Compression Socks: What are they and how do they work?

May 27


Anthony Sartor

Anthony Sartor

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Compression socks are a great way to improve the health of your legs and have a wide variety of uses.


What are compression socks?

Compression socks are not your typical pair of socks. You'll soon find that out when you go to put on a pair. What makes them so different is that they apply compression to your feet and legs as you wear them.

They come in a variety of lengths,Compression Socks: What are they and how do they work? Articles such as knee high, thigh high or even full pantyhose for women. They're available in an array of attractive colors and designs or in more traditional colors such as black, beige and white. Many individuals, both men and women, wear these socks every single day.

The main goal of compression socks is to improve the blood circulation in your lower extremities.

How does this work?

Normally the muscles in your feet and legs are responsible for the circulation of blood. As you walk, you use the muscles in your legs and they push the blood in your veins back up towards your heart. This is a tough job as the blood has to move upwards against gravity but our bodies manage to do it!

Unfortunately, this circulation process can become impaired for a variety of reasons.

When we find ourselves either sitting or standing for extended periods of times throughout the day our blood circulation can become impaired.

Since we're not moving our legs, the blood can't properly circulate through our veins and return back to our heart (remember, we've got gravity working against us).

This is where compression socks come into play. As you wear them, they apply pressure on your veins which pushes the blood back up towards your heart. Basically taking over the job that muscles are normally responsible for.

You might be thinking how does the blood only go up and not back down into your feet?

The reason that the blood only moves upwards is due to the nature of the graduated compression in these socks.

With graduated compression, there is a greater level of compression at the foot/ankle of the sock, which gradually decreases as the sock move up your leg. This allows for blood to gradually move up and not down as the pressure is always greater at the bottom.

Levels of Compression

Compression is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) and varies in levels strength which is normally: mild (8 - 15 mmHg), moderate (15 - 20 mmHg), firm (30 - 40 mmHg) and extra firm (40 mmHg and higher).

The reason you see a range for some of these levels is due to the graduation mentioned earlier. For instance, moderate compression there would be a compression level of 20 mmHg at the feet/ankles which would gradually decrease to 15 mmHg where the socks end at the knees.

Compression levels are better suited for different conditions. For example, mild compression is better suited for slight aching and tired legs while extra firm compression is appropriate for medical conditions such as lymphedema.

Our guide provides a more in-depth review on compression levels.

What's my size?

They’re also available in a variety of sizes. It's important to measure your legs prior to purchasing compression socks as they aren't one size fits all.

This normally requires you to measure the circumference of your ankle, calf, and thigh (if purchasing thigh high socks) and the length of your leg. We cover this process in our sizing guide.

Who should wear compression socks?

Here are some examples of people who can benefit from these awesome socks: individuals who experience tired and aching legs, runners use them to recover after a run (decrease swelling and pain), travellers wear them during flights to prevent deep vein thrombosis, pregnant women wear them to reduce swelling in their legs and many others use them for medical conditions such as varicose veins, edema, lymphedema, chronic venous insufficiency and deep vein thrombosis (just to name a few!).

So what do I do?

If you think you might be able to benefit from wearing compression socks (eg. for tired and aching legs) then it's best to start off with a mild or moderate compression level. You'll be able to gauge how much relief you're finding after wearing them each day.

If you have a more serious medical condition such as edema in your legs then it's best to discuss with your physician a course of action and if compression socks are appropriate for you. They will be able to prescribe a level of compression that they feel is best for you.

Compression socks are available for purchase both online and in physical retailers. It is also possible to have certain compression socks (usually prescribed) covered by insurance.

Check us out for more information!