What Are Compression Socks?

Has a loved one recently suffered an illness or undergone a surgery that has left them bed-ridden? Do you suffer from chronic swelling and pain in your legs? Have you been diagnosed with a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a clotting disorder that has increased your risk for DVT? Do you have varicose veins or leg ulcers?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, your healthcare professional (or your loved one’s healthcare professional) may have suggested the use of compression socks. But what are compression socks? How do they differ from traditional socks? What benefits do they provide? Do they really work? To find the answers to these questions and more – and to determine whether or not they’re worthwhile – keep on reading.

What Are Compression Socks?

What Are Compression Socks, Anyway?

Compression socks are specially made socks that are designed to increase blood flow, reduce pain, and prevent swelling in the legs and ankles. The look similar to a standard pair of socks; however, as the name “compression” implies, they are tighter than traditional socks. The pressure these socks apply to the legs is mild, and that mild pressure helps direct the blood up from the legs and back to the heart, where it is recirculated.

When someone has circulatory issues, or if they’re in a situation where they are going to be sedentary for a prolonged period of time (bed-ridden, wheelchair bound, etc.), blood cannot travel through the body as easily. As such, the blood will pool up in the legs, ankles, and/or feet, which can result in a variety of health issues, some of which can be severe.

Compression socks are available in an assortment of sizes, colors, lengths, and designs, which can make it hard to distinguish compression socks from standard socks. Thanks to their high degree of elasticity, they are able to fit on any foot or leg.

Who Would Benefit from Wearing Compression Socks?

If any of the following apply to you, compression socks may be beneficial:

  • You have been diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot (a thrombus) that forms in one or more of the deep veins in your legs.
  • You’ve recently had a surgery or suffered an illness that requires bed rest to recover, as being sedentary for prolonged periods of time can increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
  • You will be flying for a long period of time, as being at a high altitude for a prolonged period of time can increase the risk of DVT.
  • You have varicose veins or ulcers on your legs.
  • Your legs and/or ankles swell when you stand for prolonged periods of time.
  • You suffer from chronic pain in the legs and/or ankles.
  • You have been diagnosed with a circulatory disorder, such as venous deficiency syndrome.

Who Should Avoid Compression Socks?

With very few exceptions, there’s usually very little harm associated with wearing compression socks; however, it’s still a good idea to speak with a healthcare professionals before wearing them. With that said, if one of the following applies to you, you should avoid using compression socks:

  • You suffer from nerve damage or other conditions that affect the sensation in your legs.
  • You have been diagnosed with peripheral arterial disease.
  • You have had peripheral arterial bypass grafting.
  • You have a family history of peripheral arterial disease.
  • You have an active skin infection on your ankles, legs, or feet.
  • The skin on your legs, ankles, and feet is fragile.
  • The swelling in your legs is massive.
  • You have been diagnosed with a pulmonary edema as a result of congestive heart failure.
What Are Compression Socks?

Types of Compression Socks

Whether you’re wearing them to increase blood flow, reduce swelling, support the veins, or minimize pain, you want to make sure that you select the right type of compression socks. There are three main types of compression socks, which can be divided into one of the following categories:

  • Graduated compression socks. This style of compression socks applies maximum pressure on the ankles and the pressure lessens as they move upward. They’re widely used and are available in a closed and open style, meaning that the toes and heel can be exposed or enclosed. Generally, graduated compression socks need to be fitted by a professional.
  • Anti-embolism compression socks. This style of compression socks applies a gradient of pressure to the ankles and legs, and that gradient of pressure helps to minimize the development of deep vein thrombosis. Anti-embolism socks are often worn by individuals who are unable to or who have a difficult time walking. They should also be fitted by a professional.
  • Non-medical support socks. Non-medical support socks do not require a professional fitting; they can be purchased over-the-counter. They are highly elastic, and while they provide less pressure than the two above-mentioned styles of compression socks, non-medical support socks do apply just enough pressure to provide relief from pain and swelling.

All three styles of compression socks are available in a variety of colors and designs. Additionally, their length can vary; they can come up to just above the ankle, just under the knees, or above the knees.

The Benefits of Compression Socks

While everyone is different and the experience will vary from one person to another, the following are some of the potential benefits that compression socks can provide:

  • Improved blood circulation. The pressure these socks apply to the legs helps to pump blood from the lower extremities back up to the heart.
  • Reduced pain and swelling. Thanks to the enhanced blood circulation they provide, compression socks can help to minimize pain and swelling in the ankles and legs.
  • Reduced DOMS. Compression socks can also help to reduce the development of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS); again, that is largely due to the enhanced circulation they can promote.
  • Reduced risk of DVT. Deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition that, when left untreated, can lead to heart attack and stroke. Compression socks can help to reduce the risk of DVT development or can help to manage existing DVT.