What do compression stockings do?

Compression Stockings for venous diseaseIf you suffer from venous disease and have symptoms such as varicose veins or spider veins, one thing your doctor may prescribe for you is compression stockings. Compression stockings help to improve blood flow by gently squeezing your legs, moving blood up the leg through the veins1.

When working correctly, compression stockings help to prevent swelling, and may be used as a preventive measure against blood clots, especially if you have recently had surgery or an injury which forces you to be less active2. Stockings can also help when you are experiencing aching in your legs. There are many different types of compression stockings, with different pressures (ranging from light to strong), lengths, and colors.

If you are using compression stockings, there are some things you need to watch out for when you take the stockings off each day. Check to see if there are any open sores, red spots, puffy areas and swelling, or anything that does not appear to be normal. Additionally, seek medical care if there is any numbness or tingling in your legs that does not improve when you remove the stockings3. If these issues are recurring, you may need to seek an alternative to compression stockings.

Alternatives to compression stockings

Another option that is often recommended is a pneumatic compression device. These include an air pump and inflatable sleeves, gloves, or boots in an effort to improve circulation. This option is especially suited for those who are unable to wear compression stockings because they have difficulty getting them on and off. This is more common among those who are elderly, as they are more likely to simply not be strong enough to put the stockings on5.

One other option is a Velcro-based compression wrap, which are similar to compression sleeves, but with several Velcro wraps which tighten on the leg. Compression stockings typically use a compression style which maintains pressure to the body part wearing the stocking, even if you are sitting or laying down. A Velcro wrap is generally more of a “dynamic” compression system, meaning that it provides compression when the muscles are pushed against it. This can make them much customizable than other options, particularly if legs are swelling unevenly5.

If you are suffering from, or your doctor fears you may be at risk for, venous disease, there is a good chance that you will be prescribed compression stockings. These may often help increase blood flow, at least temporarily6. However, if that does not work for you, there are various alternatives, such as compression wraps, and pneumatic compression devices. Talk to your doctor to find out which one is right for you.


1 – Pascarella L, Shortell C. Chronic venous disorders: nonoperative treatment. Rutherford’s Vascular Surgery, 8th edition, chapter 56.

2 – Martin, Laura. Compression stockings. US Library of Medicine, updated 2014 October 26.

3 – Compression stockings. Baylor, Scott & White Health. Available at: http://www.sw.org/HealthLibrary?page=Compression%20Stockings . Accessed on November 2, 2015.

4 – What is a Stent? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stents . Accessed on November 2, 2015.

5 – Dr Eric Lullove, Dr Kazu Suzuki, Dr Kathleen Satterfield. Questions And Answers On Compression For Lower Extremity Edema. Podiatry Today, Volume 23, issue 9, 2010 September.

6 – Dr Susan R Kahn, MD, Stan Shapiro, PhD, Philip S Wells, Compression stockings to prevent post-thrombotic syndrome: a randomised placebo-controlled trial. Volume 383, No. 9920, p880–888, 8 March 2014

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