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What Are Surgical Stockings?

By Kerrie Main
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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Surgical stockings, also known as compression stockings, are used to support venous and lymphatic systems in the legs. They are available in a wide variety of styles and sizes in order to meet each person’s particular needs. Many people utilize them to treat or prevent ailments such as blood clots, because they provide a graduated compression throughout the leg. The compression in surgical stockings works to help overall circulation of blood and lymph fluids.

Many people wear surgical stockings for different reasons, including tired legs, varicose veins and edema (swelling of the leg). They also are used for venous insufficiency, which is when the veins have difficulty sending blood from the legs back to the heart, resulting in aching, heaviness, cramps or tingling sensations. These stockings also are sometimes used for lymphatic obstruction (Lymphedema), burn scars and prevention of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is the formation of a blood clot.

Some stockings are given to people with preexisting ailments, and others wear them to prevent ailments. Stroke patients sometimes wear them specifically to prevent thrombosis, but many studies have proved this treatment to be ineffective. When used in post-surgical situations, they usually are effective in helping prohibit blood clots from forming in the resting patient’s legs. Many people who stand at work all day, such as nurses or flight attendants, regularly wear them.

Surgical stockings are made from elastic or rubber, which help to compress the leg by squeezing it and aiding in blood circulation. The compression typically is at the maximum level around the ankle, with gradually reduced pressure moving up the leg. They use a unit of measurement called an mmHg and come in many different pressure ranges. Some people need a higher level of compression, but others need stockings in only the minimum range.

The more basic types can be sold over the counter and typically come in 10 mmHg to 20 mmHg pressure ranges. The more compressed versions come in 20 mmHg to 50-plus mmHg ranges and usually require a prescription from a doctor or medical professional. They can be custom-fitted and sized. Surgical stockings can come in many different styles, such as pantyhose, thigh-high and knee-high, depending on their usage.

There are a wide variety of compression stockings available, including support and custom versions. Anti-embolism stockings usually are given in post-surgical situations. Circular knit stockings are seamless and usually look like regular stockings or pantyhose. Silver stockings use special textile fibers that have anti-microbial protection.

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Discussion Comments

By Valencia — On May 02, 2011

I had a bad experience with support stockings a while back. Stupidly vain, I went for a size smaller than I needed and risked damaging my health. It was so uncomfortable, and totally my own fault.

Please make sure you get the right size for your legs. In a hospital they should measure you for them, but those of us who buy them over the counter need to be realistic!

By Windchime — On May 02, 2011

Support socks or hose are great for those who really need them, but I wonder how many people taking flights put them on and then lay back and forget about exercising their poor legs!

By MissMuffet — On Apr 29, 2011

@anon169727 - Wouldn't that depend on the type of surgery? I imagine that someone who is going to be immobile for a while after discharge would be advised to wear compression hose for longer than a person who could move around.

By anon169727 — On Apr 22, 2011

The article is fine. But nowhere does it indicate or suggest the amount of time a post surgical patient would be expected to wear them. This would be nice information to include.

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