How to Choose and Size Compression Stockings

Compression stockings are more than just regular hosiery; they are a medical tool designed to improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and prevent conditions like varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis. Choosing the right pair of compression stockings and ensuring they fit correctly is crucial to maximizing their health benefits. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you select and size compression stockings effectively.

Understanding Compression Levels

Compression stockings come in various levels of pressure, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The appropriate level depends on your specific needs and medical advice. Here are the common compression levels explained in detail:

Mild Compression (8-15 mmHg)

Best for: Mild swelling, minor varicose veins, and overall leg fatigue.

Suitable for:

  • Long Periods of Sitting or Standing: People who spend extended hours sitting, such as office workers, or standing, like retail employees, can benefit from mild compression. These stockings help maintain blood flow and prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
  • Travel: Mild compression stockings are ideal for travelers, particularly on long flights or car rides. They help reduce the risk of developing travel-related deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and alleviate discomfort from prolonged immobility.
  • General Comfort: These stockings offer a gentle squeeze that can relieve tired, achy legs and provide everyday comfort.

Moderate Compression (15-20 mmHg)

Best for: Moderate swelling, varicose veins, and during pregnancy.

Suitable for:

  • Mild to Moderate Varicose Veins: Moderate compression stockings are effective in managing and preventing the progression of varicose veins by improving venous blood flow and reducing vein pressure.
  • Post-Surgical Recovery: They help in the recovery process after surgery by preventing blood clots and reducing swelling.
  • Preventive Wear: Those with a family history of venous disorders or who are at risk of developing varicose veins can use moderate compression stockings as a preventive measure.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women often experience increased blood volume and pressure on the veins, leading to swelling and varicose veins. Moderate compression can alleviate these symptoms and provide necessary support.

Firm Compression (20-30 mmHg)

Best for: Significant varicose veins, moderate edema, and prevention of DVT.

Suitable for:

  • Post-Surgical Recovery: After surgeries, particularly those involving the legs, firm compression stockings can prevent blood clots and assist in reducing post-operative swelling.
  • Preventing DVT: Individuals at higher risk for deep vein thrombosis, such as those with a history of blood clots, can benefit from the increased pressure to maintain proper blood flow and reduce clot formation.
  • Severe Varicose Veins: For those suffering from more pronounced varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency, firm compression can offer substantial relief by supporting vein function and reducing symptoms.
  • Moderate Edema: Firm compression is effective in reducing fluid retention and swelling in the legs caused by various medical conditions.

Extra Firm Compression (30-40 mmHg and above)

Best for: Severe varicose veins, severe edema, and chronic venous insufficiency.

Suitable for:

  • Severe Swelling: Extra firm compression is recommended for individuals with severe leg swelling, often seen in chronic conditions like lymphedema.
  • Post-Thrombotic Syndrome: Those who have experienced DVT and suffer from post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS) benefit significantly from the high pressure of extra firm compression stockings, which help manage symptoms and improve venous return.
  • Severe Venous Disorders: Conditions such as chronic venous insufficiency, where the veins cannot pump enough oxygen-poor blood back to the heart, require strong compression to aid in blood circulation and reduce venous pressure.
  • Management of Lymphedema: For individuals with lymphedema, extra firm compression can help manage and reduce the chronic swelling by facilitating lymphatic fluid drainage.

Choosing the Right Style of Compression Stockings

Compression stockings come in various styles, each suited to different needs and preferences. Selecting the right style is essential for ensuring comfort, effectiveness, and ease of use. Here are the primary styles and their benefits:

Knee-High Stockings

Coverage: From the foot to just below the knee.

Best for: Swelling and varicose veins below the knee, travel, and general leg fatigue.


Swelling and Varicose Veins Below the Knee: Knee-high stockings provide targeted compression to the lower leg, which is effective for reducing swelling and managing varicose veins in this area.

Travel: Ideal for travelers who need to prevent swelling and deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during long flights or car rides. The knee-high length makes them easy to wear with most types of footwear.

General Leg Fatigue: For individuals who experience leg fatigue from standing or sitting for long periods, knee-high stockings offer relief by improving blood circulation and reducing discomfort.

Thigh-High Stockings

Coverage: From the foot to the upper thigh.

Best for: Swelling and varicose veins above the knee, post-surgical recovery, and prevention of DVT.


Swelling and Varicose Veins Above the Knee: Thigh-high stockings extend the compression support to the upper leg, making them suitable for managing more extensive varicose veins and swelling.

Post-Surgical Recovery: Often recommended after surgery involving the legs to prevent blood clots and aid in recovery. The extended coverage helps maintain consistent compression throughout the leg.

Prevention of DVT: Thigh-high stockings are effective in preventing DVT, especially for individuals with a history of blood clots or those undergoing long periods of immobility.


Coverage: Full leg, from the foot to the waist.

Best for: Swelling and varicose veins that extend above the knee, pregnancy, and overall leg support.


Full Leg Support: Pantyhose provide uniform compression from the feet to the waist, making them suitable for conditions affecting the entire leg.

Pregnancy: Pregnant women often experience swelling and varicose veins due to increased blood volume and pressure on the veins. Pantyhose can offer comprehensive support, reducing discomfort and improving circulation.

Overall Leg Support: Ideal for individuals needing extensive leg support due to severe varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency, or extensive swelling.

Sleeves and Socks

Coverage: Calf only or foot only.

Best for: Targeted support for specific areas, such as the calf or foot, particularly for athletes.


Targeted Compression: Compression sleeves and socks focus on specific areas, providing tailored support where it’s needed most. They are often used by athletes to reduce muscle fatigue and enhance performance.

Athletic Use: Athletes benefit from the increased blood flow and reduced muscle vibration offered by compression sleeves and socks, which can improve endurance and speed up recovery.

Foot or Calf Issues: For individuals dealing with conditions like plantar fasciitis or calf cramps, these targeted solutions can provide significant relief without the need for full-leg coverage.

Sizing Compression Stockings

Proper sizing is essential to ensure the stockings provide the correct amount of compression and comfort. With the wrong size it would be, sometimes, hard to put on compression socks. Here’s how to measure for compression stockings:

Measure in the Morning: Legs are least swollen in the morning, providing more accurate measurements.

Take Measurements While Sitting or Standing: Avoid lying down to get more accurate leg dimensions.

Ankle Circumference: Measure the narrowest part of your ankle, just above the ankle bone.

Calf Circumference: Measure the widest part of your calf.

Calf Length: Measure from the floor to the bend of your knee while standing.

Thigh Circumference: For thigh-high stockings, measure the widest part of your thigh.

Leg Length: Measure from the floor to the top of your thigh for thigh-high stockings or to your waist for pantyhose.

Compare your measurements with the sizing chart provided by the manufacturer of the compression stockings. Each brand may have slightly different sizing, so it is crucial to refer to their specific chart.

Additional Tips

Comfort: Ensure the stockings are comfortable enough to wear throughout the day. They should fit snugly but not restrictively.

Material: Choose breathable, moisture-wicking materials for all-day wear, especially in warmer climates. Materials like nylon, spandex, and microfiber are commonly used for their durability and comfort.

Ease of Use: Some compression stockings come with zippers or open toes to make them easier to put on and take off. Consider these features if you have difficulty dressing or need additional convenience.

By considering the style, proper sizing, and additional features, you can select the perfect pair of compression stockings to meet your health needs and ensure maximum comfort and effectiveness.


Compression socks offer a range of health benefits, from improving circulation and preventing varicose veins to aiding in athletic performance and post-surgical recovery. They are a simple, non-invasive solution to many common health issues and can be a valuable addition to anyone’s health and wellness routine. Whether you are an athlete, pregnant, recovering from surgery, or simply looking to improve your overall leg health, compression socks can provide significant benefits and enhance your quality of life.