Varicose veins, described as bulging, twisted, blue or purple veins showing beneath the skin, affect a significant number of adults each year. Although varicose veins do not represent more than an unattractive mark on the leg for some, others experience varying degrees of pain and discomfort when varicose veins take place. Along with the uncomfortable pain in the legs comes swelling, achiness, and heaviness that often makes it difficult to stand or walk for extended periods of time. When varicose veins show up, it can be a challenge to understand why they are there and what can be done about them.
The underlying cause of varicose veins is a breakdown of the vein wall due to weakened tissues. As vein walls become less effective over time, blood ends up pooling beneath the skin, causing discoloration and discomfort. Unlike in healthy veins where blood flows uninterrupted to the heart, varicose veins cause blood to move against gravity, collecting in the location of the damaged vein wall. Problems with veins can be linked to hereditary issues, being overweight, pregnancy, as well as the natural aging process. For some, living a healthy lifestyle that includes daily exercise and a well-balanced diet can help ease the discomfort of varicose veins temporarily; for others, additional treatment for varicose veins is necessary. One of the most common non-invasive remedies for varicose veins is compression stockings.
How Compression Stockings Work
Instead of rushing to surgery or laser treatment when varicose veins appear and cause ongoing discomfort, most vein specialists and medical professionals recommend the use of compression stockings first. While they resemble basic, tall socks, compression stockings are medically designed to be worn on the lower leg throughout the day. Stockings place mild pressure on the affected veins, without adding pain, and over time, blood vessels are able to move more freely through the veins as they were intended. With this added circulation thanks to the pressure compression stockings exert, blood moves back to the heart in the right direction with less pooling in the vein.
Compression stockings that are worn consistently offer relief from pain, swelling, and achiness that is all too common among individuals living with varicose veins. This treatment also promotes healthy blood flow and reduced risk of blood clots while they are worn. When compression stockings are recommended by a vein specialist or other medical provider, individuals are typically instructed to wear them on either one or both legs, depending on where the varicose veins are located, and only throughout the day. Compression stockings are taken off each night, and they can be worn invisibly underneath everyday clothing.
Getting the Right Fit
A vein specialist in the UK, Eddie Chaloner of Radiance Vein Clinic, is a proponent of compression stockings as a first line of defense against the pain and severity of varicose veins, but he explains that getting the right fit is an important part of the process. “In most environments where compression stockings are available, they are graded based on how much pressure they place on the leg. As an example in the UK, Type 1 compression stockings are the lightest available treatment, followed by Type 2, Type 3, and then the strongest pressure with Type 4. Most individuals experience some degree of relief with Type 1 or Type 2 stockings.”
All compression stockings are designed to place greater pressure on the lower part of the leg, near the ankle, and then gradually become looser as they make their way up the calf. It is necessary to visit a vein specialist so that the correct fit compression stocking can be suggested from the start. When a stocking is too tight or too loose, symptoms associated with varicose veins are not often relieved. Chaloner states that when varicose vein surgery is not an option, or when veins are stretched out, compression stockings are the best course of action to reduce the look and feel of varicose veins for most adults.