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|Updated May 5, 2006|
Compression stockings have proven effective in controlled studies. For example, in Gianni Belcaro's LONFLIT series, ultrasound scans before and after air travel found 5% of air travelers without stockings developed clots. Matched groups wearing compression stockings did not develop clots.
Caveats: A new study by Hughes in The Lancet December 20, 2004 found several cases of DVT among passengers wearing compression stockings. (Of 878 travelers, 9 developed DVT. Four of the nine were wearing compression stockings.) Also, compression stockings are not recommended for people with poor leg circulation caused by arterial insufficiency.
Avoid elastic "support" hose. They are not the same as graduated compression stockings. Support hose have the same elasticity along the entire length and may actually be harmful. Medical compression hose have greater compression at the ankles and gradually less and less going up the calf. If your stockings are not much tighter at the ankle, they are not the kind you need.
You may wonder why compression stockings would not aggravate the problem, making leg circulation worse. By constricting the diameter of veins, the stockings increase the velocity of blood flow. (To maintain a given flow of liquid through a constricted pipe, the velocity has to increase.) This avoids the sluggish flow that is conducive to clotting. The compression also helps keep fluids in circulation instead of collecting in the lower legs, causing the swelling that can make it difficult to get your shoes back on after a flight.
Putting on compression hose can be difficult. The ankle section of the stocking is very tight and hard to pull over your heel. It helps if you work your thumbs all the way down into the heel of the stocking before you start pulling the stocking over your foot. Then your thumbs can help pull the tight part of the stocking over your heel and up your calf.