Compression stockings, also known as compression stockings, apply pressure to the legs and feet. They can help people treat medical problems and increase blood flow during exercise. Here's some more information on compression socks, their benefits, and the types of compression socks available.
What are compression socks?
Compression socks put more pressure on the legs and ankles than standard socks, but they look like socks or hoses. Some end at the ankle or calf, while others go all the way to the hip. They come in a variety of styles and sometimes have open toe areas. Prescription compression stockings that apply more pressure than over-the-counter medications can be used, and battery-powered varieties can apply different amounts of pressure at different times. Socks with higher mmHg apply more pressure.
What is the science behind compression socks?
Compression stockings put pressure on your legs and ankles. Compression increases blood flow to help prevent blood from pooling in the leg veins, which can lead to damage and clotting.
Are there different types of compression socks?
Socks are generally divided into three categories:
Non-medical support socks: You can buy these over the counter -- including flight socks and elastic support socks. They provide even compression throughout the garment and are not as tight as medical compression stockings.
Anti-embolic stockings: These stockings are designed to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots that form in deep veins) in people with limited mobility. They apply the most pressure at the ankle, gradually descending towards the top of the sock (gradient pressure).
Medical or graded compression stockings: Healthcare providers prescribe these medical grade socks to provide a specific level of compression. Like anti-embolic stockings, they provide gradient pressure.
What are compression socks for?
Sitting or standing for long periods of time can slow blood circulation and cause swelling or edema in the legs or ankles. This is why you may see people wearing compression socks on long flights.
Depending on the type of socks used, compression therapy can help with a variety of conditions. A healthcare provider may prescribe compression stockings to:
- Improve leg circulation
- Reduce occupational leg swelling
- Heal or prevent leg ulcers and other symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency
- Promote lymphatic drainage in patients with lymphedema
- Stop blood from pooling or clotting in the veins of the legs
- Relieve pain from varicose veins
- Reduced risk of deep vein thrombosis or symptoms of post-thrombotic syndrome
- Improve hypertrophy and keloid scars
- Relieve leg pain and swelling during pregnancy
Some people wear non-medical compression stockings when exercising or exercising to improve athletic performance and recovery. But research in this area is very complicated. And these effects may be at least partly due to the placebo effect.
How tight are compression socks?
It depends on the type of sock and what you're using it for. If you've ever bought over-the-counter compression socks, you've probably noticed "mm Hg" on the label. This stands for millimeters of mercury and is used to measure pressure levels.
There is some debate about how much stress is required to treat certain diseases. But the research provides some general guidelines:
- Low pressure (less than 20 mmHg): varicose veins of pregnancy, occupational leg edema, and post-operative thrombosis
- Moderate pressure (20 to 30 mmHg): acute thrombosis
- Hypertension (30 to 40 mmHg): Post sclerotherapy, venous leg ulcers, ulcer recurrence prevention and lymphedema
The amount of pressure you feel may vary depending on the sock material and your leg shape and activity level. But generally speaking, compression stockings should be snug but not so tight that they cause injury. If you're not sure how tight your compression stockings should be, a healthcare provider can help.
What do compression socks do?
Compression stockings increase blood flow by putting pressure on the veins in the feet and legs. The arteries that carry oxygenated blood to your feet and calves relax, allowing blood to flow freely and your heart doesn't have to struggle to bring blood back to your veins. This helps keep blood near the heart and head and prevents swelling in the feet. It also prevents foot pain in people who stand or walk most of the day.
Many doctors recommend compression stockings to treat edema or lymphedema, swelling of the lower extremities that is a common symptom of diabetes. Compression stockings can also help reduce varicose and spider veins or prevent them from getting worse. These blue or purple veins occur when a valve in a blood vessel fails, allowing blood to concentrate in one place or flow to your feet instead of your head.
Too many varicose veins or blood clots can lead to venous insufficiency, where the veins are unable to carry blood efficiently to the heart. This can cause orthostatic hypotension, or low blood pressure, that can make a person feel dizzy or even faint after standing up suddenly. Compression stockings can help with this by preventing excess blood in the legs and feet. People also often wear compression stockings during pregnancy to help with swelling of the feet.
Compression stockings can help prevent deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clot that occurs in a large vein. It can cause pain, swelling, muscle damage, and even death. Pregnant women and people who have recently had surgery are at greater risk. Deep vein thrombosis can also occur on long-haul planes when people have to sit still for long periods of time.
These socks can also help you avoid phlebitis. Phlebitis is a blood clot in a smaller vein near the surface of the skin that can cause pain, fever, swelling, and a lump in the skin near the clot. It's not as serious as deep vein thrombosis, but both problems can cause blood clots to travel from the leg to another organ. For example, a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lungs that makes it difficult or impossible to breathe.
Can everyone wear compression socks?
Compression stockings are generally safe. But they are not the right treatment option for everyone. If you have certain medical conditions, it is best to consult a healthcare provider before using compression therapy. Some of these conditions include:
- peripheral arterial disease
- Massive edema due to heart failure
- Neuropathy or other sensory disturbance
- serious skin disease or infection, such as cellulitis
If you have a prescription, your graded compression stockings will be professionally fitted. Your healthcare provider can explain how long you should wear it.
Many reports suggest that you can treat or prevent vein problems by wearing compression stockings throughout the day, except when bathing or sleeping.
It is important to note that this information may not apply to everyone. So even if you don't have a prescription, it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider. This way, you can get guidance on compression garments and how to use them based on your medical history and health needs.
You should ask your doctor exactly how long you should wear compression stockings. Some people wear compression socks every day, while others only wear them when recovering from surgery, exercise, or a long plane trip. If compression stockings help with medical problems or just make you feel more comfortable, you can wear them all day, every day. However, you should not sleep in compression socks because you may not notice the problem. If part of the sock is rolled up or folded, it can interfere with your blood circulation. You should also take off your compression stockings if you experience tingling, redness, discomfort, or an allergic reaction to the fabric.
How should you wear compression socks?
You can wear compression socks on just one or both legs, and you can put them on and off like regular socks or stockings. Do not fold compression socks to form cuffs, and make sure any seams extend straight up your leg. If you have arthritis or other problems, you can use a device called a sock to put your compression stockings on. Some compression socks also have zippers.
To make them more effective, put on compression stockings as soon as you wake up in the morning. This is when your legs are least swollen. If you use compression socks during your workout, put them on for three to four hours after your workout. The improved circulation provided by compression stockings can help remove lactic acid from the muscles, reducing or preventing soreness after physical activity.
Hand wash compression stockings or set the washer to a gentle cycle with cold water, then air dry. Compression socks lose their elasticity and effectiveness over time, so if they wear out, you may need to replace them.
To find out what size your compression stockings should be, use a tape measure to measure the circumference of your ankle and calf. For some stockings, you may also need to measure your thighs. If the compression stockings you choose do not help or feel uncomfortable, talk to your doctor. You may need a different size or type of compression socks.
As with any treatment option, there are some potential risks associated with wearing compression stockings. Compression stockings can cause:
Discomfort: At higher pressures, compression stockings can feel very tight and uncomfortable.
Skin irritation or damage: Signs of irritation may include stinging, itching, redness or bruising.
Poor Circulation: Poorly fitting compression stockings can lead to reduced blood flow.
In rare cases, compression stockings that are too tight may lead to superficial vein thrombosis. These superficial blood clots occur in veins close to the surface of the skin and are unlikely to cause complications. Compression stockings have not been shown to cause deep vein thrombosis, which are more serious blood clots.
Serious complications from compression garments are rare and usually only occur in people who shouldn't wear compression stockings or don't wear them correctly.