December 2011

Debunking myths: Compression hosiery

Sheer Lace StockingsBy Larry Hand

Myths abound in discussions about healthcare (just think chicken soup). But when it comes to the use of compression hosiery, some tales can be debunked easily.

The benefits of compression hosiery include improved blood circulation for patients with varicose veins, or achy swollen feet—especially helpful for those with diabetes.

Traditionally, home medical equipment (HME) and durable medical equipment (DME) companies have dispatched representatives to practitioners’ offices to educate them about the availability of products. Typically, these reps leave behind a locally printed prescription pad for physicians, a scenario that leads to the first big myth.

Myth 1: Compression stockings require a prescription.

By law, no prescription is re­quired. Practically speaking, though, many pharmacies require a pre­scription for higher-level compression hosiery. Compression levels range from 10 to 30 mm Hg and above;  compression above 10 to 15 mm Hg falls into the higher range.

“Most pharmacies won’t dispense higher-level compres­sion hosiery without a prescription,” said Marybeth Crane, DPM, of Foot and Ankle Associates of North Texas, in Grapevine, TX.

Patients, however, can get lower-level compression hose that work very well without a prescription, said Bill Meanwell, CPed, of the International School of Pedorthics in Broken Arrow, OK.

Most patients can use 10- or 15-mm Hg hosiery without a problem, but using higher levels of compression requires more knowledge on the part of the patient, said Bret Ribotsky, DPM, a podiatrist in private practice in Boca Raton, FL, and founder of, a website featuring audio interviews with prominent podiatrists. If 10 to 15 mm Hg is not effective, patients should see a practitioner for further guidance, Ribotsky added.

“It’s a good idea to have a physician to pick out the compression level,” he said.

Myth 2: Compression stockings are appropriate only for certain patients.

“The only people who don’t need compression stockings are giraffes,” Ribotsky said. “Gravity is your enemy, so you might as well use the stockings.”

Almost all individuals can benefit from compression, said Crane, especially patients with diabetes, as long as they have adequate arterial circulation.

“I wear compression stockings in the operating room to help with leg fatigue,” she said.

Professional athletes are taking advantage of compression wear to improve performance and recover faster from injuries, according to Crane and Meanwell.

“If you have absolutely zero edema, and you have an excellent venous system, well, maybe the compression hose aren’t necessary,” Meanwell said.

Myth 3: The risks of compression hosiery outweigh the benefits.

“Ridiculous,” Crane said. “A patient with severe vascular disease should not use compression wear, but otherwise it’s not dangerous.”

In fact, said Meanwell, “the risk of not wearing them and developing a blood clot or pooling of blood in the foot is definitely a major risk.”

There are no risks if the hose are properly fitted, he added.

“The compression hose must be properly and professionally fitted and professionally selected [probably by the specialist at the pharmacy],” he said, adding that it’s best to measure the legs in the morning before they expand and swell.

Myth 4: Your patients can’t afford compression stockings.

“I think it’s all about making them a must rather than a should,” Ribostsky said. “You have to tell a compelling story. You might ask, ‘Do you want to take your grandkids to Disney World without your legs hurting?’”

Myth 5: Your patients won’t wear compression hosiery even if you prescribe them.

It’s true that compression hose can be intimidating to patients, Meanwell said.

“It’s like a wrestling match with yourself,” he said. “If you’re not a flexible person by nature, you would be worried that you’d find yourself in a video on YouTube putting on these hose. They can be quite taxing.”

But these issues can be addressed through patient education and the use of assistive devices to help with donning and doffing.

“If you need the strong compression but can’t get them on, then start with the light compression,” Ribotsky said. “A little compression is better than nothing.”

Sponsored by an educational grant from Dr. Comfort

9 Responses to Debunking myths: Compression hosiery

  1. Maureen says:

    Harvard Health says don’t wear compression hose if you have peripheral neuropathy. My cardiologist says it is ok. I want to get some for a long flight but also because my left ankle swells more than the right one. Doc said vascular insufficiency due to varicosity. Previous podiatrist said I had peripheral neuropathy in lower limbs and feet. He did a biopsy to confirm. I don’t get numb feet just cold ones and zingers. It hurts when docs press on my legs. Wish I knew why and if I could wear 10-15 compression knee highs without risk. I can not drive highways and the like so can’t get toa professional for fitting. Opinion; suggestion?

  2. MaryCarol McGray says:

    I had a foot fusion in October 2018. My physical therapist recommended compression stockings for the edema in the fused foot I purchased them but before I put them on I became concerned that they would put too much pressure on the fused site. Do you have an opinion about the appropriateness of compression stockings on a recently fused foot?

  3. Holly says:

    Can you please define “severe vascular disease”? I have late stages of venous insufficiency and the stockings help in a lot of ways, but seem to make my lower legs more uncomfortable in others. Thank you

  4. kassy says:

    Hi, I have circulation issues. Just got compression tights. Also have hypoglycemia. My guy told me that it can cause more problems in some people. Does anyone know if it is true?

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  7. john K WOOLWORTH says:

    Well it would seem that we all have some sort of desire to give compression socks a go, if for no other reasonm that to make the use
    of our legs go a little better.. That said,, I have an issue with PoliArteritis-Nodosa,, realy screws up the lower half of my body and
    seems to be most evident in my calfs, both legs. I read a lot on the internet about compresssion socks and the possibility of blood circulation pooling with people have circulitory problems. I have not breached the issue with either my cardiologist nor my
    rheumatoligist as of yet but am seriously thinking about these socks, my ability to walk has almost come to a standstill, and if I
    push the issue I become very winded… Cost is not an issue, but results to aleviate the problems are… Your thoughts,,,
    Thank you very much John

  8. Maureen says:

    I do not see answers to all the above questions. Where can I find them?

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