Not only do socks keep your feet warm and dry, they can improve and prevent many health conditions.
Compression stockings — are special socks that apply gentle pressure to your legs and ankles. They can help improve blood flow from the legs to the heart.
"Compression stockings have also been shown to help reduce swelling and pain in the legs and ankles," explains Sathish Mohan, MD, a vascular specialist at Riverside Medical Group. "By putting pressure on the legs, they reduce excess fluid in the legs, reduce inflammation, and ultimately improve blood flow through the veins to the heart.
Compression Stocking Basics
You can buy compression socks at most drugstores, big box stores, and many online retailers. Depending on the type of compression stocking that is right for you, you may need a doctor's prescription and/or professional fitting for best results.
There are three main types of compression stockings or stockings:
Gradient Compression Socks: With these compression stockings, the compression force is strongest at the ankle and decreases toward the knee. Your doctor may recommend this type if you have peripheral edema or orthostatic hypotension. In fact, graded compression stockings usually require a doctor's prescription and professional fitting.
Anti-embolic stockings: These stockings also have compression pressure that tapers up from the ankle, but are suitable for people with limited mobility. "Anti-embolic stockings can help reduce the chance of developing deep vein thrombosis," says Dr. Mohan. Antithrombotic stockings generally also require a doctor's prescription and a professional try-on.
Non-medical support stockings: These types of compression stockings do not require a prescription and are available at most drugstores. Support socks provide the same level of compression throughout the stocking, which can relieve tired, sore legs.
Who can benefit from wearing compression socks?
Compression socks are good for many situations. Your doctor may recommend that you wear compression stockings:
- Improve leg circulation
- Reduce swelling in legs and ankles
- Improve lymphatic drainage
- Standing up after sitting for a while to deal with orthostatic hypotension or low blood pressure
- prevent blood from pooling in the veins of the legs
- Prevention of deep vein thrombosis in the legs
- prevent venous ulcers
- Reduce pain associated with varicose veins
- Reversal of venous hypertension
Compression socks are also useful in other situations:
Athletes sometimes wear compression socks on their arms or hands during a workout, practice, or competition to help improve blood flow and oxygen delivery. Some athletes also wear compression wraps to help speed up their post-workout recovery.
For people in wheelchairs, compression stockings can help improve blood flow and reduce swelling in the legs.
Pregnant women who are prone to swelling in the legs, feet or ankles may need to wear compression stockings to reduce the chance of swelling. Most pregnant women see the best results when they put on compression socks in the morning as a precaution, rather than after swelling.
Airplane passengers or crew on long or frequent flights may wish to wear compression stockings to help increase circulation and reduce the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis or blood clots.
For people who work standing up all day, compression stockings can help reduce fatigue, pain, or swelling by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the legs and feet.
Tips for Wearing Compression Socks
put on compression socks
If you wear compression stockings, you should put on the compression stockings or compression stockings like any other socks - first pull it over your foot, then spread your legs. If you're having trouble putting on compression stockings, try using a small amount of talc on your feet or legs. Try pulling the compression stocking all the way up so the pressure is well distributed across your feet and legs. Try not to allow socks to pile up in any particular place. Your compression stockings should fit firmly and tightly against your skin, but should not be painful.
Take care of your compression stockings
You can put on compression stockings in the morning when you're dressed and take them off before bed (unless your doctor advises otherwise). You may need to get used to wearing compression socks, but if they fit, they shouldn't be painful or too cumbersome to wear most or all day. You should buy at least two pairs of compression socks so you can wash and dry them between uses, just like any other socks or stockings.