What are compression socks and why should you wear them on a plane?
Compression socks for long flights
When sitting for long periods of time, gravity pulls your blood into your extremities, making it more difficult for blood to efficiently return to your heart for reoxygenation. A pair of compression stockings will help resist the pull of gravity on the blood and make it easier for blood to return to the heart from the legs and feet.
They are like support socks for your circulatory system.
Compression socks are made of elastic material and are designed to fit snugly on your feet, ankles, legs and even thighs. How much support they provide obviously depends on the height of the socks you buy. I have knee high compression socks.
travel review compression socks
When you sit still for long periods of time, such as on a long flight, train or bus trip, the fit of the socks puts pressure on your leg muscles, veins, arteries and tissues to promote blood flow back to your heart.
Compression socks are also called "gradient" support socks because they apply less pressure from your feet up to your knees (or thighs) to encourage blood return.
Some people need to start wearing gradient compression socks for medical reasons, but you can buy them without a prescription. In fact, you can order it online or buy it in a store. I hadn't thought of this, but if you travel a lot, you may want to check that your health insurance covers prescribed compression stockings and then ask your doctor for a prescription.
What? You're feeling healthy and not taking any medications that can trigger blood clots, so why fly in compression socks? There are several good reasons for this.
Compression socks for travel benefits
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1. Warm feet
Let's face it - public transport is going to get cold! Did you know that when your blood circulation is poor, your feet can get noticeably cold due to lack of oxygen in your blood? Compression stockings will help your blood return to your heart for oxygen, keeping your feet (and body) warm.
2. Reduce leg swelling
The pressure exerted by compression stockings can improve the flow of lymph fluid in the cells of the legs. When the lymph is able to move more freely, your tissue becomes less swollen.
3. Prevent venous blood from pooling in the legs
When sitting for long periods of time, blood can collect in the veins in the lower legs and feet. Pooling of blood can lead to a variety of different outcomes, including general leg swelling, pain, fatigue, and, in rare cases, a blood clot in a vein.
Compression stockings help reduce these risks by squeezing the leg tissue and the walls of the veins in the legs to promote the return of blood to the heart.
4. Prevention of blood clots
In rare cases, there may be signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and DVT can cause blood clots. DVT Blood clots form in deep veins in the legs, trunk, or arms. After the clot grows and travels through the blood to the lungs, it can rupture, eventually leading to a pulmonary embolism.
The risk of blood clots increases with flying or sitting time, especially for flights/travels of more than 7 hours. Since socks are tightest at the ankles, they become less constricted as they reach the thighs, and the constrictions give the leg arteries the pressure needed to maintain blood flow without clotting.
It's important to note that these benefits apply to those who have never experienced blood clots in the past. Consult your doctor if you have a history of DVT. He can tell you if it is safe to ride a DVT and how to minimize the risk.
As you can see, there are many benefits to compression stockings or socks, but which ones should you buy?
Travel flight compression socks
Compression stockings come in different heights, sizes, styles, and the amount of pressure they put on your legs and feet.
1. How to choose compression socks - type of height
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Calf compression sleeves only cover your calves, not your feet.
Ankle compression socks are like sleeves, but only cover your ankle and heel portion.
Open-toed compression socks are the same as ankle sleeves, but are usually knee-length.
Travel compression socks or regular compression socks are like knee socks.
As they say, compression thigh highs are compression socks that go all the way to the thigh.
Compression support hoses are like pantyhose, but with compression that supports them all the way up from the foot. These are also maternity compression stockings that you can pull over your pregnant belly.
Compression tights are compression tights that are supported from the ankle all the way up.
Most of these variants are now used for medical purposes. For travel, regular compression socks are used the most and provide the best support.
2. How to choose compression socks - size
"Will compression socks hurt you?" you might be thinking, since they're supposed to be a little tight.
Well, you just have to make sure to buy the right size. My calves are a bit bigger than I would say average, and I fit a standard pair just fine. Socks should fit but not be too tight.
3. How to choose compression socks - style
Compression stockings come in different materials, and not all materials provide the same pressure (see below).
In general, the thicker and more opaque the fabric, the more compression it can provide.
There are (mostly) cotton compression stockings, wool compression stockings, high-tech compression stockings, but there are also lightweight compression stockings that are more elegant in appearance but usually offer only light support. They also tend to be less durable.
You don't need moisture-wicking, super-tech stuff when traveling, but you might want to look for socks made from breathable fabrics—especially if your feet tend to get sweaty.
4. How to Choose Compression Socks - Compression
Compression stockings come in different pressure levels:
Light pressure: 8-15 mmHg
- Moderate Compression: 15-20 mmHg
- Heavy pressure: 20-30 mmHg
- Surgical Compression: 30-40 mmHg
- Maximum Compression: 40-50 mmHg
"MmHg" stands for "millimeters of mercury". It is the same unit of measure used to measure blood pressure. Compression socks ideal for air travel or long-distance train travel provide a moderate level of compression.
5. How to wear compression socks correctly
travel socks compression
Compression stockings should fit your skin well without falling off. Don't pull them higher than they should be (for example, don't pull knee-high socks over your knees), and don't roll them up as this creates extra pressure on their 're-roll' . The same goes for top-down folding.
I bought compression socks from a Belgian online store, but did some research to get you to find socks that other people highly recommend and aren't ugly - always a plus :-)
The best compression socks for travel
1. The Best Regular Compression Socks for Men and Women
When compiling this list, I first wanted to create a section for the best compression socks for men and the best compression socks for women, but most socks come in adult sizes, so I decided to just list the top picks.
I made a separate section specifically for plus size compression socks to fly underneath.
2. Best Plus Size Compression Socks
Best Compression Leggings, Sleeves and Thigh Compression Socks
If you want to use compression socks for your legs, but don't want anything tight around your feet, compression leggings may be a solution. However, if you wear them under something, they can get quite warm.
Another option is to buy a calf compression sleeve. Compression sleeves can be worn over your legs, well, basically, a big leg warmer :-)
If you want to go all out, thigh-high compression socks are the answer. But as mentioned, the last three variants of compression stockings are often used for medical purposes. For travel, compression socks are the most common choice.
Don't forget to do the same
While graduated compression stockings and socks can help prevent blood clots and make you feel more comfortable on long journeys, there are other things you can do to keep your legs and feet happy on planes and trains.
1. Exercise to prevent blood clots
I think most people know how important it is to get around on a long flight, but many also find it awkward to walk up and down the aisle or do some stretching where everyone can see it.
If this is the case, keep in mind that you may never see these people again. They might actually feel the exact same thing, and seeing you move a little bit might make them more comfortable doing the same thing.
How should you move anyway? Try these airplane exercises to prevent blood clots.
DVT Prevention Exercises You Can Do From Your Seat
Lift your feet off the ground, point your ankles to your toes and make circles with them. Make sure to go both clockwise and counterclockwise.
knee to chest
Cross your hands, fingers crossed, just below your knees. Bend forward slightly and lift your knees to your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds, then slowly lower your knees. Repeat a few times, then do the same thing with the other leg.
Now lift one leg with your leg muscles, then lift the other leg up as you sit up straight. Do 20-30 reps on each side.
Toe and Heel Lifts
Place your feet flat on the ground, next to each other and slightly apart. Start by lifting your toes and letting your heels hit the ground. Then put yours back and lift your heels up. Repeat several times.
Curl your toes as if you want to grab something with them. Release and repeat a few times.
Put something (blanket, bag, something that won't break or spill) between your knees and squeeze them tightly together to put pressure on the object. Release and repeat a few times.
Stand in the aisle and grab your seat if necessary. While bending your knees, lift one leg as high as you can. Do the same thing on the other side and repeat a few times.
Stand up straight and as high as you can. down, then up again. Repeat several times. It will also give you nice calves:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend your upper body down while keeping your knees tightly bent - we're not doing a full leg stretch here. Walk as low as you can without doing squats or similar movements. Make sure to roll back slowly, vertebra by vertebra, to create some good back movement and avoid dizziness.
This might be a bit difficult to do. If you don't have good balance, try bending forward while sitting.
Stand up straight. Bend one knee so that the foot of that leg moves back up to your hip. Hold it in your hands and pull it closer to your hips. Hold for at least 15 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Wear comfortable pants
Compression socks on a flight plane
While the tightness of compression stockings helps blood circulation, skinny jeans or other types of non-stretch pants may not. That's because they're likely just cutting your blood rather than applying pressure at the right point.
Even if you still want to look good, there are plenty of options for wearing more comfortable, loose-fitting pants on long flights.
3. Take off those shoes
travel socks compression
Unless they're too smelly to make your neighbors pass out, take your shoes off. Your feet will become less warm, so there will be less swelling, and you will be able to wiggle your toes more easily, again improving circulation.
If you feel uncomfortable taking off your shoes on the plane, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. You can also untie your shoelaces and loosen them up a little while still keeping them in place.
4. Drink plenty of water and reduce your caffeine and alcohol intake
Compression Socks Reviews
Airplanes are especially where the air is dry. Dehydration narrows blood vessels and thickens blood, so it's important to drink enough water on long flights. Bring your own refillable water bottle so you're not stuck with those little airplane cups and have a sip whenever you want.
You may also want to skip dehydrating beverages like alcohol and coffee (yes, there is such a thing).
Other uses for compression socks
Compression stockings aren't just helpful for travel. They are also worn by people who need to stand for hours after work, as are people with medical conditions that require stimulation of blood circulation. Even those who participate in strenuous exercise that may experience swelling and pain can benefit from wearing compression stockings. A few examples:
- People who work standing all day (hairdressers, nurses...)
- Athletes in general, especially runners, hikers and walkers
- people with varicose veins
- people with leg ulcers
- people who have just had surgery
- people who can't get out of bed