Compression therapy uses controlled, gentle pressure to improve blood flow back to the heart and reduce swelling, which can lead to greater comfort for patients. Compression therapy, such as the use of graded compression stockings, is often prescribed to:
- Manage varicose veins
- Manage lymphedema and swelling in the legs
- Assist with venous leg ulcer & wound healing
- Prevent blood clots after surgery
- Address pregnancy-related leg & vein symptoms
When used preventatively, compression therapy can help prevent:
- Worsening of venous insufficiency symptoms
- Leg swelling in those who stand or sit for long periods of time
- Development of venous thromboembolism due to immobility
- Recurrence of venous leg ulcers
Types of compression
- Compression stockings are the most common method of compression therapy.
Most compression stockings are graduated, meaning they are tighter around the foot and ankle than at the knee or thigh. This is critical in most cases, since most leg swelling occurs by the ankle.
Compression stockings can be knee high, thigh high, or cover the pelvis depending on need. Open toe options are available as well.
- Compression wraps or bandages, like Unna Boots, are also used when indicated.
- Mechanical compression devices, like wearable compression boots or compressed air devices, are available for home or clinic use as well.
Levels of Compression
Some lighter use compression socks are available over the counter at drugstores or online. These are not considered to be medical grade can be purchased without a prescription. Higher degrees of compression often require a prescription.
Light Support Compression (15-20 mm Hg)
- Mild foot and lower leg swelling
- Mild varicosities with minimal swelling
- Preventative support for work or travel
- Standing, sitting or traveling for extended periods of time
- Post surgical “anti-embolic” or TED hose provided by hospitals at the time of surgery
- Non ambulatory patients who are bed ridden
Moderate Compression (20-30 mm Hg, Class I)
- Chronic leg fatigue and heaviness
- Ankle, foot and leg swelling
- Mild varicosities
- Preventative and treatment of swelling during pregnancy
- Superficial thrombophlebitis
- Post-vein treatment including sclerotherapy
Heavy Compression (30-40 mm Hg, Class II)
- Moderate varicosities with advanced swelling
- Chronic Lymphatic edema
- Prevention and treatment of venous ulcers
How does compression therapy work?
Compression therapy helps to improve blood circulation in the lower legs, ankles and feet by applying the correct amount of pressure on a consistent basis. The goal is to reduce the amount of venous fluid filtered out from venous insufficiency, to help return the filtered lymphatic fluid back to the heart. Here’s how compression works for the different conditions it’s used for:
For chronic venous insufficiency, including varicose veins: Compression can help reduce the amount of venous blood pooling in the lower legs, thus reducing the amount of fluid that filters into the tissue as edema. This helps push blood to the deeper veins, where the leg muscles can pump the blood back toward the heart.
For deep vein thrombosis (DVT): With a DVT, blood flow to the heart can be obstructed by blood clotting in the veins. Compression therapy can help prevent blood from pooling and clotting, especially when coupled with an anticoagulant. However, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before starting compression therapy for DVT.
For swelling (edema): Compression therapy applies pressure circumferentially to the lower leg to help move fluid back to lymphatics, where it can be returned to the circulation.
For leg ulcers: Wounds do not heal well in the presence of high vein pressures from venous insufficiency and in the setting of swelling. Compression therapy can aid recovery from leg ulcers and wounds by encouraging blood flow.
Get Started with Compression
The optimal degree of compression needed can vary depending on the patient & medical condition being treated, the type of compression being applied, and the material used in the compression garment.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure that you’re using the right stockings or other medical compression device for your particular condition. Your vein care provider can help you assess what kind of compression you need and discuss fitting options.
Book a consultation at any Inovia clinic to find out which compression therapy options may be right for you.