Support Hose - Are They Really Worth It?

What do support hose do?

Support hose are tight and generally difficult to get on and off. So why should you bother with them?

What do support hose do?  If you have tired, aching legs or swollen ankles, it could be that the veins in the legs no longer work as well as they once did.

This can be because the valves in the veins (that stop the blood in the legs pooling in the feet as it tries to return to the heart) have become incompetent.

Alternatively, swollen ankles and calves can be a sign of a heart, liver or kidney problem – we’ll talk about that further down the page.

Support stockings are designed to support the circulation as it returns to the heart against gravity.

Support Hose for the prevention of varicose veins and thread veins.

Not all thread (spider) veins can be prevented, but when the valves in the leg veins start failing it’s more difficult for the blood to return up the legs (against gravity) to the heart.

On way to help the circulation is to wear support hose as they are designed to ‘support’ the circulation.  Therefore they can be of value if you have or are at risk of developing varicose veins and thread veins.

Combine support stockings with these other ways of preventing varicose veins and thread veins:

  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods.  Get up and walk around regularly, or if you have to stand, rise up onto tip-toes and down (repeat 10-20 times every hour) to exercise the calf muscle.  The calf muscle acts like and internal ‘pump’ to help the blood return to the heart.
  • So regular exercise – walking, running or dancing for example – will also help.
  • Control your weight so that there isn’t too much pressure on the legs.
  • Avoid crossing your legs for long periods when sitting as this can cause back pressure on the veins and potentially damage the valves.  If you’re a woman and want to sit elegantly, try tucking one foot behind the other ankle – look at pictures of the British Queen Elizabeth: it seems to work for her!

Support hose and edema/oedema.

Swelling or puffiness in the legs/feet/ankles is called edema/oedema (say ‘eh-deem-ah’).  It happens in other parts of the body too, but in the legs is often happens because of a heart, liver or kidney problem.   The heart needs to push the blood and fluid round the body efficiently.

Those with a healthy heart/liver/kidneys may also notice that they have swollen ankles in hot weather, if they’ve been standing for a long time, during pregnancy or if they’ve been eating a lot of salty food.

Do I have edema?  If you’re worried you should see your doctor. 

She will look at your legs and ankles to see if the skin is swollen, stretched and shiny.  When she presses gently on the skin for a few seconds and releases, you’ll see an indentation from the pressure.

If necessary she’ll run some tests to see what’s causing the edema.

Edema can be relieved by:

  • Sitting with your legs elevated.
  • Avoiding standing for a long time – get up and walk around or gently rise up on tip-toes and down to exercise the calf muscle, and circle the ankles while sitting.
  • Wearing support stockings which can help with the discomfort of edema and also help to reduce its build up through the day.
  • If you become breathless and suffer with edema see your doctor immediately.

Skin ulcers and compression hose.

A venous skin ulcer typically develops on the lower leg.  It’s an open wound that occurs when the leg circulation is poor because of peripheral vascular disease, diabetes, varicose veins or after a deep venous thrombosis (DVT).

The ulcer will need to be assessed and dressed by your health professional and if there is any doubt whether this is a venous or arterial ulcer, she will perform a specific test to look at the circulation and advise you if support or compression hose are right for you.  They are not appropriate for arterial ulcers.

If compression hose are recommended they will aid the healing of the ulcer because they support the circulation.  This means they will help the blood feed the wound with the nutrients it needs to heal as well as taking away the toxins produced.

The stockings must go over the ulcer dressing.

If you are at risk of developing a venous ulcer, discuss the use of support hose with your health professional to help prevent it.

What brand of support hose should I buy?

The best known and market leading brands are Jobst, Mediven Compression Stockings and Juzo Compression Stockings.

Their websites are also useful sources of information and further tips.

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