Therapeutic compression stockings are graduated i.e. they provide more compression at the ankle and less at the calf. This encourages venous emptying. They decrease the diameter of varicose veins, preventing pooling of blood in the legs and also may improve valve function. They frequently improve the symptoms of varicose veins such as leg fatigue, pain, and swelling. They may limit the progression of varicose veins, but will not cure them. Therapeutic compression stockings are typically prescribed at 20-30 mmHg or greater. They are available as thigh high, calf open toe, or sleeves. These stockings must be properly fitted to be effective.
Anti-embolism or AE hose are the white stockings patients get in the hospital. They are typically 8-18 mmHg and come in generic sizes. They are designed to maintain venous return in bedridden patients. They are not as effective as medical compression stockings for varicose veins.
Athletic compression stockings are similar to medical compression stockings ranging from 15-20 to 20-30 mmHg. They improve circulation and theoretically help with oxygenation and clearance of lactic acid. Studies have shown reduced soreness and fatigue in athletes.