measures that treat the discomfort from varicose veins can help prevent them.
Varicose veins can be unsightly and cause a myriad of different medical issues. When left untreated the varicose veins may cause burning, swelling, muscle cramping, itching, and skin discoloration. If you experience any of these symptoms, compression therapy can help you treat them.
How compression stockings help treat varicose veins
Compression stockings help ease the symptoms of varicose veins. When worn as directed, they slow the progression of vein disease. However, compression stockings alone will not solve the underlying issues of vein problems.
Compression stockings promote blood flow from the feet back to the heart by overcoming gravitational effects by applying a tighter squeeze at the foot and diminishes in pressure as they extend up the leg. Fitted compression stockings, provided by a doctor, prevent venous blood pooling in the feet and lower legs, decreases the risk of clotting, inflammation, and improves symptoms in the legs.
Types of compression stockings for treating varicose veins
Graduated compression stockings, anti-embolism stockings and nonmedical support hosiery are the three primary types of compression stockings.
Graduated stockings provide the strongest level of compression at the ankle and gradually decreases in pressure up the leg. These stockings allow for more mobility and meet certain strength specifications. Graduated compression stockings often need fitting by a medical professional.
Graduated stockings come in different lengths depending on the patient’s needs. These stockings help patients with lower leg swelling, peripheral edema, the pooling of blood in the lower legs and can help with orthostatic hypotension, a form of low blood pressure occurring when sitting, standing, or lying down.
Anti-embolism stockings reduce the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Like graduated stockings, they provide a gradient-style of compression offering the lowest level of medically provided compression and are only used for people restricted to bed rest.
Non-medical support hosiery does not need a prescription from a physician. This style of stockings includes flight socks and support hose sold over the counter as relief for achy legs. Non-medical support hosiery lacks the pressure of gradient medically provided stockings.
Choosing the right compression level
When it comes to medical issues and procedures you always need to consult with a physician. The physician will examine your venous issues and determine the level of compression needed to treat the problem. Compression stockings come in four levels of compression: mild, moderate, firm, and extra-firm.
Mild compression stockings have a level of 8 to 15mmHg. These stockings are suitable if you have mild chronic venous insufficiencies, as they help support proper blood flow in your legs.
Moderate compression stockings have a level of 15 to 20mmHg. These offer more benefits than mild compression stockings and are suitable for people who have spider or varicose veins.
Firm and extra-firm compression stockings are for people suffering from severe varicose vein problems such as leg ulcers, deep vein thrombosis and lymphatic edema. Firm stockings have a level of 20 to 30mmHg and extra-firm stockings have a level of 30 to 40mmHg.
When to wear compression stockings to treat varicose veins
People suffering from varicose vein issues need to wear compression stockings throughout their day. Prolonged periods of sitting or standing can cause circulation problems. When a person is in these positions it causes the pooling of blood in the legs, feet, and ankles.
At night you need to remove the compression stockings. Lying horizontally to sleep or elevating the legs reduces venous pressure to nearly zero.
The long-term goal of compression therapy is to increase the person’s quality of life, reduce inflammation, swelling and relieve pain. Using compression stockings alone cannot cure the issues associated with varicose veins. The underlying vein issues that cause the pain and mobility need addressing by a physician.
Risks of compression stockings
Compression stockings are very tight which causes them to be difficult to put on. Before putting on the compression stockings wash and dry the legs thoroughly and any creams or lotions need to be fully absorbed before applying the sock.
Common side effects associated with compression stockings include dents in the skin, skin irritation, discomfort, and broken skin. Wearing stockings incorrectly or the wrong size can exacerbate these problems.
Nerve damage may accompany poor circulation in the legs, so you may not be able to tell if the stockings are too tight or loose. Check with your physician periodically to ensure the stockings are fitting properly.
Remove the stockings every day and check the legs, feet, and ankles for any irritation. Use a mirror if necessary to check all areas. If new irritation occurs, contact your physician to reevaluate the stockings and how you are wearing them.
Use of compression stockings as part of a broader treatment
People who have procedures such as ambulatory phlebectomy, endovenous laser treatment and sclerotherapy must wear compression stockings during the healing process. The pressure the stockings provide enhances the positive effects of these procedures and prevents the trapping of blood in the leg veins following a procedure.
Compression therapy will not completely cure varicose vein problems. However, it can help manage the symptoms by improving blood flow. If you find yourself developing varicose veins, consult your physician and start using mild or medium compression stockings. Combining compression stockings with healthy lifestyle changes can make a big difference in improving blood flow throughout the lower extremities.
Dr. Lawrence Presant is the Chief Medical Officer at Arizona Vein Specialists in Phoenix. He is a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, general surgeon by training and a certified diplomat of the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine.