Compression Stockings for Deep Vein Thrombosis

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on August 05, 2020

Compression stockings or socks treat symptoms of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a type of blood clot.

DVTs tend to form in your upper or lower leg. They can interfere with the way blood normally flows up from the legs to the heart. These blood flow issues can cause blood to pool in your legs.

Many people who have DVT end up with problems called "post-thrombotic syndrome." This is the technical name for the pain, swelling, discomfort, and other symptoms that DVTs cause.

Compression stockings can ease these problems. There's also evidence that they can help prevent DVT-related symptoms before they begin.

How Compression Stockings Work

Compression stockings are specially designed socks or sleeves. They squeeze (compress) your leg in a way that improves blood flow.

These stockings tend to apply the most pressure at your ankles. The pressure gets lighter farther up your leg, which forces blood upward.

This therapeutic squeezing can ease swelling, blood buildup, and discomfort. It can also help prevent feelings of lightheadedness when you stand up. And it can make it easier for you to move around.

But when it comes to easing pain, the evidence on compression stockings is mixed. Some studies have found that compression stockings don't reduce pain any better than a placebo.

Types of Compression Stockings

Your local pharmacy or medical supply store sells basic compression stockings.

Depending on the location of your DVT and symptoms, you can buy a compression stocking that covers most of your leg, or you can buy a stocking that only rises to your knee.

Some doctors prefer compression stockings that end at the knee. These may work just as well as larger stockings, and they are generally less expensive, more comfortable, and easier to pull on.

Over-the-counter stockings may be helpful. But they tend to apply only light, consistent pressure. Prescription compression stockings apply more pressure. In some cases, they may help when basic compression socks do not.

Some compression stockings are battery powered. These are sometimes called "intermittent" or "pneumatic" compression stockings. They're designed to apply different amounts of pressure at different times. Some research suggests these may improve quality of life when other compression socks fail.

How to Use Your Compression Stockings

You put a compression stocking only on the leg that has had a DVT or symptoms. Typically, you only wear it during the daytime, although your doctor may suggest that you also wear it at night.

It's a good idea to put on your compression stocking first thing in the morning. That's when your leg is usually least swollen. Wear your stockings every day, or exactly as your doctor advises.

Make sure you smooth the compression stocking as you pull it on, so that there are no bunches or kinks. Also, check that the seams of the stocking run straight up your legs.

If arthritis or other ailments make any part of this hard for you to do, a device called a "stocking donner" can be helpful.

Let your doctor know if your leg continues to swell even though you're wearing your stocking correctly.

Check your legs every day for redness, irritations, or other skin issues. These could be signs of an infection or a poorly fitted stocking.

Show Sources

SOURCES: "Post-Thrombotic Syndrome."

The Lancet: "Randomised trial of effect of compression stockings in patients with symptomatic proximal-vein thrombosis."

Mayo Clinic: "Mayo Clinic Q and A: Tips for using compression stockings."

Hematology: "The post-thrombotic syndrome."

National Health Services (U.K.): "How long should I wear compression stockings to improve my circulation?" "How long should I wear compression stockings after surgery?"

Cleveland Clinic: "Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) Prevention."

The Lancet Haematology: "Individualised versus standard duration of elastic compression therapy for prevention of post-thrombotic syndrome (IDEAL DVT): a multicentre, randomised, single-blind, allocation-concealed, non-inferiority trial."

Blood Coagulation, Fibrinolysis and Cellular Haemostasis: "Graduated compression stockings to treat acute leg pain associated with proximal DVT."

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