Support stockings, also known as support hose, compression hose, or compression stockings, are tight fitting hosiery worn to help relieve symptoms from varicose veins and venous insufficiency. While it’s possible to get some temporary symptomatic relief of leg pain with the hose, it’s important to know they will not prevent varicose veins and spider veins from developing. They also will not in any way cause these same types of leg veins to shrink or disappear. Dr. Martin L. Schulman says he always finds it funny how sometimes new patients at his Long Island or Manhattan offices will demand an explanation, “How did these veins form on my legs after I have worn support hose for years?”
The Styles of Support Hose
There are three basic design lengths of hosiery: below the knee, mid-thigh, and waist high. While a patient can get some temporary relief from leg symptoms using any of the three choices, Dr. Lee G. Schulman, believes it’s important to match the symptoms to the stocking type. He is most in favor of the waist high hose to help get the most relief possible. “If large varicosities exist above the knee, then it’s obvious that waist high support is what will give the most benefit,” Dr. Schulman says. Often the mid-thigh type will “roll down” the leg and may even produce a negative influence on blood flow by creating tourniquet type effect. For this reason, the mid-thigh is often the least used type. All three types of hose are tighter on the bottom and looser towards the top to help facilitate the return of blood from the legs back up towards the heart.
The Fitting of Compression Stockings
There are two general fitting styles of these hose. The ones available in the drug store that do not need a prescription are known as Over the Counter (OTC) stockings. They are generally not as tight on the leg but may still provide some symptomatic relief of leg pain, swelling (edema), and tiredness. They are available in a variety of strengths and lengths. They should be tighter towards the ankle and looser towards the thigh to help the return of venous blood from the legs. Custom fit support stockings are generally more beneficial but also more expensive. They require a specific prescription from a physician which states both the length and the strength to be used. As the name implies, they would be custom fit after specific measurements of the legs are taken. They are most commonly bought from a surgical supply store after you were measured to assure the most productive fitting. As with the OTC type of hose, these stockings are of graduated compression to help push blood in the legs upwards.
Should You Wear Them?
In general, support hose are not a bad idea, but don’t expect a miracle from them either. While you may get relief of symptoms, they will not affect the prevalence of leg veins in the long run. Also, if they are too loose fitting and baggy, either because they are poor fitting or they have loosened a great deal over time, they become like sweatpants and provide no benefit at all.