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Should I wear compression socks?

Compression socks, compression stockings or pressure socks are often used to try to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot from forming in the deep veins of the body and usually in the legs.  But are they right for you?

History

Little was known about deep vein thrombosis (DVT) until the mid-19th century.  Theories were developed to try to explain the phenomenon.  By the 1920s, lack of physical activity, vessel wall alteration and an increased tendency to form blood clots were known as possible causes for this condition.  However, treating this condition was largely a mystery until several breakthroughs, most discovered by accident, revolutionized DVT treatment.  The anticoagulant Heparin, for example, was in wide use by the 1940s.  So, this drug replaced the previously popular, but ineffective, prescription of weeks of bed rest.

Since then, there have been advances in anticoagulants, along with the rise of compression therapy as a drug-free solution.  The idea of using compression bandages to decrease blood pooling in the legs and prevent the problems it may cause actually goes back centuries.  However, its effectiveness was very limited, because it was usually paired with prolonged bed rest.  Compression therapy gained popularity by the 1950s when prescribed at the conclusion of an anticoagulant treatment with more emphasis placed on ambulatory activity, rather than resting.

What do they do?

The way compression socks work is actually quite simple.  Because they have somewhat stronger elastic properties than regular socks, they apply gentle pressure to the lower legs, helping to promote the flow of blood back to your heart.  This helps reduce the pooling of blood in the legs, which can lead to the development of blood clots or lightheadedness when standing up.  They are often used following surgery or other periods of inactivity to promote better overall circulation.  They can also help reduce the pain caused by varicose veins.

Are they for me?

While you can buy socks or stockings with a small amount of compression over the counter, as a medical treatment they should be prescribed and professionally fitted, so they will be the most effective.  This can include taking measurements of your legs when they are the least swollen.  Be sure to wear them as prescribed.  Not wearing them when you’re supposed to can lead to increased swelling, making them difficult or impossible to put back on.  You’ll also want to check them daily for any signs of skin irritation, redness, as well as other color or skin changes. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several risk factors for DVM.  The more you have, the greater the chances of developing DVM:

  • Inheriting a blood-clotting disorder 
  • Prolonged bed rest, such as during a long hospital stay or paralysis 
  • Injury or surgery 
  • Pregnancy 
  • Birth control pills (oral contraceptives) or hormone replacement therapy 
  • Obesity 
  • Smoking 
  • Cancer 
  • Heart failure
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • A personal or family history of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism 
  • Age 
  • Sitting for long periods of time, such as when driving or flying 

If you suspect you may be at risk, Dr. Smith can help you sort through the factors to come to the right determination of whether compression socks are for you.