What Do Compression Socks Do?

What Do Compression Socks Do?


 

Compression socks are knee-high (sometimes thigh-high) socks, designed to exert gentle pressure on your ankles and legs. They're usually manufactured to meet medical industry specifications, and they provide a precise amount of compression. Wearing compression socks can help prevent dozens of common vascular issues. They're clinically proven to improve circulation and reduce inflammation, benefitting every aspect of your health.

In addition, compression socks accelerate muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. They reduce the buildup of lactic acid, which occurs when muscle cells use more oxygen than the blood can deliver. Our muscle cells produce lactic acid in the absence of oxygen, causing us to feel discomfort, soreness, and fatigue. Whether recovering from a long-haul flight, a tough workout, or a 10-hour shift, you've probably experienced the feeling of tired feet, legs, and ankles. 

You can count on compression socks to reduce pain and discomfort—even if you're on your feet all day long! 

How Do Compression Socks Improve Vascular Health?

Graduated compression, which exerts more pressure on the ankle than on the calf, has been proven in hundreds of clinical studies to increase circulation and move lymph fluid. Pressure on the side walls of the leg helps compress the veins, making it easier for blood to travel up from the feet back toward the heart.

Compression therapy is particularly beneficial indicated for:

Pregnant Women

During pregnancy, women become more likely to form blood clots, which can cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT). In addition, blood often pools in the legs, causing swelling, varicose veins, and spider veins. Compression therapy keeps blood circulating and prevents new blood clots from forming. 

Varicose and Spider Veins

Varicose veins result from a failure of the valves within the veins, also known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). Because the valve doesn't function properly, blood is able to flow in the wrong direction. As a result, blood pools in the vein, causing swelling and pain. The vein can also become enlarged and bulbous. 

Similarly, spider veins result from improper functioning of the vascular valves. Instead of resulting in large, twisted veins, CVI sometimes causes small, brightly colored tangles of visible veins—spider veins—on the surface of the skin. 

By keeping the blood from pooling, compression socks can reduce the symptoms of varicose and spider veins. The valve inside the vein remains faulty; however, the compression sock stops the blood inside the vein from flowing in the wrong direction.

Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), Pulmonary Embolism, and Post-Thrombotic Syndrome (PTS)

DVT happens when a blood clot forms in your thigh or lower leg. This condition can be dangerous because a blood clot can break off and move to your lung, causing a pulmonary embolism. Taking long flights, smoking, hormone therapies, and pregnancy can all increase your risk of DVT. Compression socks improve your circulation and decrease your chance of developing a blood clot in the first place. Compression therapy helps to prevent blood clots and any associated medical problems. 

After developing DVT or experiencing a pulmonary embolism, you're at greater risk of developing these problems in the future. In the weeks and months following DVT, it's also possible to develop post-thrombotic syndrome, which causes additional swelling and pain. According to Cedars-Sinai, "Compression is the main treatment for post-thrombotic syndrome. This helps to increase the blood flow in your veins, and decrease your symptoms."

Edema and Lymphedema

Edema is a medical term used to describe unusual swelling. Swelling can be caused by long periods of sitting or standing, pregnancy, long flights, and more. Lymphedema refers to swelling that results from lymphatic fluid pooled in the extremities. People suffering from the discomfort of edema and lymphedema can benefit from compression therapy, since it forces blood and lymph back up from the feet towards the heart. As a result, people who wear compression socks have less inflammation in their legs.

Additional Medical Conditions

Beyond improving vascular health, compression socks can benefit these ailments:  

  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
  • Shin splints
  • Plantar Fasciitis

Are There Any Risks Associated With Compression Therapy?

According to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, people with certain medical conditions should not use compression therapy. 

These include:

  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
  • Skin infections
  • Dermatitis 

In addition to these contraindications, improper fit and bunching could make compression stockings apply an improper amount of pressure to parts of your lower leg. If a compression sock is not pulled smoothly and evenly over the skin, it could act a tourniquet and restrict blood flow to your extremities. 

Never wear compression socks while you sleep, as they could bunch and cut off your circulation.

Unless you have one of the medical conditions listed above, compression socks will improve your circulation, as long as they are worn as advised.

What Types of Compression Therapy Work Best?

Depending on the symptoms you're experiencing, a doctor might prescribe a number of different medications, therapies, and behavioral changes. For example, a patient recovering from a pulmonary embolism might be prescribed blood thinners, leg elevation, continuation of physical activity to prevent blood clots, and compression therapy. Within that category, a number of different compression therapy models exist, including intermittent pneumatic therapy, compression stockings, compression sleeves, multi layer stretch bandages, two layer short stretch bandages, or compression boots. 

If your doctor doesn't recommend a particular therapeutic tool, you may be left wondering which kind of compression works best. What type of compression therapy will lead to the best outcomes at the lowest cost? One 2014 study in The International Journal of Medical Sciences examined the effectiveness of different tools for venous leg ulcers. Those researchers concluded, "intermittent pneumatic compression, stockings and multi layer bandages are the most efficient." (Dolibog) A 2019 study by Health Quality Ontario confirmed, "The available evidence shows that, compared with usual care, compression stockings are effective in preventing venous leg ulcer recurrence and likely to be cost-effective." 

Compression stockings are easy to use. They address a number of different use cases, including air travel, athletics, pregnancy, and long periods of standing or sitting. Plus, compression stockings support an active lifestyle and cost relatively little compared to pneumatic compression pump therapy. For all these reasons, they are a popular choice for compression therapy, whenever a doctor does not prescribe a specific therapeutic protocol or medical-grade stocking. Everyone can benefit from improved circulation, and knee-length compression socks work for all kinds of people, from professional athletes to those suffering from vascular and circulatory problems. 

Graduated vs. Uniform Compression

Graduated compression stockings prevent the pooling of blood, offering a tighter fit around the ankle and less pressure as you move up the leg. Compared to uniform compression, where the compression level remains the same throughout the length of the stocking, graduated compression more effectively pushes blood against the force of gravity. As a result, graduated compressions stockings do a better job improving blood circulation. 

When looking for compression socks, make sure that you see two measurements in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Graduated compression socks will show a range, with a tighter mmHg measurement for the ankle and a looser mmHg measurement beneath the knee. In contrast, uniform compression socks only show one measurement that accounts for the pressure throughout the entire sock. 

Why Everyone Should Wear Compression Socks

As humans, well-functioning circulatory systems remain critical for good health. Arteries supply our tissues with oxygen and other nutrients; meanwhile, our veins clear out waste products. Imagine what would happen if the veins in our legs didn’t exist. All of the waste products would pool in our legs and feet!

For some people with vascular and lymphatic systems that don’t function properly—like those with chronic venous insufficiency and lymphedema—this pooling of fluid in the lower legs is an everyday occurance. Luckily, compression therapy has been proven to help reduce inflammation and improve circulation. 

For others people, compression therapy provides the boost they need to help remove lactic acid and other waste products more quickly and efficiently. Compression socks leave their legs and feet feeling comfortable, even after considerable exertion. 

No matter your reason for using compression therapy, be sure to look for a compression range measurement in mmHg when you’re buying socks. The graduated compression, featuring tighter ankles and looser calves, helps to ensure the best possible results. 

At Comrad, we offer 15-25mmHg, which means that the amount of compression does not fall below 15 mmHg or go above 25 mmHg. We refer to this range as “the compression sweet spot,” since it provides the full benefits of both mild and medium compression. We also offer ankle socks and wide calf sizes. So, with Comrad Compression Socks, you’re always supported. 

 

Sources:

Attaran, Robert R. “Compression therapy for venous disease” Cardiovascular Medicine, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA, March 1, 2017.

Bhatt, Deepak L. MD, MPH. “Ask the doctor: Compression stockings for long-distance travel?” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, Aug 2014. 

Boosting circulation with compression stockings.” Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School, Nov 2013. 

Cayley, William E. “Preventing deep vein thrombosis in hospital inpatients.” Clinical Review, Midlands Business Journal, Jul 19, 2007. 

Clarke, M. J., Broderick, C., Hopewell, S., Juszczak, E., Eisinga, A. “Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers” Cochrane Database Syst Rev, December 19, 2016.

Compression socks can help prevent varicose veins.” The Scope, University of Utah, Jan 10, 2018.

Compression Therapy.UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, 2020, www.upmc.com/services/heart-vascular/services/tests-procedures/compression-therapy.

Cornu-Thenard, André, and Pierre Boivin. “Chronic Venous Disease during Pregnancy.” Phlebolymphology, vol. 21, no. 3, 141 1 Jan. 2014.

Dolibog, Pawel et al. “A comparative clinical study on five types of compression therapy in patients with venous leg ulcers.” International journal of medical sciences vol. 11,1 34-43. 14 Dec. 2013, doi:10.7150/ijms.7548

Health Quality Ontario. “Compression Stockings for the Prevention of Venous Leg Ulcer Recurrence: A Health Technology Assessment.” Ontario health technology assessment series vol. 19, 2 1-86. 19 Feb. 2019.

“How To Shop For Compressions Socks.” CVS Pharmacy, 2019, www.cvs.com/shop/how-to-shop-compression-socks-c.

Medical Clinic: Do compression socks help varicose veins?” Spider and Varicose Vein Treatment Center, YouTube, 2019. 

“Post-Thrombotic Syndrome.” Cedars-Sinai, 2020, www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/p/post-thrombotic-syndrome.html.

Pruthi, Sandhya M.D.Deep Vein Thrombosis” Mayo Clinic. July 20, 2019.