Over the years, some may think that compression socks (or stockings) are made for and only used by people with medical related circumstances.
However, people are starting to realize the benefits of wearing compression socks and the use of compression socks for various reasons has been increasing.
Athletes wear compression gear for better performance during sporting activities and improve recovery post activity while pregnant mothers wear compression stocking to reduce swelling in their feet.
Some may wear it prevent or slow down chronic venous diseases while other wear it during their day to day chores to reduce tiredness in their legs.
Be it for comfort, health and beauty or even to increase performance, the benefits of wearing compression socks are immense for both men and women.
In the post, we will be covering everything you should know about compressions socks.
What Are Compression Socks?
Compression socks or stockings are designed for compression therapy. They are specially made, snug fitting, stretchy socks that apply pressure to our legs and ankles and lightens up towards the top.
Compression socks are made from a number of different materials including cotton, nylon, merino wool and spandex.
They may stop just below the knee or may be worn up to the thigh or even to the waist. Different lengths serve different purposes. Socks that end just below the knee help limit lower leg swelling due to fluid buildup whereas stockings that extend to the thigh or waist helps reduce pooling of blood in the legs and prevent orthostatic hypotension.
How Does Compression Socks Work?
To understand how compression socks can help us, it is important to first know how blood circulation affects our legs.
An interesting way to think of the human body is like a train.
Imagine that the heart is the engine, the blood is the electricity and the veins and vessels are the power cable that connects electricity to help the engine to run properly and brings the train to the destination.
There are approximately 60,000 miles of blood vessels that run through the human body carrying oxygen and nutrition to our entire body. Blood circulating throughout our body brings vital nutrients and oxygen our cells need.
Good blood circulation ensures our organs function properly and our brains and muscles are fed with sufficient nutrients and oxygen.
In short, circulation of blood is one of the most important functions of the body and plays an integral part of a healthy life.
While there are various ways to improve blood circulation if you are willing to make the time and effort, such as staying active and hydrated, eating healthy or even pampering yourself with a trip to the spa, compression socks can be integrated as part of our daily lives with ease.
What Is Compression Therapy?
Compression socks use a method called compression therapy.
Compression therapy helps by applying controlled pressure to the surface veins, reducing their diameter and forcing blood back into the deep vein system which increases the velocity and volume of blood flow to the heart.
In graduated compression socks, the level of compression is strongest at the ankle and gradually decreases towards the top. This allows circulation to improve up and out of the legs and to the heart. This upward movement keeps blood from pooling in our ankles, returning it to our heart more efficiently.
Types Of Compression Stockings
There are 3 primary types of compression stockings.
- Graduated compression stockings
Graduated compression means that the amount of compression changes gradually from the ankle, which is the tightest to the top of the socks.
Graduated compression stockings typically requires profession fitting as they are designed for mobility and to meet certain length and strength for medical specifications.
- Anti-Embolism stockings
Anti-embolism stockings are a type of compression socks that are specifically made for patients who have undergone surgery and is required to stay in bed.
These socks reduces the possibility of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) being build up in their legs due to the the patient’s sedantery lifestyle.
- Non-medical support hosiery
This type does not require any form of prescription and can be worn by anyone.
Non-medical support hosiery provides uniform compression that exerts less pressure than the other 2 types.
These that can be found in pharmacies, fashion shops and online stores.
Benefits of Compression Socks
Basically, compression socks promote blood flow from our legs to our heart by relaxing the artery that takes the oxygen-rich blood to our muscles so that blood flows freely.
By wearing compression socks, veins in our legs that are worn out or damaged get a boost pushing back the blood from our legs to our heart, increase energy levels and reduce swelling, tiredness, or soreness in our legs and lower body.
The compression therapy that compression socks used is well researched and has proven benefits in providing relief and preventing more serious problems. Some benefits include:
- Improves blood circulation and reduce risk of blood clots in the legs
- Helps maintain healthy and energized legs
- Provides relief and minimizes aching and tired legs.
- Improves healing of leg ulcers and chronic venous insufficiency and prevents recurrence of ulcers.
- Improves sport performance, reduce soreness after exercise and reduce the risk of blood clots for athletes.
- Prevent the formation or re-appearance of varicose and spider veins of pregnant mothers or post-surgical
- Prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), leg fatigue or swelling for those who stands or sits for long periods of time for work or travel
- Reduces orthostatic hypotension that causes people to lose balance when they stand up
Blood clots may form in the vein of legs when we stand for a long period of time, or when we are not moving much or not moving at all, such as when we sit all day at work or while travelling by plane, train or car.
The use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, family history of DVT, inflammatory bowel disease or even certain genetic clotting disorders may also increase the risk of these clots.
The unique design of compression socks provides graduated compression and pressure in our legs that actually helps the blood vessels to work better by carrying oxygen-rich blood to our muscle and blood can flow freely. Because blood keeps flowing, it helps lessen the feeling of lower body fatigue, achiness and soreness caused by blood clot.
Who Should Wear Compression Socks?
There are immense benefits for nearly anyone when it comes to wearing compression socks or stockings. They should be worn by:
- People with medical conditions such as varicose veins, leg ulcers and swelling (edema)
- Nurses and healthcare personnel that are on their feet all day
- Desk-bound office workers who sits all day that forgets to take a break
- Runners looking to increase their performance and reduces recovery time
- Frequent fliers or travelers flying or driving long distances for work or leisure
- Pregnant mothers
- People that are prone to blood clot (DVT)
- People with circulatory problem
Or as a fashion statement.
Who Should Avoid Wearing Compression Socks?
Despite all of the benefits compression socks have, there are some that should avoid wearing them. The group of people that should avoid wearing compression socks includes those with:
- Peripheral neuropathy or any other condition that impacts skin sensation. Reason: Such people are advised to avoid wearing compression socks due the the tendency that it may impede blood circulation which may cause for damage to the affected area.
- A history of peripheral arterial bypass grafting
- Peripheral artery disease. Reason: Wearing of compression socks may worsen the level of oxygen delivery in arteries and impair blood flow throughout the entire body.
- Skin infection. Reason: Wearing of compression socks which may worsen as compression socks covers and presses on the infected area.
- Dermatitis with oozing or fragile skin
- Massive leg swelling
- Pulmonary edema from congestive heart failure
How To Choose Compression Socks?
Compression socks come in many varieties and it can be hard to find the right one. They are not the same as regular socks and feel tighter around the leg.
It can be categorized into medical grade and non-medical grade, which are generally differentiated by the level of compression.
Compression levels are the amount of pressure applied to our legs, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) which is correlated to blood pressure levels. The larger the number, the higher the compression. Different compression levels serve different purposes.
- Non-Medical Grade (8 mmHg to 20 mmHg)
These mild to moderate levels of compression are generally for everyday use to provide comfort and support for those without underlying medical conditions.
They are ideal in providing relief from minor to moderate swelling, aching and varicose veins, preventing DVT while travelling or those who stand or sit for long periods of time.
- Medical Grade (20 mmHg to 30 mmHg and above)
Compression levels of 20 mmHg to 30 mmHg can be used to treat a variety of mild to moderate conditions.
This level is great for managing and providing relief from varicose veins, especially during pregnancy, swelling (or also known as edema) and DVT.
Compression levels of 30 mmHg and above are often prescribed to provide relief from or treatment of severe or chronic medical conditions and should only be worn under a doctor’s consultation and supervision.
How To Wear Compression Stockings
Compression stockings are beneficial only if worn properly. A correctly fitted stockings will produce effective graduation in pressure and be comfortable to wear. Poorly fitted stockings may cause discomfort, trauma and more harm than good.
Wearing compression socks is really easy once you find out how to, but it can be confusing for someone who is trying our for the first time.
Step 1 – Getting Ready
Compression stockings should be worn first thing in the morning. That is the time our legs have the least swelling.
Make sure that your legs and feet are dry. You may apply some baby powder to help the socks slide up easier. Ensure that your heel and toe are oriented to your leg before putting them on.
Lay the compression stockings flat on the floor and try not to allow it to bunch up.
Step 2 – Putting It On
- Reach your hand into and through the stocking and grasp the heel.
- While holding the heel, turn the stocking inside out to leave a pocket for your foot.
- Place your foot within this foot pocket and pull the stocking up to the heel.
- Grasp the upper layer of leg fabric near the middle of the foot.
- Lift it over your heel and pull upward so the heel is covered.
- Grasp the remaining fabric with both hands and continue pulling gently over the calf and over the knees.
- Smooth out any remaining wrinkles and check to ensure the garment lays and fits properly.
Be careful not to grab or pull at the top of the stockings because that can cause it to rip or tear.
Step 3 – Taking It Off
To take the sock off, start by folding it down gently until it reaches the top of the ankle. Then insert your thumb or finger at the back of your socks on your heel and slide the rest of the sock off your foot.
Compression stockings or socks should be taken off before going to bed, unless prescribed by your doctor.
Even though compression stockings are known to improve blood circulation, they are not meant to be worn to bed. Compression stockings allow blood to flow away from your feet and may block blood flow when you are lying down.
Wearing Compression Socks To Sleep
While it may sound really efficient and easy to just slip on a pair of compression socks and go to bed, this can actually be really dangerous.
Since they are made to compress and increase blood flow upwards, when you are in a lying position it can cause the blood to flow back upwards or block flow completely.
Standing and walking around or even sitting down do not have these effects as gravity helps to make sure blood flows well.
Although it sounds dangerous, there could be a chance that if you are wearing prescribed compression socks, your doctor may recommend them to be worn while sleeping. This would be the case only when the compression socks you are using are safe for wearing while asleep.
Otherwise, if not prescribed, it is suggested to avoid doing so in order to not risk facing any problems.
How To Care For Compression Socks?
Each pair of compression socks should come with instructions for proper care and cleaning.
Washing your compression socks everytime you wear them is extremely important.
As the socks are worn, they conform to the size and shape of our legs. As such, daily washing helps the socks return to their original size and shape. It also keeps the fabric clean and fresh.
Generally, compression socks should be washed in cold water, with a small amount of gentle soap. Avoid any type of softeners, hot water and hot dryers. When possible, use a compression socks washing solution, which is specially designed to clean and elastic fibers of your socks without damage.
Avoid wringing out the socks, instead use a towel to pat dry and hang them to dry.
Where to Buy Compression Socks
Compression socks or stockings can be bought almost anywhere, online, in pharmacies or medical supply shops or even in specialty shops.
Prices vary widely depending on many factors, including the brand name, fabric quality (smoothness and softness, breathability or the ability to wick away moisture), open or closed toed, the length and level of compression and the purpose the socks are for.
If you are required to stand all day at work or sit for long periods of hours, be it behind a computer, a steering wheel or on a couch binge watching your favorite dramas, compression socks or stockings is highly recommended to be part of your daily routine.
If you are an athlete and wants to boost your performance and recovery, compression socks should be your go to when you perform, supporting your movements while you train and keep your blood flowing, and at night, when you are in recovery mode.
The benefits of compression socks are immense and can positively impact our health and well-being in different facets.