Compression has been a cornerstone of vein care and treatment for centuries, and they’ve come a long way. Compression garments today are made from carefully woven fabrics to apply varying levels of pressure to different parts of the body to improve circulation. This is what a vein doctor wants you to know about compression and how it can help you to improve your vein health, plus manage swelling and aches (even in the most chronic cases).
Why calf muscles are crucial to blood circulation
Your heart has to work hard to pump blood up and down the body, out to the limbs, muscles and organs. As the legs are the furthest from your heart, it’s harder for the blood to flow back up, especially with gravity playing a role.
This is where your calf muscles come in. They pump the main artery and its connected veins in a mechanism doctors refer to as the “second heart”. This pump is crucial to the regular flow of blood in your legs, and if you suffer from impaired blood flow for any number of reasons (from varicose veins to diabetes), strengthening and supporting this pump helps to regulate and boost blood flow.
How compression supports the second heart
Compression stockings are one of the best ways to help stabilise blood flow.
- They apply the correct amount of pressure on the calf muscle to help it pump blood through the veins more efficiently. As compression socks work the muscle when your calves are still, they’re particularly helpful for people who sit or stand still for extended periods.
- They create a funnel effect. By using a graduated compressive weave that’s tighter around the ankle and eases up as it goes up the leg, it directs your blood back to your upper body. This makes them perfect for minimising and preventing swelling in the legs.
Compression also helps the lymphatic system
While decongestion therapy and lifestyle factors such as weight management and exercise will help, the use of compression garments is the most effective way to manage it day to day, to bring you the most comfort.
The lymphatic system is a network of nodes and vessels that run throughout your body. It processes fluid, waste, toxins and other unwanted materials, taking them out of the tissue and disposing of them. There is a range of disorders that impinge upon this system, causing it to struggle or fail. This results in some rather unpleasant symptoms like swelling, pain and fluid retention. If left untreated, these disorders can progress to incredibly severe levels. Some of the more common lymphatic disorders include:
- Hodgkins Lymphoma
- Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
By minimising fluid retention and supporting blood flow (and by extension waste removal), compression stockings are a great help for those with such disorders.
The kind of compression stockings you need
While all medical-grade compression stockings can technically squeeze and pump blood to where it needs to be, the right pair for you depends on 4 things: compression grade, length, fit, and quality.
1. Compression grade
As we mentioned, compression stockings have multiple compression grades, known as ‘Classes.’ These are determined by the compression knit’s mmHg, or millimetres of mercury, which is essentially how compressive the stockings are.
Class 1 varicose vein stockings have an mmHg of 18-21. These stockings are best for:
- Preventing leg swelling on long flights
- Boosting circulation, especially during long hours of sitting or standing
- Recovering from varicose vein treatment
- Managing varicose vein symptoms.
It’s crucial to note that compression therapy is considered a remedy, not a treatment for varicose veins. While it will help manage swelling and pain, it won’t address the underlying issue of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI).
Class 2 stockings have an mmHg of 23-32, making them better suited for:
- Deep venous insufficiency, which is when the vein valves in one of your large deep veins malfunction
- Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Helping reduce the severity of oedema and lymphoedema
Class 3 stockings have an mmHg of 33-46. They’re best for:
- Severe oedema or lymphoedema
- Chronic skin damage brought on by long-term varicose veins
Class 4 stockings have an mmHg of over 49. They should only be used for the most severe cases of the conditions we listed above. You’ll need to speak to a specialist before getting these.
2. Varicose veins compression stockings length
Compression garments come as knee-high socks, thigh-high stockings, and full-length pantyhose that cover you from foot to waist. When you’re just looking for a way to improve circulation, you can wear any length.
But if you have varicose veins in a specific location, you’ll need to make sure the veins are completely covered for the best results. For example, if you have varicose veins in the upper thigh, you’ll need compression pantyhose. As knee-high socks won’t reach the thighs, they can’t compress the veins or communicate with the muscles there.
3. Fit and materials
Varicose vein compression stockings should also always be medical-grade, made of quality materials, and fit you perfectly.
- Quality materials mean long-wearing comfort and good tensile strength. You’ll be able to wear the compression stockings all day with little sweat build-up and minimal risk of tearing.
- A medical-grade classification means the stockings meet the mmHg standards and will do what you need them to do.
Lastly, compression garments must fit you perfectly. Too tight, and they may pinch or cut off your circulation instead of improving it. Too loose, and they won’t have the desired effect on your veins. That’s why compression stocking manufacturers like Bauerfeind have extensive measurement guides for you to follow. However, you may need a professional fitting for conditions that cause chronic swelling, as it can be hard to determine the right sizing for you.
Compression for you
Overall, compression stockings are designed to amplify the already existing mechanisms and functions that pump blood, enhancing what your body is already doing.
Wearing compression stockings will help to alleviate the symptoms of varicose veins, other vein issues, lymphatic disorders, and muscle soreness. It’s recommended no matter your lifestyle or condition.
Seek expert advice from a vein doctor
The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive program using non-surgical laser treatment techniques. To book a consultation and discuss our treatment program, call 13 VEINS (that’s 13 83467). Or, enquire via the Contact Us page.