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What are Elastic Stockings?

By Adrien-Luc Sanders
Updated May 17, 2024
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Elastic stockings, also known as support or compression stockings, are hosiery worn on the feet or legs. These use gradient pressure to provide support to the lower legs, increase circulation, and relieve problems caused by damaged or otherwise non-functional veins and vein valves. They can be used to treat circulatory problems related to a number of ailments, including varicose veins, diabetes, lymphedema, deep vein thrombosis, and embolisms. Many of these issues cause blood accumulation, which the stockings ease by using pressure to stimulate blood flow.

The tightest area of the stocking is in its foot. It then gradually loosens over the calf, knee, and thigh. This grading creates constant pressure against the muscles of the calf and thigh, bordering on a massage. The effects are similar, much as a massage promotes blood flow and relaxes muscles, the stockings encourage healthy circulation.

While they function as treatment for existing ailments, when worn daily medical hosiery can also be used to prevent certain conditions. Regularly wearing specific types of elastic stockings can be used to prevent embolisms, deep-vein thrombosis, and varicose veins. By encouraging healthy, steady blood flow, the stockings prevent circulatory and vein degeneration caused by age or continuous, lifestyle-related wear-and-tear. Elastic stockings can also provide post-surgical support during rehabilitation, or relieve temporary swelling caused by a number of conditions.

Elastic stockings typically come in various forms. Some are a full stocking with a foot, much like socks. Others are a tube, open at both ends, that slides on over the foot. The length can vary, from ankle-high to knee-high or thigh-high. They also come in many colors to be worn not only under clothing, but as an accessory, replacing typical pantyhose or stockings. Some styles have differentiated shapes for men or women, while others are unisex.

While patients generally suffer no negative side effects from wearing elastic stockings, there may be discomfort during the adjustment period or if the stockings are worn for a 24-hour period. The pressure may be uncomfortable or cause minor tingling. People with leg hair may experience friction from the elastic material. Those with discomfort or pinching should roll the stockings down around their ankles or feet — much like the classic little old lady with her tan, support stockings rolled down into her shoes. Others may find that the material loses its elasticity too easily, and the stockings are too loose.

Many elastic stockings are made of hypo-allergenic materials. A very small few may find that they suffer a skin reaction to the stockings. Such a rash could be caused by an allergic reaction to the materials. More severe side effects may not be caused by the stockings, and may require the advice of a trained medical professional.

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Discussion Comments

By Wisedly33 — On Aug 27, 2014

My mom wore these after she had her mastectomy. She said they were very uncomfortable, and she got rid of them as soon as she got the go-ahead from her surgeon.

I have known people who wore these though, and said they made their feet and legs feel much better, as well as improved circulation. I can hardly stand to wear regular pantyhose (not support stockings) long enough to go to church, so I'm sure these would be a torment to me. I hope I never have to wear them for any reason. They sound like a medieval torture device.

By Scrbblchick — On Aug 26, 2014

I had to wear those stockings when I had surgery. They made me wear them for eight hours. I ripped them off as soon as I could. Uncomfortable is *not* the word! And my surgery was outpatient, so I don't know why they thought it was necessary for me to wear the darn things. I could walk and get around after I got home -- slowly. But I was able to navigate. So it's not like I was in bed for several days, which I thought was why they wanted surgery patients to wear them, to prevent blood clots in people who would be inactive for several days.

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