Varicose veins & compression socks

Varicose veins are caused by damaged veins that usually affect the legs. Varicose veins do not always need treatment. If your varicose veins are not causing you discomfort, you may not need to have treatment.

Compression socks/stockings are a treatment option for varicose veins. These can help by putting pressure on the veins thus improving circulation, and increasing blood flow to the heart. To achieve this you must walk or exercise your legs whilst wearing compression socks to help boost the pump mechanism of the muscles in your legs.

Compression socks must be worn all day, if recommended by your doctor you may also be required to wear them at night. They should be removed everyday so that you can check your legs for sore marks, blisters or for any colour changes. You should also wash your legs every day and apply a gentle moisturiser to prevent your skin from drying out.

Compression socks come in three different lengths; knee high, thigh high and waist high tights. Your doctor or nurse will be able to recommend the best length for you. Most people with varicose veins will be prescribed a class 1 (light compression) or class 2 (medium compression).

Compression socks are tighter at the foot than they are higher up so it is natural for you to find them difficult to put on. Your healthcare professional can show you the best way to put them on but you may find it easier for someone to help you.

You can also buy a variety of aids that will help when putting compression socks on. They usually have to be replaced every three to six months, if they become damaged,speak to your GP because they may no longer be effective. Compression socks should be hand-washed in warm water and dried away from direct heat.

National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) only recommends using compression socks as a long-term treatment for varicose veins if alternative treatments are not suitable for you. Your General Practitioner will be able to advise you which treatments will be best for you. The current recommendation (NICE, 2013) for varicose veins in pregnancy in is to:

  • Give pregnant women presenting with varicose veins information on the effect of pregnancy on varicose veins.
  • Not to carry out interventional treatment for varicose veins during pregnancy other than in exceptional circumstances.
  • Consider compression hosiery for symptom relief of leg swelling associated with varicose veins during pregnancy.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

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Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 23 September 2014
Next review: 23 September 2017