Thinking of giving compression socks a try but not sure if they're worth the money? In this article, we'll take a look at some of the top benefits of compression socks and how wearing them can improve your health and prevent injuries.
What are Compression Socks?
Fortunately, today we are not opening any cans – with or without worms! Rather, we are looking at the benefits of compression socks – special socks or stockings stretching from foot to knee, thigh or waist. They also come in ‘sleeves,’ which are footless and stretch from the ankle to the knee.
Compression socks comprise of a weave of strong elastic applying ‘graduated’ pressure on the muscles of the feet, ankles and knees. This means the pressure is applied in a decreasing manner, the most being at the feet and ankles.
Are Compression Socks Prescribed or Bought Over-The- Counter?
Compression socks come graded in different ranges of pressure measured in mm of mercury (mm Hg) A prescription is needed for high pressure ranges. Generally, 8 – 15 mmHg and 15 -20 mmHg ranges are considered non-medical and do not require a prescription. They are used for general support and comfort without underlying health conditions e.g. for long distance travel, or for aching tired feet.
20 - 30 mmHg and 30 – 40 mmHg are medical grades and require a doctor’s prescription. They are used for treatment of various medical conditions and usage needs a doctor’s close supervision. They are renewed annually.
To be effective, the compression sock’s correct fitting is important. The leg has to be physically measured before a purchase is made. The shoe size will not do.
How Do Compression Socks Work?
Circulation complications in the legs usually arise from venous insufficiency – a condition where blood vessels transferring blood back to the heart are impaired either by weak walls or defective valves. The blood that is unable to flow back to the heart then pools in the feet, leading to the edema (swelling) characteristic of various medical issues.
Women and tall people have higher chances of developing venous insufficiency. So do people who are at an advanced age, obese, pregnant or those who have a family history of the condition or of deep vein thrombosis. Compression socks only work when they are on, so they have to worn daily, upon waking up.
Compression socks work by applying graduating pressure on the feet and ankles, thereby gently nudging the foot and calf muscles to strengthen the vein walls, allowing the valves to open in the right direction. Ideally, by contracting, calf muscles propel blood in the leg veins back to the heart. Combining this with graduated pressure minimizes pressure inside the veins, relieving the vein disease symptoms.
In addition to helping prevent pooling of blood in the legs, thigh or waist length compression socks help prevent the user from being lightheaded or falling upon standing up (orthostatic hypotension).
17 Benefits of Compression Socks
1. Preventing Heart Failure and Strokes
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) or Venous Thrombosis is a condition where a blood clot develops in a deep vein of the body usually a leg vein. Part of this clot can break off and get carried by the bloodstream. This clot causes serious complications if it gets lodged in a vital organ. For example if it ends up in the heart, heart failure can result, while it would cause a stroke if it gets to the brain.
2. Supporting Lymphedema /Peripheral Edema Treatment
The body’s lymphatic system is charged with fighting infection and draining excess fluids. When it is faulty, fluid accumulates in tissues (especially in the arms or legs), leading to swelling of the affected limb. Compressive socks complements exercise in moving the fluid out of affected limbs.
3. Treatment of Chronic Venous Insufficiency, Varicose Veins and Spider Veins
Compression socks are most commonly used to treat venous insufficiency resulting from stretched-out aging vein walls, or faulty valves. The valves are supposed to open and let through blood moving towards the heart and close immediately so that the blood doesn’t flow back.
Broken valves create varicose veins – bulging, large purplish veins under the surface of the skin. If left untreated, they can lead to more serious forms of the venous disease. Compression socks help keep the blood flowing.
4. Management of Diabetes
The approach here is two-pronged. First, anyone with diabetes is particularly prone to DVT, venous insufficiency and peripheral edema. Compression socks help maintain proper circulation. Secondly, as a result of reduced feeling in the feet due to the compromised circulation, diabetics face a great risk of developing unnoticed wounds on their feet.
If untreated, these wounds are life threatening. Wearing Diabetic compression socks with extra padding helps reduce friction and blister formation (which cause the wounds).
5. Complementing Cancer Treatment
Compression socks are used to alleviate adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment in cancer patients. Such symptoms include swelling of the legs, due to fluid retention.
6. Improving Leg-health During Pregnancy
Swollen, achy feet common in pregnancy, are a result of increased blood volume, increased blood thickness due to hormonal changes, and the growing uterus putting pressure on blood vessels, thus slowing down the flow of blood from the legs to the heart.
This could potentially lead to an increased heart rate in both mother and child, varicose veins or DVT. Wearing compression stockings alleviates all these symptoms.
7. Supporting Weight Loss
Before rolling your eyes, just hear me out first! It’s a given that compression socks support muscles and improve circulation. These alone are benefits that can motivate you to exercise more.
Besides, the socks compactly pack in body parts with excess fat, improving your overall figure/contour. This may motivate you to exercise in two ways: compliments on how great you look because you seem to have lost a few pounds, and avoiding fatty deposits from getting in your way during exercise.
8. Alleviating Heel Pain
Heel pain is hard to ignore. The good news is compression socks can help. They are used in the management of plantar fasciitis – a condition where the band joining the heel t the ankle gets inflamed, resulting in a stabbing pain. Having no cure, managing it is the only solution and the socks lead the management-solutions-pack.
Improving circulation helps reduce the inflammation that makes the condition so painful. In addition, the snug fit of the compression sock stretches and supports the inflamed band. This helps reduce any further irritation.
9. Preventing Some Types of Itchy Rashes
Wearing compression socks has been known to prevent Exercise-Induced Vasculitis, also known as Golfer’s vasculitis, Disney or Epcot rash.
When standing or walking for long in a hot humid area, a person’s legs and ankles start swelling. This inflames small blood vessels which appear like small, itchy red bumps, above the normal sock line.
Itching from the strain on the skin due Lymphedema is also relieved by the socks. However, itching from insect bites, allergy to food or detergents will not affected by the socks.
10. Relief from Arthritis
People with arthritis can get relief from compression socks because in addition to the physical support they provide, the improved circulation accorded them help reduce pain.
11. Preventing Foot Swelling from Immobility
If you have to stay seated for long hours, whether at your desk, during travel, or from a sedentary lifestyle, the socks can help circulate blood in your legs, even when you aren’t moving them. This means goodbye to ‘elephant feet’ whenever you reach your destination, or at the end of a little-mobility day.
12. Recovery After Surgery
After surgery on the limbs, compression sleeves can ensure speedy recovery by constantly supplying freshly oxygenated blood to the tissues needing repair. Moreover, clot formation is usually a potential risk that the socks would minimize in these circumstances.
13. Comfort for People Who Have to Stand All Day at Work
Being on your feet all day naturally leads to swollen sore legs and calves. Compression socks can come to the rescue. The graduated compression keeps blood circulating continually bringing oxygen to the tired muscles, thereby easing inflammation and swelling. Compression socks will therefore enable you to be comfortable on your feet for long hours.
14. Supporting Body in Sports
Yes, you got that right! Whether or not compression socks help performance in sports, they have been shown to improve muscle recovery time after exercise. In fact, anyone experiencing sore muscles that affect their usual motor ability, e.g. the day after a severe workout, should take advantage of compression socks’ ability to increase blood flow and oxygen to the affected muscles thus energizing the legs to move.
15. Preventing Injury
Prevention is better than cure. With compression socks, you don’t have to wait for a muscle injury when working out after a long while, or for a fall that bruises your knees while hiking, in order to take action. The socks come in really handy in situations where you are more prone to injury.
16. Providing Daily Comfort
Compression socks can bring you daily comfort, even if you are not contending with serious health complications. By improving the blood and fluid circulation in your legs, you will not have to worry about numbing in your limbs because of poor circulation.
17. Protection from the Harsh Elements of Nature
Compression socks are excellent barriers against UV rays on your skin while in the sun. Alternatively, they offer your muscles a warm layer on cold days. They also safeguard your muscles from over-straining due to their snug fit.
Ready to Give Compression Socks a Try?
Compression socks sure are a miracle product. It is good that they bring relief to many serious medical conditions. However, you don’t have to be sick, at risk of being sick, or recovering from surgery to reap from the immense benefits compression socks offer. You can reach for them for your every day comfort and protection from elements of nature.