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Healthy Legs in the Workplace

A Closer Look at Chronic Venous Disorders and the Benefits of Wearing Graduated Compression Socks   Article by SIGVARIS Corp. Canada

Ever wonder why your legs or ankles hurt or swell after a long shift at the clinic?  Or have you started to notice spider veins appearing on your legs and wonder how they got there?  Curious to know what you can do to help these conditions and prevent them from getting any worse?

Symptoms such as the feeling of heaviness and tension in the legs, pain or cramps in the calf muscles, and skin changes, such as spider veins or varicose veins all describe signs of venous circulation deficiencies, otherwise known as CVD (Chronic Venous Disorders).  Our veins are responsible for returning deoxygenated blood back to the heart and are quite different from our arteries, which deliver rich, oxygenated blood to our bodies’ tissues.  Unlike arteries, our veins must work against the force of gravity and they have a much smaller muscle layer to aid their pumping action, thus requiring the assistance of surrounding muscles to function.  When a person walks, the calf muscle contracts and this pressure forces tissue-like valves located along each vein to open and the blood to move up.  When the muscle relaxes, these valves close, preventing blood from moving back down the leg.  However, if these muscles are inactive for long periods of time, the blood can pool in the lower legs and lead to possible swelling and venous valve damage.  Venous disease is progressive and the slowing down of blood in the legs can lead to possible clots and a weakening or stretching of the venous walls.  The chart below demonstrates the venous pressure at the ankle in a normal and defective venous system:

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Venous pressure at the ankle in healthy legs:
Lying down: 10mmHg
Standing:  90mmHg
Walking:  25mmHg

It can take about 7-8 walking steps to bring the pressure down to an a 25mmHg in a healthy system.  In a deficient system, if too many venous valves are not able to close or they are obstructed, blood will remain trapped in the legs and the ankle pressure will remain high, even after the muscles contract.  If left untreated, these symptoms can progress further and lead to problems such as Deep Vein Thrombosis, changes in skin colour, and leg ulcers.  The most important thing to note though is that much can be done to prevent and manage CVD so that it does not affect your health and overall quality of life.

There are numerous risk factors associated with CVD, including:

Prolonged Standing or Sitting Long Distance Travel
Obesity (BMI > 30) Pregnancy
Heredity Surgery or Trauma
Sedentary Lifestyle Use of Hormone Medication (i.e. Birth Control)

How Graduated Compression Can Help:

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Graduated compression therapy acts as a layer of muscle, gently squeezing stretched vein walls back together, controlling and preventing edema and allowing the valves to close.  By narrowing the flow channels, compression will also help reduce the cavity space that blood can pool in and slow down, thus helping to restore blood flow back to a normal state.  Gravity naturally pushes fluids to our lowest extremities and in order for compression socks to be effective they should be strongest at the ankle and decrease gradually up the leg.

The amount of pressure that you should wear is dependent upon your venous system and symptoms:

15-20mmHg –   No noticeable signs of venous disease but you would like to prevent CVD because you stand or sit for long periods of time, are traveling, and/or are pregnant. Does NOT require a prescription from your doctor

20-30mmHg – Noticeable signs of venous disease, such as swelling or varicose veins, etc. Please see your doctor for a prescription to determine the correct gradient of pressure and to rule out any contraindications.  Note that if you have no contraindications, 20-30mmHg can be used for prevention as well.

A knee-high sock is sufficient for most people but if you experience symptoms above the knee or in the knee area, a higher stocking may be more suitable.  You should have your legs measured by a SIGVARIS certified fitter to ensure that the correct level of pressure is being applied.  To be most effective, compression socks should be put on first thing in the morning and removed before you go to bed.  Because they are strongest at the ankle, these socks require a unique technique for putting on and removing them.  Your SIGVARIS certified fitter will show you this technique and help you select a sock that best suits your lifestyle.  Daily use is key and crucial for an effective treatment or prevention routine and you should replace your socks after 6 months of daily wear and wash.

Other Ways that YOU can Play a Role in CVD Prevention:

  • Avoid crossing your legs when sitting
  • Exercise Regularly – Improves circulation and helps you maintain a healthy weight!
  • Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time. Take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and pump your calf muscles (about every 30 minutes), including when flying for 4 hours or more.
  • Elevate your legs while sitting on a sofa or lying in bed at home. At the clinic, keep a leg rest handy!
  • Revitalize your legs with a cool shower or bath. Avoid extended exposure to heat as this will cause your veins to dilate and may induce swelling.

To Inquire about where to purchase SIGVARIS compression socks or whether or not you may be covered by your extended health plan, please contact SIGVARIS at 1-800-363-4999, or you can visit www.sigvaris.ca for a dealer locater.