Compression stockings are well-known to massage therapists who also practice lymphedema therapy. New research shows wearing compression stockings may be a simple, low-tech way to improve obstructive sleep apnea in patients with chronic venous insufficiency.

“We found that in patients with chronic venous insufficiency, compression stockings reduced daytime fluid accumulation in the legs, which in turn reduced the amount of fluid flowing into the neck at night, thereby reducing the number of apneas and hypopnea by more than a third,” said Stefania Redolfi, M.D., of the University of Brescia in Italy, who led the research.

To investigate whether compression stockings could alleviate this problem, the researchers recruited subjects from the chronic venous insufficiency clinic at La Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, according to a press release from the American Thoracic Society. Twelve patients were randomly assigned to one week of wearing the compression stockings or to a one-week control period without compression stockings.

At the end of the first week, they crossed over to the other arm of the study. Each subject underwent polysomnography and overnight changes in leg fluid volume and neck circumference were measured at baseline and at the end of the compression stockings and control periods.

At the end of the compression-stocking period, subjects had an average of a 62-percent reduction in overnight leg fluid volume change as compared to when they did not wear the stockings.

Patients also had a 60-percent reduction in neck circumference increase, which the researchers used as a proxy measurement to estimate fluid shift into the neck, and a 36-percent reduction in the number of apneas and hypopnea per hour of sleep.