Compression Socks: Benefits, Uses, and How to Choose the Right Pair

In recent years, compression socks have gained widespread recognition for their remarkable benefits in improving circulation and overall leg health. Initially designed for medical purposes, these specialized socks have evolved into a versatile accessory embraced by athletes, frequent travelers, and individuals seeking relief from various leg-related issues. This article delves into the myriad advantages of compression socks, and their diverse applications, and offers valuable insights on how to choose the right pair for optimal benefits.

A photo of a person wearing black compression socks

What Are Compression Socks?

Compression socks, also known as compression stockings or support socks, are elastic garments that exert gentle pressure on the legs. The primary purpose of this graduated compression is to promote blood flow, enhance circulation, and provide support to the muscles. These socks are typically tighter around the ankle and gradually loosen as they move up the leg. The level of compression varies, allowing individuals to choose the right intensity based on their specific needs.

Three Main Types of Compression Socks or Stockings

1. Anti-embolism Stockings:

This type of stockings are characterized by graduated compression decreasing from the ankle upwards, are intended for individuals with limited mobility. A Riverside provider emphasizes that these stockings can lower the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. Additionally, obtaining anti-embolism stockings usually necessitates a doctor’s prescription and a fitting conducted by a healthcare professional.

2. Nonmedical Support Hosiery:

This variety of compression stocking is readily accessible at most pharmacies and does not necessitate a prescription. Support hosiery maintains a consistent level of compression across the entire stocking and can offer relief for legs that feel tired and achy.

3. Graduated Compression Stockings:

With this compression stocking type, the pressure is most intense at the ankle and gradually diminishes towards the knee. If you are dealing with peripheral edema or orthostatic hypotension, your healthcare provider might suggest this variant. It’s worth noting that graduated compression stockings typically mandate a doctor’s prescription and a fitting conducted by a healthcare professional.

Who Should Use Compression Stockings?

  • Individuals engaged in athletic activities.
  • Expectant mothers or women during pregnancy.
  • Individuals who have recently undergone surgical procedures.
  • Individuals who spend extended hours standing during their workday.
  • Individuals who are bedridden or face difficulty in mobilizing their legs.
  • Individuals who endure extended periods on airplanes, including professionals such as pilots.
  • Individuals who either have or are prone to circulatory issues such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), varicose veins, or diabetes.

Benefits of Compression Socks

1. Improved Circulation:

Compression socks are renowned for their ability to enhance blood circulation. The graduated pressure they exert facilitates the upward flow of blood from the legs towards the heart, preventing blood from pooling in the lower extremities. This is particularly beneficial for individuals who experience swelling, varicose veins, or conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

2. Reduced Swelling:

Edema, or swelling, is a common concern for many people, whether due to prolonged sitting, standing, or certain medical conditions. Compression socks help minimize swelling by preventing the accumulation of fluid in the tissues. This makes them an excellent choice for individuals who spend long hours on their feet or those prone to swollen ankles and legs.

3. Alleviation of Leg Fatigue:

The supportive nature of compression socks aids in reducing muscle fatigue and soreness. Whether you’re an athlete pushing your limits or an individual with a sedentary lifestyle, wearing compression socks can contribute to lessening the discomfort associated with tired legs.

4. Prevention of Varicose Veins:

Varicose veins, characterized by enlarged and twisted veins, are a common issue that often results from poor blood circulation. Compression socks apply consistent pressure on the veins, promoting efficient blood flow and reducing the risk of varicose veins.

5. Enhanced Athletic Performance:

Athletes, both professional and recreational, have discovered the benefits of compression socks in improving performance and expediting recovery. The increased circulation helps deliver oxygen to the muscles, reducing the buildup of lactic acid and aiding in a quicker recovery post-exercise.

6. Travel Comfort:

Long periods of sitting during travel can lead to swollen feet and legs. Compression socks are a go-to solution for frequent travelers, providing relief from discomfort and reducing the risk of conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) associated with prolonged immobility.

Choosing the Right Compression Level

Selecting the appropriate compression level is crucial to ensure the socks deliver the desired benefits without causing discomfort. Compression levels are typically measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), indicating the amount of pressure exerted by the socks. Here are some general guidelines to help you choose the right compression level:

1. Mild Compression (8-15 mmHg):

Suitable for individuals who want to improve circulation, prevent minor swelling, or reduce fatigue. Mild compression socks are often recommended for long flights, pregnancy, and general leg comfort.

2. Moderate Compression (15-20 mmHg):

Ideal for individuals with mild to moderate swelling, varicose veins, or those at risk of developing venous issues. Moderate compression is commonly recommended for individuals on their feet for extended periods.

3. Firm Compression (20-30 mmHg):

Designed for individuals with more pronounced swelling, varicose veins, and those with certain medical conditions. Firm compression socks provide a higher level of support and are often prescribed for therapeutic purposes.

4. Extra Firm Compression (30-40 mmHg and above):

Reserved for individuals with severe venous issues or under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Extra firm compression socks should be used with caution, as they can be intense and may not be suitable for everyone.

How to Choose the Right Pair of Compression Socks

1. Consult with a Healthcare Professional:

Before purchasing compression socks, especially if you have existing medical conditions, it is advisable to consult with a healthcare professional. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your specific needs.

2. Measure for the Right Fit:

Accurate sizing is crucial for the effectiveness and comfort of compression socks. Measure the circumference of your ankle, calf, and thigh to determine the appropriate size. Most manufacturers provide sizing charts to help you find the right fit.

3. Consider Your Lifestyle:

Choose the compression level that aligns with your lifestyle and needs. If you spend prolonged hours on your feet or have a sedentary job, higher compression levels may be more suitable.

4. Material Matters:

Compression socks are available in various materials, including nylon, spandex, and cotton blends. Consider factors such as breathability, moisture-wicking properties, and durability when choosing the material that best suits your preferences.

5. Donning and Doffing Techniques:

Compression socks can be challenging to put on, especially at higher compression levels. Look for socks with features like a wide top band and a reinforced heel for easier donning. Additionally, using donning aids, such as gloves or a donning cone, can simplify the process.

Tips for Wearing Compression Socks

Compression garments differ from ordinary socks and may require an adjustment period. The following tips can assist in adapting to them:

1. Apply Lotion First

If you encounter difficulty while pulling up the stockings, it is best to apply lotion to your leg and allow the skin to absorb it before donning the garment. Alternatively, a small amount of baby powder or cornstarch may prove effective.

2. Wash and Rotate Daily

According to experts, it is recommended to wash the stockings daily using a mild soap and water mixture, followed by thorough rinsing and air-drying to prevent the accumulation of bacteria. Mahlay and Wu propose maintaining a rotation of at least two pairs.

3. Use a Stocking Donner

Individuals facing arthritis or mobility constraints may find it challenging to grip socks or stockings. In such situations, Mahlay and MedlinePlus recommend the use of a stocking donner or butler, readily available at numerous pharmacies and medical supply stores.

4. Take Them Off at Night

According to an orthopedic surgeon, most individuals do not need to wear their compression stockings or socks while sleeping. Prolonged wear, especially during the night, could lead to adverse effects such as skin damage, a point supported by a previous report in the British Journal of General Practice. The appropriateness of wearing compression socks overnight depends on the specific purpose of the sock. For instance, medical-grade TED hose stockings are designed for continuous wear over several days, whereas compression socks intended for running marathons would not be suitable for sleeping.

5. Put Them on First Thing in the Morning

Some experts recommend putting on socks before getting out of bed each day. Doing so helps prevent fluid accumulation in the leg, making it easier to don the compression garment. This proactive approach can contribute to a smoother and more comfortable experience when wearing the socks.

Tips for First-Time Compression Stocking Users

For convenient use, consider the following steps:

  1. Put on the stockings early in the morning when your legs are less likely to be swollen.
  2. Turn the stockings inside out, starting from the ankle. Slip your feet in and gradually roll them back up your legs, smoothing out the fabric to prevent snags.
  3. If wearing thigh-highs or leggings, stand up to pull them up past your knee.
  4. Enhance grip by using rubber gloves when putting on the stockings.
  5. Avoid wearing jewelry that could tear or snag the compression socks.
  6. Refrain from applying lotion or oils right before putting on the stockings.
  7. If you have just purchased a new pair, wash them with mild soap to make the fabric pliable and easy to wear.
  8. Consider buying more than one pair, ensuring you have an extra pair available in case of tearing or if one becomes dirty.

Initially, wearing compression socks or stockings may lead to discomfort, causing a sensation of soreness or achiness. This is a normal response, and you are likely to acclimate to them after a few uses. However, if the discomfort becomes unbearably painful or you notice any discoloration in your legs or feet, it is essential to promptly inform your doctor for further evaluation and guidance. Monitoring and communicating any significant discomfort or unusual changes is crucial to ensure that the compression garments are suitable for your specific needs and well-being.

Conclusion

Compression socks have transcended their initial medical applications to become a versatile accessory with a broad range of benefits. From enhancing circulation and reducing swelling to improving athletic performance and providing travel comfort, these socks offer a multitude of advantages for individuals from all walks of life. Choosing the right compression level is crucial, and factors such as lifestyle, medical conditions, and personal preferences should be taken into account. By understanding the unique benefits and considerations associated with compression socks, individuals can make informed decisions to promote leg health and overall well-being.