No matter your level of leg discomfort, you can likely benefit from simple — and surprisingly stylish — compression socks.
Compression socks have existed for decades, but their use has typically been confined to specific patient populations, those with varicose veins. As the health benefits of these garments become more widely known, more people are wondering if they, too, should be wearing compression socks.
The short answer is: maybe! Maintaining vein health is an ongoing process, and for anyone with even minor symptoms, compression socks can prevent deep vein thrombosis and increase comfort overall.
How Compression Socks Work
Veins have a series of one-way valves to prevent blood from pooling in the legs. Over time, any loss of efficiency in the valves can cause unpleasant symptoms, including swollen ankles, leg fatigue and varicose veins. Compression socks work by applying pressure to the legs, allowing the blood to move more easily up through the veins, against the force of gravity. This simple but effective method improves circulation, providing relief for a number of conditions.
Benefits of Compression Socks
Compression socks can offer immediate benefits, easing swollen legs at the end of the day or preventing tired and achy feet in the first place. If worn regularly, compression socks can help counter the damaging effects of high venous pressure and allow the blood to circulate more freely.
In addition, compression stockings are typically a doctor’s first suggestion for relieving the pain and discomfort associated with varicose veins. While they aren’t a failsafe to prevent varicose or spider veins in the first place, they are still a good investment if your lifestyle puts you at risk. They also can support vein recovery after a varicose or spider vein treatment.
Compression socks also offer benefits for those at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). When blood pools in the veins, it can clot. If that clot breaks free and move to the lungs, there can be dangerous consequences. Patients at risk — such as those recovering from surgery — may be able to prevent DVT by wearing compression stockings.
Until recently, compression stockings were also commonly prescribed to patients recovering from DVT, who may be at risk of post-thrombotic syndrome (PTS). Updated studies suggest that while these garments do improve pain and swelling for the patient, they don’t necessarily prevent the symptoms associated with PTS.
While compression socks can provide great health benefits, it’s important to wear them properly. Wrinkled socks can cause uneven pressure, leading to loss of circulation, and socks that are the wrong size can fall down or cut off blood flow. And unless you’re recovering from surgery, you likely shouldn’t wear compression stockings at night — if you’re lying down, your blood doesn’t need assistance to circulate.
Who Should Wear Compression Socks?
Nurses, teachers, salespeople and many other workers are unable to avoid long, painful hours on their feet, and many are delighted by the support compression garments offer. Even office workers who sit for long hours and experience leg fatigue may find that mild compression socks help their limbs stay more energized.
Athletes and runners sometimes use compression tubes on their arms or legs, based on the idea that improved blood flow could enhance performance. The evidence for this is mostly anecdotal, but there is some evidence that the improved blood and lymph circulation could help with faster muscle recovery.
Pregnant women are especially susceptible to vein disease — in fact, they are six times more likely to get blood clots. The baby’s weight means more pressure on the legs, while hormonal changes increase blood volume and dilate veins. Compression socks can help counteract these changes in a way that is safe for the developing fetus.
Compression socks are also popular with travelers, for good reason — on long-haul flights, compression stockings significantly reduce the risk of blood clots, which can arise due to the traveler’s immobile, cramped position.
Buying Compression Socks
If you’re interested in purchasing compression socks for the first time, you may want to talk to your doctor — insurance may cover these socks for certain medical conditions, like varicose veins. Otherwise they can be expensive, from $30 to over $100 a pair.
In many cases, your doctor will recommend graduated compression socks, which are tightest at the ankle, with decreasing pressure up the leg, encouraging upward blood flow. Knee-high socks are popular to address the many leg issues that manifest around the ankles or calves, as they are less confining than thigh-high stockings.
While the words “compression socks” may bring to mind unappealing tan bandage material, you’d be surprised. Several trendy compression sock startups are redefining the industry, with comfortable and colorful styles for men and women. No one would ever guess these socks are compression wear, making it easier than ever to incorporate these as a daily health choice.
If you’re interested in compression socks, it’s best to first talk to a doctor at the Center for Vein Restoration about the symptoms you hope to relieve. The socks are typically a safe and advisable choice, but may not be appropriate for everyone. Keep in mind that compression socks alone can’t cure existing vein conditions, but our experts will explain how to best use them as part of a wellness plan that can offer you relief.