Generally speaking, the terminology involving support and compression garments can be rather confusing for most of us delving into this subject.
Frequently, and in most cases unintentionally, articles in the media, on websites and in blogs seem to mix and match phrases and terms describing support and compression garments freely, often describing something different than what they are actually talking about.
If you are puzzled by the names and choices – here is our attempt to clarify the terms that are being used for support and compression hosiery and to shed some light on what it all means.
Support Stockings and Support Pantyhose:
These types of support garments traditionally include knee-high, thigh-high and pantyhose type hosiery of compression classes below the range of 20 mmHg*). Nevertheless, the terms support stockings, support pantyhose or support tights do not always mean that they also feature graduated compression.
Graduated or gradient pressure is the pressure the support stocking or pantyhose exerts on your legs. The applied pressure is the strongest at the ankle area, gradually decreasing going up the leg, with the lowest pressure applied to your thigh area.
Support pantyhose or stockings are generally advocated as a preventive measure to preserve healthy legs or to remedy and soothe minor but often nagging symptoms in the legs. Such signs and indications can manifest themselves as a feeling of heaviness or pain in the legs.
This can be caused by extended periods of standing or sitting (at work or during travel by plane, train, bus or car), discomfort from restless legs or minor swelling. In addition, support socks, tights or hose have also proven to aid athletes with quicker recovery from spirited running or biking activities.
A Word of Caution:
Self-diagnosing and applying compression stockings without consulting your medical care provider could be dangerous to your health depending on your condition(s) and could potentially make things worse. Always seek the advice of your physician before making any changes.
Compression Stockings and Compression Pantyhose:
Compression stockings could be considered “support hosiery on steroids”. These compression socks, knee-highs, thigh-highs and pantyhose style garments always feature graduated compression. They always come in compression levels ranging from 20-40 mmHg or higher and should, as with any type of compression or support hose, be applied only as recommended and approved by your physician.
Compression stockings are divided into different classifications with varying degrees of compression, each addressing the varying degrees of symptoms and severity of a condition.
Class I Graduated Compression Stockings (15-21 mmHg) are designed to address the initial stages or milder symptoms of
- varicose veins and spider veins
- venous insufficiency
Class II Graduated Compression Stockings (20-30 mmHg) are intended to help with
- more pronounced varicosities and varicose veins
- preventing edema (swelling from fluid accumulation in the legs)
- preventing thrombosis (blood clots) after surgery
Class III Graduated Compression Stockings (30-40 mmHg) are prescribed to address:
- more severe conditions of the deeper vein system as determined by the findings and recommendations of your physician and/or a vein specialist.
Class IV Graduated Compression Stockings (above 59 mmHg) provide very strong compression and are usually intended for:
- very severe conditions of the venous system as determined and recommended by the findings of your physician and/or a vein specialist.
See also our post “A Closer Look at Compression Classifications”
*) = is the pressure applied by the stockings to the leg measured in units of mmHg [millimeters of mercury]