How Do Compression Socks Work & What Do They Do?


Compression socks, also called compression stockings, apply pressure to the legs and feet. They can help people treat medical issues and increase blood flow during exercise. Here’s some more information about compression socks, their benefits, and the types of compression socks available.

compression stockings

What Are Compression Socks?

Compression stockings apply more pressure to your legs and ankles than standard socks, but they look just like socks or hose. Some end at the ankle or the calf, and others go all the way up to the hips. They come in many styles, and they sometimes have open toe areas. Prescription compression stockings that apply more pressure than over-the-counter versions are available, and battery-powered varieties can apply different amounts of pressure at different times. Socks with higher mmHg apply more pressure.

What Do Compression Socks Do?

Compression socks increase blood flow by placing pressure on veins in your feet and legs. The arteries that take oxygenated blood to your feet and calves can relax and let blood flow freely, and your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to bring that blood back through the veins. This helps keep blood near the heart and head and prevents swelling in the feet. It can also keep people who stand or walk for most of the day from having achy feet.

Many doctors recommend compression socks for treating edema or lymphedema, swelling of the lower limbs that’s a common symptom of diabetes. Compression stockings can also help reduce varicose veins and spider veins or keep them from getting worse. These blue or purple veins appear when the valves in blood vessels fail, letting blood pool in one place or flow towards your feet instead of towards your head.

Medical compression socks for the treatment of varicose veins. Medical hosiery.

Too many varicose veins or blood clots can lead to venous insufficiency, the inability of the veins to send blood to the heart efficiently. This can cause orthostatic hypotension or low blood pressure, making people feel lightheaded or even faint after they stand up suddenly. Compression socks can help with this issue by keeping excess blood out of your legs and feet. People often wear compression socks to help with swollen feet during pregnancy as well.

Compression socks can help prevent deep vein thrombosis, a type of blood clot that happens in a large vein. It can cause pain, swelling, muscle damage, or even death. Pregnant women and those who have had surgery recently are more at risk. Deep vein thrombosis can also happen on long plane flights when people have to sit still for an extended period of time.

These socks can help you avoid phlebitis as well. Phlebitis is a blood clot in a smaller vein closer to the surface of the skin, and it can lead to pain, fever, swelling, and a lump in the skin near the clot. It’s not as serious as deep vein thrombosis, but both issues could lead to a blood clot that travels from the leg to another organ. For example, a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot in the lungs that makes breathing difficult or impossible.

How Long Should You Wear Compression Socks?

You should ask your doctor exactly how long you should wear compression socks. Some people wear compression socks every day, and others wear them only while they recover from surgery, exercise, or take long plane trips. If compression socks help with medical problems or just make you feel more comfortable, you can wear them all day every day. However, you shouldn’t sleep in compression socks because you might not notice a problem. If part of the sock becomes bunched up or folded over, it could interfere with your circulation. You should also remove your compression socks if you experience tingling, redness, discomfort, or an allergic reaction to the fabric.

How Should You Wear Compression Socks?

You can wear compression socks on just one leg or both legs, and you can put them on and take them off just like regular socks or stockings. Don’t fold your compression socks down to form cuffs, and make sure that any seams go straight up your leg. If you have arthritis or another problem, you can use a device called a stocking donner to put on your compression socks. Some compression socks have zippers as well.

To make them more effective, put your compression socks on right after you wake up in the morning. This is when your legs are least swollen. If you use compression socks during exercise, leave them on for three or four hours after your workout. The improved circulation that compression socks provide can help remove lactic acid from your muscles, reducing or preventing soreness after physical activity.

Hand wash your compression socks or set your washing machine to a gentle cycle with cold water, and then air dry them. Compression socks can become less elastic and effective over time, so you may need to replace them if they become worn.

To find out which size your compression socks should be, measure the circumference of your ankle and your calf with a tape measure. With some stockings, you may need to measure your thigh as well. If the compression socks you choose don’t help or feel uncomfortable, talk to your doctor. You may need a different size or type of compression sock.

What Types of Compression Socks Are Available?

Compression stockings with a low amount of pressure are also called nonmedical support hosiery, and they work well for people who need to spend lots of time on their feet, like nurses or store clerks. They can also make taking long trips more comfortable. Graduated compression socks squeeze harder toward the ankles and apply lighter pressure near the knees, helping move blood upward. They’re meant for people who are active. Anti-embolism stockings use more pressure, and they help prevent blood clots while people recover in bed. They’re also called thromboembolism deterrent stockings.

To learn more about compression socks and find out which type would be best for you, contact us at Scheck and Siress. We can help you feel better and increase your mobility.