Compression socks can quickly soothe your tired legs and feet.
Compression socks are specialized hosiery that improve circulation by applying gentle pressure to the legs. You might wear compression socks to relieve symptoms of venous disease, including:
- Swelling in your legs
- Achiness or a feeling of heaviness in your legs
- Skin discoloration
- Bulging veins
They can also help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a type of blood clot.
“Compression socks offer a conservative therapy for vascular disease, but they also help promote healthy blood flow,” says Melissa Obmann, DO, a vascular surgeon at Geisinger.
How do compression socks work?
Compression stockings are worn just like regular socks — they’re comfortable enough to wear during daily activities or while you’re asleep.
But there’s a difference: They’re a bit tighter. Thanks to gravity, blood tends to pool in your legs, and if you have a certain lifestyle or circulation issues, the blood can have difficulty traveling back to your heart. The pressure from the socks, also called compression hose, promotes healthy blood flow through your body, keeping your muscles full of oxygen from the red blood cells.
Are they for you? Candidates for using compression socks include people:
- Who stand all day
- Who sit for long periods
- Are athletes
- Are pregnant
- Who spend a lot of time on airplanes
- With or at risk of circulation conditions, like DVT, varicose veins or diabetes
- Who’ve just had surgery
- With mobility issues
If you’re using compression socks for everyday use, you can buy them over the counter. But if you have an existing medical condition, you may need a prescription.
“Before you buy, talk to your doctor to see whether compression socks are right for you and your lifestyle,” says Dr. Obmann.
How long should you wear compression socks?
Depending on your situation, it may be best to wear your socks for the entire day. For others, just a few hours at a time is sufficient. Your doctor can offer guidance on how long — and how frequently — you should wear compression socks.
“You may need to wear them for just a few days or a few weeks. Or you may need them longer to properly treat your symptoms,” says Dr. Obmann.
Finding the right fit
Not all compression socks are created equal. Each type offers different levels of compression, from light to firm. Your doctor can help you identify the right level of support based on your needs.
These socks are typically made of cotton and nylon with elastic or rubber. They’re designed to provide a certain amount of pressure, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), depending on your needs. This can range from 8 to 50 mmHg, with a higher number meaning a tighter sock.
“A low level of pressure (between 8 and 15 mmHg) is great for everyday wear,” says Dr. Obmann. “A higher level of pressure can be necessary for those with existing vascular conditions.”
If you’ve been prescribed compression socks, a pharmacist or technician will measure your thighs, calves and ankles to make sure your socks won’t be too tight (or loose). Once you find the right fit, your doctor or pharmacist will order your socks.
Using your compression socks
When you receive your new stockings, you’ll put them on like you would any other socks. They should feel snug, but not tight. If they start to fall down or you notice any rips or tears, it may be time to replace them.
While you’re wearing your compression hose, stay in contact with your doctor. They can monitor your symptoms and determine if or when you can stop using the socks.
“That short-term support is sometimes all you need to relieve your symptoms,” says Dr. Obmann.