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How Do Compression Stockings Work?

By Michelle Nesbit ; Updated July 27, 2017

What are compression stockings?

Compression hosiery, also called compression stockings, is different from the ones you see that is traditionally used by women. These supportive leg stockings are custom fitted for use on both men and women. They are worn with a doctor’s prescription as it is designed to facilitate compression therapy, a technique that helps improve circulation to relieve a number of medical conditions such as varicose veins. These stockings are custom-made and they do not come cheap. Since the use of this type of hosiery is typically suggested by a medical doctor and are intended as a solution of a medical concern, insurance policies may cover the expenses of buying compression stockings provided that the patient has a written prescription.


A doctor usually determines which design, length and Class of compression stockings needed. Compression stockings need to be custom fitted to the leg of the patient to deliver the doctor’s recommended strength of compression. These stockings are typically classified into Class I to III, with Class having the least amount of pressure. Three main factors are considered when prescribing the specific design of compression stockings to use; to the condition being treated, the patient’s comfort and movement and aesthetics.

Styles Available

The style in compression stockings are meant to serve aesthetic and comfort purposes. The patients may be prescribed to use knee-length or thigh-high stockings, which are held and secured by either a hemmed band or belt.

How They Work

Compression stockings apply pressure on the veins of the leg with the greatest amount of pressure applied at the ankle. Usually, strength of compression reduces further up the leg. Doctors prescribe the use of compression stockings to initiate a natural pump mechanism as the patients walk and exercise their legs. This mechanism is said to prevent clot formation on hospitalized and inactive patients by improving the return of blood in the legs.


Wearing the stockings prevents ambulatory hypertension or progression of venous disease, which helps reduce and minimize the occurrence of swelling on the legs. In many cases, they provide comfort and minimize the pain suffered by immobile patients. In improving circulation, it prevents the onset symptoms related to thrombosis disorders such as varicose vein.


The use of compression stockings is considered a standard for various prevention and treatment applications. Prior to surgeries, patients are asked to wear compression stockings (anti-embolitiv/thrombo-embolus) as a form of pre-operative risk assessment, particularly on DVT cases. Traveling patients who are at high-risk of DVT is usually asked to wear low-pressure hosiery to prevent fluid buildup (oedema). Swollen superficial veins and venous leg ulcers are just some of the other conditions that find relief from using compression stockings.


Patients are advised to constantly wear their compression stockings during the day to fully enjoy the benefits of its use. They may remove the stockings at night before they sleep, unless the doctor says otherwise. If in any case the patient experienced swelling below the lowest point of the stocking, skin irritation and extreme pain and discomfort, immediately remove the stockings and have the case evaluated by their attending physician. Lastly, wearing stockings with compression strength of 20mmHg or higher must only be done with a doctor’s prescription.

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