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How to Choose Compression Stockings

Business woman wearing stockings
Compression stockings can make a major difference in your overall health and happiness - especially if you have pain and swelling in your legs, have had a recent surgery, or are at risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). But with so many options available, you may wonder which pair to choose.
If your medical provider recommends specialized snug-fitting footwear, take a look at what you need to consider when selecting compression socks or stockings.
Choosing Height
Like regular socks, compression stockings come in a variety of heights or lengths. These include below the knee, above the knee/thigh-high, and full tights. Your doctor may recommend a specific height, dictated by the reason for treatment. If your doctor recommends wearing full-coverage stockings, you have a few different height choices.
Before making a height selection, consider the benefits of the most common full-coverage options:
  • Thigh-highs. These offer full leg coverage while still providing easy access for using the restroom. If you have mobility issues or hand or finger pain (such as with arthritis), these may be a good option.
  • Pantyhose or tights. With complete coverage, these may support you in a way that other compression stockings can't. They also provide added warmth during the chilly winter months.
  • Leggings. Leggings, stockings without feet, offer full-leg coverage for people who don't need the added compression sock (foot) benefit. Like tights and pantyhose, these are also warm during the winter.
The choice between a thigh-high or full-length pantyhose/tights design is often a personal preference. You'll need to wear the stockings daily, so you'll want to feel as comfortable as possible.
Choosing Compression
As with height, your doctor may recommend a specific compression pressure. Understanding the different levels of compression can help you if you're not given this direction.
Compression stockings and socks are made with different pressure levels. The higher the pressure level, the more compression you'll feel.
Pressure levels are measured in mmHg (millimeters of Mercury). The range includes:
  • 8-15 mmHg. Providing the mildest level of support, these stockings can help with everyday issues, such as mild swelling or aches associated with standing or walking for too long (such as what restaurant servers or retail store employees often experience).
  • 15-20 mmHg. A medium level of support, these stockings are ideal for pregnant women, people who spend extended lengths of time on their feet, or travelers who are on planes, trains, or in cars for long blocks of time.
  • 20-30 mmHg. This level can help people for the same reasons as previously described. They also may be medically recommended for varicose veins, general swelling, or postsurgical swelling.
  • 30-40 mmHg. A strong or firm level of compression, these stockings - and any that are a higher level of compression - are worn under a doctor's supervision. Conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency, DVT, or severe swelling are some of the top reasons for choosing this option.
According to research in the journal Lymphatic Research and Biology, when otherwise healthy individuals tried higher levels of compression, they were less likely to continue wearing the stockings. If you don't wear your stockings, you don't receive any of the benefits that they bring. This makes choosing a comfortable fit - unless otherwise directed by a medical professional - essential.
Choosing Material
Like heights and compression levels, compression socks and stockings can be made from different materials. The specific material you choose depends on your comfort level, your reason for wearing the socks, and possibly your doctor's orders. Your style and aesthetic preferences also factor into this decision.
Compression socks and stockings come in both opaque (solid) and sheer styles. Opaque materials look more like men's dress socks, making them preferable for work or more formal occasions. Sheer materials look similar to women's pantyhose. Some compression socks also come in athletic styles and are made from cotton, wool, or a synthetic blend.
Do you need compression stockings? Contact All Florida Medical Supplies for more information.