How to Choose and Use Compression Stockings

For today’s Conversations with Clinicians, Cheryl Hutton, a wound, ostomy and continence nurse (WOC nurse) with CHC Solutions, Inc., answers common questions and dives into what you need to know about compression stockings.

Compression stockings improve your venous blood flow and can lessen pain and swelling in your legs. They can also lower your chances of getting a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis) and other circulation problems. People wear compression stockings or wraps for comfort, to do better in sports and to help prevent serious medical conditions.

There are a variety of different sizes and strengths, so you or your doctor will need to decide which option will work best.

What Are Compression Stockings?

Compression stockings, also known as graduated compression stockings or compression socks, are specially made, snug-fitting, stretchy socks that gently squeeze your leg. They are tightest around your ankle and get looser as they move up your leg.

Compression sleeves are also available for your arms. Compression wraps tend to be multiple layered and provide a prescribed pressure that in most cases requires a prescription from a doctor. Some compression wraps can be bought over the counter, but if your doctor prescribes them, your insurance may cover the cost.

Who Uses Compression Stockings?

  • People with or at risk for circulation problems
  • Someone who recently had surgery
  • Those with limited mobility
  • Workers who stand all day at their job
  • Athletes
  • Pregnant women
  • People who spend long stretches of time on airplanes, like pilots

What Do Compression Stockings Do?

These stockings apply pressure that helps the blood vessels work better. The valves in your leg veins boost the blood back up to your heart and lungs for more oxygen.

Compression stockings can keep your legs from getting tired and achy. They can also ease swelling in your feet and ankles as well as help prevent and treat spider veins and varicose veins. Because the blood keeps moving, it isn’t as likely to pool in your legs which can lead to clots.

What Types of Compression Stockings Are Available?

Socks and sleeves come in different lengths to cover different parts of your body. For deep vein thrombosis (DVT), most stockings go to just below the knee, but you can get thigh-highs and tights too.

They also have different levels of pressure, measured in mmHg. Stockings should feel snug, but not painfully tight. Mild compression, with lower numbers, is usually enough to keep you comfortable on your feet at work. You’ll need higher numbers with a firmer fit to prevent DVT which your doctor would have to order.

Compression multilayer wraps are also ordered in higher mmHG and a prescription from your doctor as well as instructions about proper application are necessary.

Thrombo-embolic deterrent (TED) hose, or anti-embolism stockings, are designed for after surgery and when you need to stay in bed. Graduated compression stockings are better if you can stand and move around. If you need the stockings for medical reasons, your doctor will measure your legs and prescribe the right ones for you.

How Do You Wear Compression Stockings?

Smooth out the stockings so they lie flat against your skin. Avoid bunching. Make sure they are not too long. Do not fold or roll the tops down because that can make them too tight. It could cause blood flow problems or cut off your circulation like a tourniquet.

If your doctor told you to wear them, you will probably want to keep them on most of the time. But you can take them off to shower or bathe. You can wear socks, slippers and shoes over compression stockings. Check with your doctor about how often and how long you need to use them.

Send us questions you would like to have answered or topic suggestions for our next Conversations with Clinicians to or email our WOC nurse, Cheryl Hutton, at Check back soon for our next segment!

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*Disclaimer: Any health and wellness content presented is for general informational purposes only. Such content is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.