AT, AD, and AHG are abbreviations that let you know the length of a compression stocking or sock. AT refers to pantyhose-length compression garments that have a waistband attached. AHG stockings cover the leg from the foot to the thigh. AD refers to knee-high compression socks and stockings. Of course, leg compression can also come in other lengths and styles. For instance, you can purchase compression ankle socks or legs sleeves. However, usually, when a doctor prescribes medical compression garments, one of the three standard sizes—knee-high, thigh-high, or full-length hosiery—is recommended. Most medical compression garments are unisex, so that men and women can both wear them. Their strength is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Doctors recommend graduated compression more frequently than uniform compression because many of the scientific studies about compression therapy have shown the benefits of gradient pressure, which features more pressure at the ankle and less pressure on the calf. Graduated compression socks and stockings promote venous return, as blood flows against the force of gravity. By exerting upward pressure, graduated compression socks and stockings help your veins move blood and waste fluids from the feet to the heart. While many patients experience benefits from compression therapy, women have unique medical concerns that make compression socks a smart choice. In this article, we'll discuss some of the ways that compression garments can benefit women, and we'll also help you choose the right compression length for your concerns.
Compression socks and stockings can help reduce the risk of developing blood clots in the deep leg veins, also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In some cases, DVT can cause blood clots that proceed to travel through the bloodstream and block other vessels. When a blockage forms in the lungs, the resulting pulmonary embolism can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pulmonary embolism is the leading cause of death in women during pregnancy or just after having a baby. Also, women are five times more likely to experience a dangerous blood clot when they are pregnant. For this reason, pregnant women should take preventative measures to avoid developing deep vein blood clots.
In addition to preventing DVT, compression socks also help prevent the formation of varicose veins, spider veins, and edema. These common symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) often occur during pregnancy. For pregnant women who are already experiencing these symptoms, doctors normally recommend compression socks to treat the discomfort associated with CVI and prevent vascular problems from worsening.
Recommendation for pregnant women with mild symptoms:
8-15 mmHg AD compression socks ("How to")
Recommendation for intermediate risk, such as a woman who is both pregnant and flying:
20-30 mmHg AD compression socks (Karsanji et al.)
Varicose and Spider Veins
A woman does not have to be pregnant to develop CVI or varicose veins. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirms that, "Varicose veins affect almost twice as many women as men and are more common in older women. Spider veins may affect more than half of women." Spider veins and varicose veins form the same way. They occur when the vessel walls become distended and the one-way valves within veins become damaged. As pressure builds up, blood flow stagnates. The blood begins to flow backwards, traveling through one-way valves in the wrong direction. In small vessels near the surface of the skin, this causes a network of unsightly red or purple burst blood vessels. When larger veins cease to function properly, bulbous blue or purple veins form. The former, called spider veins, often appear before the latter, which are called varicose veins.
Compression socks may prevent varicose veins, spider veins, and venous ulcers from forming. In addition, women's compression socks can also help treat the symptoms of existing venous insufficiency. According to The Mayo Clinic, "Wearing compression stockings all day is often the first approach to try before moving on to other treatments. They steadily squeeze your legs, helping veins and leg muscles move blood more efficiently." The severity of CVI is normally described using a CEAP (clinical, etiologic, anatomic and pathophysiologic) scale, ranging from 0-6. In a review of the scientific literature, Lim et al. describe the high-quality evidence that exists to support the use of graduated compression for treating the symptoms of CVI, especially for extreme cases. The same review also stated, "There was insufficient evidence to determine which length of graduated compression stocking (below knee or thigh length) was most beneficial."
Recommendation for mild CVI, CEAP classes C0-C2:
10-15 mmHg AT, AD, or AHG compression
Recommendation for CVI with edema, CEAP class C3:
15-20 mmHg AT, AD, or AHG compression
Recommendation for severe CVI, CEAP classes C4-C6:
30-40 mmHg AT, AD, or AHG compression
DVT and Pulmonary Embolism
Even for women who aren't pregnant, there still is a risk of developing DVT and a potentially fatal pulmonary embolism. Both birth control pill and hormonal medication (commonly taken for menopause) can increase a woman's risk of developing DVT. The National Blood Clot Alliance shares the story of a healthy 28-year-old who developed multiple pulmonary embolisms: "Kate—a healthy young woman whose only risk factors were a series of flights longer than five hours and the daily birth control pill she popped—was in danger of having a heart attack." Instead of recognizing the symptoms, Kate thought that her shortness of breath meant that she should exercise more. In reality, she needed urgent medical attention. Even the most young and athletic women are at risk of developing DVT, especially when they're exposed to multiple risk factors, such as long-haul flights combined with hormonal birth control.
According to The National Blood Clot Alliance, risk factors for DVT include:
- Hospitalization for illness or surgery
- Major surgery, particularly of the pelvis, abdomen, hip, knee
- Severe trauma, such as a car accident
- Injury to a vein that may have been caused by a broken bone or severe muscle injury
- Hip or knee replacement surgery
- Cancer and cancer treatments
- Use of birth control methods that contain estrogen, such as the pill, patch, or ring
- Pregnancy, which includes up to three months after the baby is born
- The use of hormone therapy that contains estrogen
- A family history of blood clots
- Confinement to bed
- Sitting too long, especially with legs crossed
Not only do graduated compression socks and stockings reduce a woman's risk of developing DVT, but they can also be used to prevent an existing blood clot from developing into pulmonary embolism or post-thrombotic syndrome. In a medical literature review in the British Journal of Surgery, Agu et al. conclude, "Stockings reduced the relative risk of DVT by 64 per cent in general surgical patients and 57 per cent following total hip replacement." They add, "Knee-length stockings are as effective and should replace above-knee stockings." The Mayo Clinic website echoes this recommendation. For cases of existing DVT, they list blood thinners, clot busters, filters, and compression socks as primary treatments. The site explains, "To help prevent swelling associated with deep vein thrombosis, [compression socks] are worn on your legs from your feet to about the level of your knees." Recommendations for compression strength vary, depending on the combination of risk factors.
Recommendation for a single risk factor:
Class I AD compression socks, usually 10-15 mmHg ("Prevent DVT")
Recommendation for two risk factors:
20-30mmHg AD compression socks (Karsanji et al.)
Recommendation for multiple risk factors, including existing DVT:
30-40 mmHg AD compression socks ("Management")
According to Harvard Health Publishing, lymphedema occurs when lymph fluid is unable to drain properly. Women who have had lymph nodes removed during breast cancer surgery are particularly at-risk of developing lymphedema. In addition, female babies are more likely to develop primary lymphedema. Although lymphedema can occur in both men and women, hereditary lymphedema occurs more frequently in women. Lim et al. explain that graduated compression therapy can be effective in the long term maintenance of lymphedema. They write, "Generally, the highest level of compression (20–60 mm Hg) that the patient can tolerate is likely to be the most beneficial. However, lower compression can be used for milder lymphedema or general leg edema." (E396) Graduated compression can be used on any part of the body where a patient experiences swelling. Compression arm sleeves, compression hosiery, compression socks, and compression sleeves may all be used for this purpose. Higher pressure garments (above 30 mmHg) require a doctor's prescription.
Recommendation for lymphedema:
Up to 60 mmHg
Why Women Wear Compression
Some health concerns impact women more than men. When it comes to DVT, varicose veins, lymphedema, and edema, women must become knowledgeable about prevention. Compression therapy—in the form of socks, thigh-high stockings, or pantyhose—can help prevent and treat the symptoms of these vascular concerns. But compression therapy doesn’t have to involve open-toe, beige-colored hospital garments. Compression garments come in closed-toe, fashionable styles and fun colors, as well. Compression socks have proven medical benefits, but they also offer a great alternative to regular dress socks or running socks.
For female athletes, compression socks can help you recover from your workout more effectively. Whether you prefer CrossFit or team sports, our socks provide arch support and cushioning that makes your workout more comfortable. We even have a multi-pack with 15-25 mmHg knee-high compression socks and ankle-length, no-show socks with 360 degree arch compression. Made from moisture-wicking, antimicrobial SmartSilver fabric, these won't be confused with diabetic socks anytime soon. By improving your blood circulation, compression therapy helps you to feel your best throughout your workout. Better yet, compression socks may give you added stability to help you avoid some injuries, such as shin splints and plantar fasciitis.
Plus, we offer discounts to healthcare workers, military active service members, military veterans, coast guard, national guard, first responders (including dispatchers and support personnel), and some other essential workers. If you're eligible, contact us to receive a discount code that you can use at checkout. We also offer gift cards and referral links to make accessibility easier than ever. Don't forget, with a risk-free 30 day guarantee, you have nothing to lose.
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Agu, O., et al. "Graduated compression stockings in the prevention of venous thromboembolism." British Journal of Surgery, Vol. 86, Iss. 8, 1 August 1999, pp. 992-1004, https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/jws/bjs/1999/00000086/00000008/art01195.
Bright, Linda Dove, and Sharon Georgi. “How to Protect Your Patient from DVT.” The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 94, no. 12, 1994, pp. 28–32. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3464602.
"Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)." Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352563.
"Impact of Blood Clots on the United States." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/dvt/infographic-impact.html.
Silver, Scott. "I wish I knew I needed Compression Socks Sooner." The Quality Edit, The Quality Edit, 2020, https://www.thequalityedit.com/articles/comrad-review-i-wish-i-knew-i-needed-compression-socks-sooner.
“How To Shop For Compressions Socks.” CVS, CVS Pharmacy, 2019, www.cvs.com/shop/how-to-shop-compression-socks-c.
Karsanji, Divya J., et al. "The risk and prevention of venous thromboembolism in the pregnant traveller." Journal of Travel Medicine, Vol. 27, Iss. 2, 2019, pp. 1-8, https://academic.oup.com/jtm/article/27/2/taz091/5644628.
Lim, Chung Sim and Alun H. Davies. “Graduated compression stockings.” CMAJ. Vol. 186, Iss. 10 pp. E391-E398. July 08, 2014, https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/186/10/E391.full.pdf.
"Lymphedema." Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard University, 2018, https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/lymphedema-a-to-z.
“Management of DVT by Compression Stockings.” North American Thrombosis Forum, 11 Sept. 2017, natfonline.org/2017/02/management-dvt-compression-stockings/.
"Prevent DVT (deep vein thrombosis) when you travel." NHS, NHS England, 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/prevent-dvt-when-you-travel/.
Shouler, P J, and P C Runchman. “Varicose veins: optimum compression after surgery and sclerotherapy.” Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, vol. 71, iss. 6, 1989, pp. 402-404, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2499037/.
"Varicose veins and spider veins." Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2019, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/varicose-veins-and-spider-veins.
Vartanian, Varci. "What Every Woman Needs to Know About Blood Clots." Stop the Clot, National Blood Clot Alliance, 2012, https://www.stoptheclot.org/news/what-every-woman-needs-to-know-about-blood-clots/.