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How Compression Socks Work

how compression socks work, compression sock alternatives

Compression socks—also called compression stockings—are socks that help improve circulation by applying pressure to the feet and legs. You may have heard of people wearing compression socks during long flights, while participating in sporting events, or while hospitalized. Let’s talk more about how compression socks work, what the benefits are, and where you can find the best compression socks.

What are the benefits of compression socks?

Simply put, compression socks keep your blood flowing through your blood vessels. Great blood flow (circulation) is an important component of a healthy cardiovascular system. If your circulation is poor, several things could happen:

  • Your legs are more likely to feel tired and ache.
  • You are more likely to have swelling in your feet, ankles, and legs.
  • Your blood can settle towards your feet, causing blood clots that can get stuck in your lungs or brain.
  • Valves within your veins can begin to fail, causing the blood to pool which will eventually create unsightly and painful varicose veins.

On the other hand, good circulation makes sure that the entire body—including the feet and legs—gets adequate oxygen from blood and can work the way it’s supposed to.

Although many types of people can benefit from compression therapy using compression socks, you should always talk to your doctor about any medical conditions you have, especially cardiovascular conditions, before using them.

How do compression socks work?

Compression socks use compression therapy to improve circulation. The idea is that the socks compress—or apply pressure to—your legs making your veins function more efficiently. There are four standard compression levels:

  • 15-20 mmHg – This level is useful for tired, achy legs, for minor varicosities, minor ankle, foot and leg swelling, pregnancy, sports and/or for long periods of travel. Compression is light yet effective.
  • 20-30 mmHg – This level, medical grade class I, is good for reducing moderate swelling or edema, moderate to severe varicosities, for post-surgery care. Using compression socks after surgery helps promote wound healing, reduces swelling, and helps avoid the development of a blood clot or a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This strength can also be used for travel and sporting events.
  • 30-40 mmHg – This level, medical grade class II, is useful for patients who have severe varicosities and edema, lymphoma, management of active ulcers and at times for post surgical recovery for the same reasons as above.
  • 40-50 mmHg – Medical grade class III is extremely strong and is reserved for patients with severe varicosities and severe lymphedema.

There are also compression socks with 18-25 mmHg that are available for patients with diabetes. This level of compression helps reduce swelling safely, in a way that doesn’t harm the sensitive blood vessels.

Each category exists on a range (for example, from 15 mmHg to 20 mmHg) because the compression sock gives you tighter compression around the ankle and slowly transitions to the lesser compression as the sock goes up. The higher the number, the tighter the garment. For example, if you were to select the 15-20 mmHg compression sock, you would feel the tighter compression of 20mmHg at the ankle and the lesser compression of 15 mmHg toward the top of the sock.  This helps push the blood back to the heart and the overall compression makes the veins operate more effectively.

Where can I find the best compression socks?

You may want to select compression therapy socks that are medical grade because they have a guaranteed compression level.  Non-medical grade compression socks that are popular in the sporting world are not regulated, which means the compression levels advertised are not guaranteed. They could be rated lower or higher, both of which can result in unfavorable outcomes. The Compounding Center offers three stellar brands of medical-grade compression socks: Jobst, Sigvaris, and Medi.

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