Compression stockings

Also called graduated compression stockings or TED stockings

Compression stockings are used to improve blood flow in your legs.

What are compression stockings?

Compression stockings are specially designed to apply pressure to your lower legs. This helps to keep the blood flowing and reduces discomfort and swelling. The special knit of a compression stocking massages your veins so they keep your blood moving back to your heart.

Compression stockings are known by different names such as graduated compression stockings or thrombo-embolus deterrent (TED) stockings. 

When are compression stockings used?

Compression stockings may be used if you have poor blood flow in your legs. They help to prevent blood clots forming in your legs. These clots are also called a deep vein thrombosis or DVT. 

Compression stockings may be recommended:

  • after surgery 
  • while you are unwell and less active than normal
  • if you have varicose veins (swollen and enlarged veins)
  • if you have leg ulcers
  • if you have lymphoedema (when your body's tissues swell up).   

Read more about deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Are there people who shouldn’t wear compression stockings?

Compression stockings are not suitable for some people who have: 

  • suspected or proven peripheral arterial disease
  • severe peripheral neuropathy or other cause of sensory impairment
  • allergy to stocking material
  • massive leg swelling or fluid in your lungs from congestive heart failure
  • skin or soft-tissue conditions of your legs, including recent skin graft, fragile 'tissue paper' skin, gangrene, oozing dermatitis and severe cellulitis
  • a deformity of your leg or unusual leg shape or size that prevents correct fit.

Are all compression stockings the same? 

Compression stockings come in different lengths, sizes and grades. To make sure they fit properly, your legs will be measured in several places. 

Compression stockings are either knee high or thigh length. They apply graduated pressure, which means that they apply the highest pressure at your ankles and lower pressure higher up your legs.

There are three grades of compression stockings that apply different amounts of pressure. Your nurse or doctor will assess your circulation and tell you which grade of stockings you need for your condition.

You may need to wear them on both legs or just on one.

How long do I need to wear compression stockings for?

How long you need to wear compression stockings for depends on your condition. Your doctor will tell you how long you need to wear them for. If you are in hospital they are usually worn during the day and night until you get back to a normal level of activity. Only remove the stockings for washing, bathing or showering.

How do I put compression stockings on correctly?

  • Place your hand into the stocking as far as the heel.
  • Holding the heel turn the stocking inside out.
  • Ease the stocking over your foot and heel; ensure that your heel fits into the heel pocket. 
  • Ease the rest of the stocking up over your ankle, calf and thigh.
  • Smooth out any wrinkles and make sure the heel is in the heel pocket and the hole is under your toes/ball of your foot.
  • Ensure you can put the stockings on and remove them yourself or have someone to help you with this. 

Note: There is no right or left stocking. 

Here are some handy do's and don'ts when using compression stockings.

Do's   Don'ts 
✔ Do remove your stockings before having a shower, bath or wash.

✔ Do keep your nails short and take off your rings before putting on or taking off your stockings. This helps to prevent runs or snags.

✔ Do dry your legs and feet before you put on your stockings. Wet legs and
feet can make them stick.

✔ Do check for any skin problems each day before washing.

✔ Do check your stockings each day to ensure they are fitting properly and maintaining their elasticity.
✘ Don't roll down your stockings while wearing them as they will form a tight band around your leg and restrict the blood flow to your leg.

✘ Don't apply ointments, oils or lanolin to your legs as these products will damage the elastic fibres of the stockings. If you do put lotion on your legs before putting on your stockings, use one that does not have an oil base.

✘ Don't wear wet stockings.

✘ Don't cross your legs when sitting or lying down.

How do I take care of my compression stockings?

You should be given at least 2 stockings, or 2 pairs if you're wearing them on both legs. This means you can wear 1 stocking (or pair) while the other is being washed and dried. Wash your stockings as often as necessary but at least every 3 days.

Wash stockings by hand or machine wash in water no hotter than 95°C with an added non-bleaching washing powder or liquid. Spin, air dry or tumble dry at a maximum temperature of 70°C. Do not iron or dry clean. 

Discard the stockings when they appear to have lost their elasticity or are damaged.  Generally your stockings should last for about 3–4 months.

Can compression stockings cause problems?

Compression stockings can cause problems. If you notice any of these signs, stop wearing your stocking and contact your doctor:

  • Feelings of numbness, tingling, pins and needles, pain or soreness in your foot or leg, or if your leg or foot becomes pale, cool or changes colour – these may be signs that your stocking/s are too tight. 
  • A rash – this may mean you have an allergy to the elastic fibres in the stockings.
  • Changes in the colour of your skin or damage such as red marks and/or sores on your toes or feet.

References

  1. Graduated compression stockings CMAJ, 2014
  2. Compression stockings UW Health, US
  3. T.E.D anti-embolism stockings Covidien
  4. Compression therapy DermNet, NZ 

Reviewed by

Dr Helen Kenealy is a geriatrician and general physician working at Counties Manukau DHB. She has a broad range of interests and has worked in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation, orthgeriatrics and community geriatrics.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Helen Kenealy, geriatrician and general physician, CMDHB Last reviewed: 02 Jun 2020