What Do Compression Socks Do?

What Do Compression Socks Do?
Posted in: FAQs

What do compression socks do? For that matter, what are compression socks?

Compression socks are special hosiery knit in a way that they place gentle pressure all the way around your ankles (and, depending on the length of the sock, higher up your leg, sometimes all the way to the hip) to place pressure on the veins in your leg. The hallmark of compression socks, knee-hi's, thigh-hi's, and leggings is graduated compression. The elastic in the socks is woven to apply greater pressure at the ankles and lower pressure is applied to the top of the sock.

The veins in your legs have to work against the force of gravity to return blood to the lungs and heart to be recharged with oxygen and recirculated throughout the body. Healthy veins have functioning valves that keep blood from flowing back down toward your feet. These valves can be damaged by high blood pressure, infection, or stress with the result that they don't keep blood flowing back up your legs property. Compression socks work against the force of gravity to compensate for this problem.

There are different kinds of compression socks for different needs.

There was a time that the only kind of compression sock was "support hose." They were almost always purchased on doctor's orders, almost always knee-high, almost always tan, and almost always worn by women. Then these uncomfortable, unfashionable socks were more frequently prescribed for men.

Since the 1990s, compression socks have been available in different styles and colors. They have been prescribed for an increasing variety of health conditions. And they are now used for improving athletic performance and just feeling better after a long airplane trip.
Modern compression socks come in three categories:

  • Antiembolism stockings. These doctor-prescribed stockings are used to treat patients confined to bed to reduce the risk of blood clot formation, usually after surgery. These socks offer graduated compression.
  • Graduated medical compression socks and stockings. These kind of compression sock is typically prescribed by a doctor to treat chronic vein disease or lymphedema. Graduated compression socks (and other kinds of graduated compression garments for the lower body) place the greatest compression around the ankle. Compression gradually decreases as the sock goes up the leg. This kind of sock is intended for patients who are up and around, not confined to bed.
  • Non-medical support hosiery. These compression socks provide uniform pressure up the entire length of the sock. They have lower pressure than medical compression socks. They provide relief for swelling in healthy legs after a long airplane flight, and make the legs feel lighter and more maneuverable during sports activities.

What kinds of conditions are treated with compression socks?

Graduated compression socks with higher pressure (usually 30 to 50 mmHg, measured in the same units as blood pressure) are used to treat a variety of conditions of poor circulation through the veins in the legs or through the lymphatic system. Here are just a few examples.

Venous insufficiency. Venous insufficiency is a collection of conditions caused by deficient blood flow through the greater and less saphenous veins of the legs. Venous insufficiency can result in red, itchy, burning, tingling, sensitive skin. It can result in leg pain and muscle cramps. People who have venous insufficiency in one of both legs also tend to develop thin skin and ulcers that take a long time to heal.

Compression socks aren't a miracle cure for venous insufficiency. They improve symptoms gradually, and if you stop wearing your compression socks, their beneficial effects wear off in just a few days. Consistent use is the key to successful use of compression socks.


Varicose veins. Varicose veins are big, blue veins that fill with blood. They can be cosmetically disfiguring, annoying, and uncomfortable. They can cause a feeling of heaviness in the legs, itching, burning, numbness, swelling, loss of sensation, leg cramps, or restless legs. They can lead to skin ulcers that progress to the need for amputation.

Varicose veins can be and often are treated with compression bandages. The problem with letting your doctor treat your varicose veins with compression bandages is that they can act like little tourniquets and even make varicose veins worse. The advantage of compression socks is that they offer graduated compression that keeps blood flowing through the vein at the same time it reduces the swelling.\


Edema and lymphedema. It's not just poor blood circulation that can cause swelling, itching, burning, and muscle dysfunction in the legs. A number of conditions can cause poor circulation through the lymphatic system or fluid accumulation in the lower extremities. Compression socks also support the upward flow of lymph and fluids through the legs. As with varicose veins, they have an advantage over compression bandages in that they don't cause lymph or fluid to pool anywhere on its path up the leg.

Pregnancy. Most pregnant women experience aching feet and aching legs. The reason for this is that the accumulation of fluid and the growing fetus interfere with circulation through the veins in the middle of the body. Compression socks and compression tights and pantyhose can help blood and fluid flow upward to relieve pressure in the feet, calves, and thighs.

It's helpful to understand that the benefits of compression socks are all due to their ability to help your veins fight the force of gravity. If you could hang from your feet like Count Dracula, you wouldn't benefit from compression socks. There's generally not a lot of benefit in sleeping in compression socks, that is, assuming that you sleep on your back, on your side, or on your stomach. The main people who benefit from sleeping in compression socks are those who have just had surgery on the veins in their legs and who have been told not to take off their compression socks, people who are prone to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and those who experience orthostatic hypotension, feeling dizzy or passing out when they first stand up in the morning. But the ability of compression socks to support the flow of blood against the force of gravity can be very helpful in sports.

Compression socks for running and active sports

Even people with healthy veins can benefit from wearing compression socks. It's not hard to understand how gentle compression socks, usually labeled to have 8 to 15 mmHg of non-graduated pressure, can help runners run faster and can give athletes, for example, soccer players, a winning edge.

When you run hard, whether it's down a track or in a competitive match, your heart has to work extra hard to keep blood flowing so your muscles get all the oxygen they need. If your muscles don't get the oxygen they need, they will create energy anaerobically with the production of lactic acid that causes a "burn."

When athletes wear compression socks, they get just a little more circulation to their calves and thighs. Muscles don't get as tight. They don't get as tense. They are less likely to cause cramps or a charlie horse. And because compression socks apply pressure equally on both sides of the ankles, your brain gets more signals from the many muscles that cross your ankle joints so you have just a little more precision in your movements, sometime enough for a winning edge in a competition.

How much difference does wearing compression socks make?
In one study, wearing compression socks increased the flow of blood through the calves and thighs just 1% during athletic competition. That doesn't sound like a lot, but in elite sports, every tiny advantage helps. In another study, wearing compression socks reduced muscle soreness by 20% after a workout. But that bit of relief may make a real difference if every workout becomes just a little easier.

Compression socks can make long flights and car rides more comfortable.

Have you ever noticed that women tend to wear pantsuits and slacks when they go on vacation? Many women (and some men) avoid showing their lower legs for a couple of days after a long flight or car ride because their lower legs are swollen. Wearing compression socks during travel can increase the range of fashion choices at your destination.

Transportation that requires you stay in your seat for four hours or more causes swollen legs even for people in good vascular health. With your feet flat on the floor, your veins have to exert maximum effort to overcome the forces of gravity for hours on end. Blood and fluid pool in your feet, around your ankles, and in your calves.

In people who have issues with clotting factors, this pooling of blood can contribute to clotting that causes a potentially serious condition known as deep vein thrombosis. But even if you have healthy clotting factors, your legs and feet can accumulate a lot of blood and fluid.

Compression socks keep circulation flowing so you can wear your favorite shoes and your favorite clothes when you reach your destination. You’ll also feel more refreshed and ready to enjoy your vacation.

For the best selection of compression socks at the best prices, buy your socks from Discount Surgical.

Discount Surgical has compression stockings, tights, leggings, knee-highs, thigh-highs, maternity pantyhose, and socks in every size and pressure and in multiple styles and colors. We have the best selection of compression stockings at the best price, and we're here to help you find exactly what you need.

2 years ago
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