What is venous blood?
Oxygenated blood is pumped all around the body by the heart and provides energy to cells within the body. Once this has been delivered, deoxygenated blood, carrying waste products is carried back to the heart and lungs from the extremities. Oxygenated blood is pumped through the arteries at high pressure by the heart and arterial muscle. Deoxygenated blood is transported in the veins at much lower pressure and is pumped by muscle contractions of the calf, balls of your feet etc. As this venous blood travels at a much lower pressure and thus speed, and often has to work against gravity, veins are fitted with valves to prevent backflow of blood.
It is important that venous blood returns from the extremities so waste products (such as lactic acid which occurs when muscles are starved of oxygen) can be removed and that the cycle of oxygenation at the lungs can continue and oxygenated arterial blood can continue to circulate around your body.
How does wearing graduated compression help to prevent venous problems?
Venous problems, unless hereditary, occur when too much strain is put on the walls or valves in the veins of the legs or groin.
Venous blood flow slows due to inactivity or injury to the leg muscles, and blood pools in the veins. The valves in your veins are there to prevent backflow of venous blood. Pooled blood thickens and can damage the walls of the veins (making them swell) which in-turn creates a space between the valves allowing backflow to become possible. As you can imagine, this will put additional pressure on surrounding healthy veins and thus this is how venous problems spread and worsen. Once damaged, the veins will bulge and valves will continue to leak.
Early signs of venous insufficiency include spider veins, oedema, achy legs, small varicose veins, swollen feet etc. Wearing graduated compression can help to manage these and prevent them from worsening.
Graduated compression encourages venous return to reduce blood pooling in the veins. It is especially beneficial during periods when the calf muscles are not contracting and relaxing as it is during these periods that venous circulation is under the most strain.
After major surgery (especially orthopaedic), during travel or when your work/lifestyle demands you stay immobile (includes sitting at a desk/in a vehicle) or on your feet (includes standing at a blackboard, in a restaurant or trade show) for long periods, you should consider wearing graduated compression throughout the day.
Prevention is always better than cure. If your lifestyle or your family history leaves you prone to developing venous disorders, introducing graduated compression products into your sock and hosiery drawer isn’t too disruptive and will help to keep your legs feeling young and healthy.
If you travel a lot, you may be at risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) which can lead to fatal Pulmonary Thrombo Embolism (PTE).
How does wearing graduated compression help with the management of existing venous problems?
As a person walks, the contraction and relaxation of the calf muscles around the veins help to pump venous blood toward the heart. The graduated compression exerted by appropriate socks and stockings acts as a layer of muscle by gently squeezing the stretched vein walls together, allowing the valves to close. The open space of the vein is reduced, thereby restoring blood flow to a normal state and aiding overall circulation.
The compression gradient/squeeze, by being firmest at the ankle and gradually less firm as you move up the leg also creates a negative pressure to help venous blood return up the leg against the effects of gravity.
To be most effective, the socks or stockings should be put on at the start of your day, before any swelling occurs and removed before you go to bed, unless otherwise instructed by your medical professional. For example, if you get up in the morning and have a shower, you may need to elevate your legs for 5-10 minutes afterwards to drain any swelling before putting on your compression socks.
Anti-Embolism vs. Medical-Grade Graduated Compression
Anti-Embolism socks are issued in hospital for patients to wear during and after surgery or when bedridden. Their purpose is to maintain normal venous return in a bedridden patient. The levels of compression may be the same in both products, but the compression gradient/squeeze is distributed differently in compression stockings to accommodate venous return in mobile (upright/walking) patients.
Patients are often discharged with prescriptions for graduated compression socks but continue wearing their anti-embolism socks without realising the difference.
Medical Compression Hosiery and Socks are used to treat venous and lymphatic disorders in mobile patients. Graduated compression stockings are used for all stages of chronic venous insufficiency, including varicose veins, oedema, stasis skin changes and venous procedures. They may also be used in preventing and managing Deep Vein Thrombosis.
Graduated Compression for Sport
This same technology improves blood flow during and after exercise. The extra support offered to your lower limbs can reduce minor injuries, swelling, lactic acid concentration, muscle oscillation and muscle soreness. Wearing graduated compression has also been shown to improve proprioception of the lower limbs.