For some patients, varicose vessels are a cosmetic annoyance. For others, they mean pain and could lead to health problems such as ulcers, blood clots, or bleeding from burst vessels. One staple of conservative treatment vein doctors use is compression stockings. Knowing a bit about how varicose vessels in the legs form is helpful for understanding how these stockings can help.
How Varicose Veins Form
Varicose veins typically develop in the legs or in the feet. They are blue or dark purple and have a very distinctive ropelike, gnarled appearance. This makes them appear to sit on top of the surface of the skin even though they lie under it.
The Mayo Clinic reports that while some of these vessels cause no discomfort, others mean considerable throbbing and pain. They form when a leg vein is unable to work against gravity.
The responsibility of vessels in the legs is returning blood from the extremities to the heart so that it can recirculate. As leg muscles contract, they pump blood through open valves in veins. When these valves close, they prevent blood from falling backward.
If a valve has been damaged or weakened or is otherwise defective, blood seeps back through it into the vein. As it pools, vein walls dilate. The eventual result is often a varicose vein. Aging, being female, carrying extra weight, experiencing prolonged sitting or standing, and having a family history of varicose vessels are all risk factors.
Compression Stocking Therapy
For less-severe varicose vein cases or following a procedure to remove unwanted vessels, a vein doctor sometimes opts to use a compression stocking option as therapy. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, these stockings can help relieve several issues:
- Aching or a sensation of heaviness in the legs
- Limb swelling
- Blood clot formation, especially after surgery or extended inactivity
Healthcare providers sometimes refer to these hose as pressure stockings, support stockings, or gradient stockings. For most patients, the maximum benefit occurs from purchasing prescription hose that are specially fitted.
Each stocking puts gentle pressure on a leg with varicose vessels. As it squeezes the limb, it forces blood up the legs and toward the heart for recirculation.
Stockings are available in various pressures ranging from light to strong. They also come in multiple colors and lengths that range from knee-highs to thigh-highs.
Properly fit stockings should not feel excessively uncomfortable. The most pressure occurs at ankle level. Vein doctors normally advise putting hose on right away each morning, before arising, since legs experience the least swelling then.
Having two pairs is ideal, since it is important to launder each set daily with soap and water. Patients can expect to replace a pair after three to six months of use, at which point stockings start to lose their support capability.