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Varicose veins: compression stockings

Compression stockings are a special type of elastic stocking that support the veins, stop them from getting worse, and relieve discomfort. They produce maximum pressure at the ankle, and the pressure diminishes up the leg. They are particularly useful if your main symptom is aching or ankle swelling, or if the varicose veins are likely to be temporary (for example during pregnancy).

  • You must wear your elastic stockings all the time, except when you are in bed.
  • You must put them on immediately after you get up in the morning, before blood and fluid have pooled in your feet and ankles.
  • Of course they are tight and difficult to put on; if this causes you problems, ask your pharmacist about devices that will help and request open-toed stockings.
  • You will need new elastic stockings every 6 months.

Modern compression stockings are much lighter and look nicer than the old types. In the UK, compression stockings (though not support tights) are available under the National Health Service; however, for a pair, you have to pay two prescription charges. For men, there are ribbed, below-the-knee stockings that look more like ordinary socks.

How to put on your elastic stockings
  • Dust your leg with a little talc.
  • Put your hand into the stocking until you can feel the seam at the heel.
  • Pinch the heel and turn the stocking inside out until you can see the inside of the heel.
  • Put your foot in, making sure that the stocking heel is in the right place.
  • Pull the rest of the stocking over the foot and up your leg.
  • Wearing rubber gloves may help you to grip the stocking and prevent snagging.

Written by: Margaret Stearn
Edited by: Margaret Stearn
Last updated: Thursday, April 19th 2018


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Fascinating facts

Varicose simply means swollen

Varicose veins are the price we pay for our upright posture; if we still walked on all fours, we probably wouldn't have them

One person in five has varicose veins or is likely to get them

Varicose veins usually develop slowly over 10-20 years

Recent research has found that varicose veins are more common in men than in women

60 000 people in England have hospital treatment for varicose veins every year

Varicose veins are more common in Wales than anywhere else in the world

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