Essentially, stockings and compression socks come in a variety of different compression levels. However, there is no difference in the amount of pressure applied by socks or stockings of similar pressure rating. Typically, compression socks operating at 15-20 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) uses the same amount of pressure as a 15-20 mmHg stocking. With that said, you might wonder about the main difference between the socks and the stockings.
Like the naming insinuates, the main difference between the two is simply the design and the material used in the design. Compression socks are shorter and cover up to your ankle, while stockings can go as high as your thigh. You can get yourself thigh-high compression stockings, reach up to your knees, or wear of hosiery style. With compression socks, you only get ankle-length and knee-high socks that also have closed toes.
Uses of Compression Socks and Stockings
Compression stockings and stocks have been designed to constrict your veins and therefore promote excellent blood flow. Basically, due to certain conditions that affect your blood vessels, especially the veins, the blood flow might get affected.
This leads to blood stagnation and consequent development of varicose veins, blood clots, venous insufficiency, and other disorders. Now with a compression sock or stocking, the blood vessels are constricted. Essentially from basic science, small circumference promotes high-velocity blood flow.
This is the same concept adopted by compression wear. The stockings and the socks compress your veins to very small circumferences leading to increased blood velocity. With graduated compression, the pressure in the stocking or sock varies with the specific length of the sock. This gives your veins a chance to push the blood around the affected areas by gravity. More pressure is applied on the ankle with a graduated garment to assist blood flow from your legs to your heart.
Types of Compression Stockings
- Anti-embolism stockings – These are designed to protect you from the possible occurrence of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and other conditions such as pulmonary embolism. For instance, if you are a non-ambulatory patient and just came out of surgery, your doctor might prescribe anti-embolism stockings to allow you to recover in bed.
- Graduated compression stockings – Once you are back on your feet, you can get back to using a graduated compression stocking or stock. Graduated compression socks or stockings are great at protecting you from the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis. However, you should use graduated compression materials to walk or sit upright for the best performance.
Compression Therapy – How It Works
Your body is made up of blood vessels that allow your blood to flow from the heart to all body parts. These blood vessels are:
Typically, arteries are responsible for carrying blood from the heart to the other parts of the body. On the other hand, veins get blood from the different parts of the body and transport it back to the heart for oxygenation.
To prevent any particular blood flow in the veins, the vein structure has a valve. These valves ensure that all the blood coming from other body parts can get back to the heart without stagnating at one particular point. However, for many people, these valves begin to fail with time.
This is mostly the case with people who have hereditary conditions such as venous problems. It begins with the weakening of the valves due to extended periods of sitting or standing. Since the blood is coming from the lowest part of your body, the venous system has to work even harder to counter the effects of gravity.
This leads to the failure of the valve and consequent backflow of blood – also known as blood reflux. When this happens, you might develop venous insufficiency that can lead to severe instances of edema, varicose veins, spider veins, or even fatal blood clots.
To counter the pressure that might cause backflow of blood, compression garments are used.
Essentially, the garments compress the veins and prevent the blood from stagnating. To achieve this effect, the compression stock or sock applies pressure to the affected veins. This pressure reduces the cross-sectional area of the vein and therefore improves the circulation pressure.
Compression therapy is an excellent idea for relieving uncomfortable symptoms of venous disorders. However, if you already have existing varicose veins, an indication of an already destroyed valve, you cannot use compression stockings or socks to eliminate them. Typically, the best treatment for varicose veins is a sclerotherapy operation where the affected vein is removed from use.
Buying Compression Garments
When purchasing compression stockings or socks, you will notice that they come in different compression levels and materials.
With graduated compression stockings, the pressure is applied as a gradient. Therefore, you will find that graduated compression materials come with pressure range labeling that gives you an idea of the kind of treatment you get. Essentially, the high number on the range indicates the amount of pressure on the ankle, while the lower number indicates the pressure rating on the calf. For over-the-counter garments, you can get up to a 20 mmHg rating.
With medical-grade garments, the pressure range begins at 20 – 30 mmHg to allow rapid healing. In addition, you can get over-the-counter features that offer both over-the-counter and medical-grade benefits.
When selecting the garment to use, you should make your choice with regard to your sense of fashion, durability, and comfort. According to research, garments that don’t fit your needs might prevent you from getting the maximum benefits of compression therapy.
For the best effect, you can choose a breathable fabric that feels great to wear. In addition, to ensure that the stocking or sock is comfortable, get the one that has extra padding for the heels and toes.
Conditions to Improve with Compression therapy
Typically, the conditions treated with compression therapy are mostly venous disorders or those associated with problematic blood flow. Some common conditions that require compression therapy include the following.
Before purchasing a compression garment, you should first talk to your doctor for condition analysis and evaluation. The doctor will advise you on what you need and whether the compression therapy will alleviate the symptoms.
For most patients with any of the above conditions, compression therapy improves the circulatory capability of the veins. However, if you suffer from peripheral artery disease, peripheral neuropathy, dermatitis, or skin infections, the use of compression therapy might not be a good idea.
Compression stockings have the effect of worsening these conditions and might lead to even serious complications. In essence, before you get into compression therapy, talk to your doctor about all your health conditions. This will give your provider an understanding of what will work for you.
Other Uses of Compression Therapy Stockings and Socks
Compression stockings are known for their immediate action effect. Typically, if you are having a painful venous problem, compression therapy relieves the pain immediately. This treatment is also an excellent treatment for sore legs.
For instance, it is used by athletes to improve recovery after long-distance running. Even if you do not have a particular venous problem, compression garments can give you an incredible feeling of better and faster blood flow.
Apart from material and design, compression socks and stockings are essentially the same. They are used in compression therapy to improve a variety of venous problems. If you suffer from any of the problems listed in this article, compression stockings and socks are great ideas. However, before you can start using them, talk to your doctor to better evaluate your condition.