What Level Compression Socks Do I Need?

Are you suffering from painful, swollen legs? Do you spend long hours standing or sitting and you want to prevent the development of pain and swelling in your legs? Are you going to be spending a long time in bed while recovering from an injury, surgery, or illness, and you want to combat the risk of blood clots and varicose veins?

Whatever the case may be, you may be considering using compression socks. A special type of therapeutic hosiery, compression socks have proven to be beneficial for so many people. They help to combat pain, swelling, and discomfort that is often associated with standing and sitting for extended periods of time. They have also been proven to be an effective way to prevent blood clots and the serious health issues that they can cause. In order to reap the benefits that compression stockings can provide, however, you need to make sure that you’re wearing them properly, and that means that selecting the appropriate level of compression is an absolute must.

Compression socks come in a variety of compression levels. How do you know which one you need? Keep on reading for some handy tips that you can use to select the appropriate compression level for your unique needs.

What Level Compression Socks Do I Need?

Level of Compression

The primary benefit that compression socks provide is improving circulation by preventing blood from accumulating in the veins of the legs, feet, and ankles. This in turn helps to prevent the development of blood clots and swelling. The secret to the benefits that these stockings provide is the pressure that they place on the legs, ankles, and feet.

As mentioned, compression socks are available in a variety of compression levels. These levels are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), and they are classified by grade. There are four main compression levels, and as the mmHg numbers increase, the amount of compression increases. Generally speaking, low levels of compression provide enough support and comfort for those who stand on their feet for long periods of time or who are sitting for extended periods. Higher compression sock levels have been found to prevent the development of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT, blood clots that form in the deep veins, typically within the legs).

Compression stockings are categorized in ranges because the level of compression they offer is graduated. The higher the number, the more pressure the socks will place on the foot part of the hosiery, and the lower the number, the more pressure the sock will apply to the upper part of the stocking.

Compression Categories and What They Mean

The following is a brief breakdown of the different compression level categories and what those categories mean:

  • 8 to 15 mmHg – mild compression
  • 15 to 20 mmHg – moderate compression
  • 20 to 30 mmHg – firm compression
  • 30 to 40 mmHg – extra firm compression

There’s also a fifth level of compression: 40 to 50 mmHg. This category of compression is so firm that they require a prescription and need to be specially fitted and made by a professional.

Compression sock levels 1 through 3 are classified as Medical Grade 1, while compression sock level 4 is classified as Medical Grade 2. The fifth compression level – 40 to 50 mmHg – is classified as Medical Grade 3.

What Level Compression Socks Do I Need?

Recommendations for Use for Each Compression Sock Level

The following is a rundown of the different uses that different categories of compression socks are recommended for.

  • Lighter compression socks are best suited for minor swelling that occurs either continuously or occasionally. This compression level is ideal for people who spend long hours standing on their feet or who sit for prolonged periods of time, such as while taking long flights.
  • Moderate level compression socks are usually recommended for combating and preventing swelling and/or DVT. They’re also well-suited for pregnant women, as they can help to prevent or treat pregnancy-induced edema (swelling).
  • Firm compression socks are suggested for those who experience persistent swelling in their legs, ankles, and feet. This level of compression has been found to relieve the heavy, achy, and fatigued feeling in the legs, and has also been proven to be effective for reducing the development of edema during pregnancy. It can also help to prevent the development of new or support existing varicose veins.
  • Extra firm compression socks are usually recommended for those who suffer from extreme cases of swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles. Those who have tried firm compression socks and found that they didn’t produce any benefits may want to graduate up to extra firm compression socks.
  • Prescription level compression socks should only be used when they are prescribed by and are used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Whether you have a pretty good idea about the level of compression socks you should use or you aren’t sure, consulting with a health care provider is always advisable. A doctor will be able to make an accurate diagnosis of the condition(s) you are experiencing and will be able to recommend the appropriate level of compression socks to best suit your unique needs.

Other Factors to Consider

While making sure that you select the appropriate compression level is important, there are other important factors that need to be considered, too. Here’s a look at some of those key factors that you’ll want to take into consideration – in addition to the compression level – when you’re selecting compression socks.

  • The size. Compression socks are designed to apply graduated pressure to the legs, feet, and ankles, and in order for that pressure to provide the intended effects, the size of the hosiery has to be accurate. If the socks are too small or too large, the compression won’t be as effective.
  • The height. You’ll also want to consider the height of the stockings, which are available in ankle-, knee-, and thigh-high, as well as waist-high (pantyhose). Consider the parts of your legs that you want the pressure to be applied to, as well as your health condition.
  • The style. Gradient pressure compression socks are available in several styles, including fully enclosed foot and toe, open-toe, and footless sleeve.