Just as you were coming around to the idea of getting compression socks, you hear something chilling. Apparently, someone’s great aunt Sally fell asleep with the compression socks on and almost lost her foot!
Now you’re thinking, is a little swelling really so bad? I mean, if the alternative is losing a foot, I can learn to live with my cankles.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect great aunt Sally, but her near amputation experience isn’t as common as many would have you believe.
Compression socks are used widely by all sorts of people. They wouldn’t be so popular with athletes if the risks were so high.
Our aim is to walk you through the proper use of compression socks. Let’s start by taking a look at how these stockings (socks) help your blood circulation.
How do compression socks work?
Sometimes, your veins need a little help getting blood back to the heart. Usually, this help comes by the calf muscle acting as a small pump. As you walk and move about, muscle contractions help to keep the blood moving up toward the heart. While this is great for healthy kids who can’t stay still for more than 10 minutes, many adults sit all day and the muscle doesn’t get to do its job.
By wearing compression socks, you are providing a small amount of external pressure which helps the valves in your veins work to keep the blood flowing up to your heart. Then the valves in your veins, which keep the blood from pooling in your feet, are able to work more effectively.
These stockings are designed to be tightest around the ankles, with the pressure easing upward toward the knees. Your physician will recommend the pressure specifications of the stockings you should use. This will be written as mm Hg (millimeter of mercury). When worn properly, the compression socks prevent blood from pooling and leaking into the adjacent tissue which causes edema, or swelling.
Are compression socks for you?
It has been scientifically proven that more people benefit from compression socks than those who don’t. That said, it is always important to understand your body before using any medical-grade products.
For instance, if you experience swelling in your feet, the best thing to do is to first consult a physician and find the cause of your edema. In some cases, you may be diagnosed with another underlying condition that could render the compression socks ineffective. If that isn’t the case, then your physician can confirm the type of compression that suits you best.
Who should wear compression socks?
- Do you sit all day?
- Do you stand all day?
- Are you going on a long flight?
- Are you seeking relief from painful varicose veins?
- Do you suffer from edema frequently?
- After an exercise session, are your legs tired and achy long after your work out?
- Are you pregnant and suffering from swollen feet and ankles?
- Are you at risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)?
- Has your doctor recommended compression therapy?
If your answer to any of the questions above is yes, then you are an excellent candidate for compression stockings. 20-30 mm Hg socks offer strong support for people who suffer from varicose veins as well as edema. It’s important to ensure you’re using compression socks properly.
Who shouldn’t wear compression socks?
- Those suffering from Ischaemia – This disease affects how your arteries distribute oxygenated blood to your extremities. The added compression can cause further complications to an already weak circulatory system.
- If you’re allergic to the materials used to make the compression garments.
- Those suffering from skin sensitization disorders – For example, peripheral neuropathy which is caused by damage to nerves to your extremities. An important part of compression therapy is properly fitting the socks to suit the shape of your leg. If your nerves are damaged, your body will not be able to transmit sensations of discomfort like whether the socks are too tight, for instance. That could cause additional complications.
- If you have complications arising from Diabetes or Congestive Heart Failure – Although compression can help to relieve some of the swelling caused by these chronic conditions, it is not suitable for all cases and you should consult your physician before use.
- Anyone who’s purchased doc socks without reading the reviews (those things are an awful scam).
This list is by no means conclusive. That’s why it’s important to consult a physician to ensure that compression therapy is right for you.
How long is too long for compression socks?
Pressure stockings help your veins to counter the effects of gravity. That’s why they are recommended for those who sit or stand for long periods. However, at the end of the day, you can often simply elevate your legs and let gravity work for you.
In some cases, a physician may recommend that you wear compression garments at night. Most of the time, this is advised for those who have recently had surgery and are at risk of developing a clot. In most cases, light compression garments will be recommended for nightwear.
Unless your physician specifically asks you to keep them on at night, take them off when you’re going to bed. Your skin deserves a little break at the end of the day to keep it looking healthy.
However, if you are on your feet for 24-hours or sitting for a similar amount of time, like for a 20-hour flight with a four-hour layover, you should be safe. As long as you wear them correctly, the compression socks will work for you and not against you.
Effects of wearing the socks too long
Let’s first agree that the health benefits of compression far outweigh the minor side effect risks. However, some people do have minor reactions to long term use of compression garments including:
- Broken skin
- Skin irritation
- Temporary impression on the skin
There are those that also include cones and calluses as side effects. Some others talk about having their circulation completely cut off. These effects will often be experiences if the socks don’t fit properly or they aren’t worn properly.
Is there a wrong way to put on compression socks?
How to wear your compression socks
Since these stockings or socks are designed for a snug fit, they can be a little tricky to put on.
It’s important to ensure that there are no wrinkles or gathers in the fabric as you put them on. These would increase the pressure on a very small section of your leg which could lead to circulatory problems and increase discomfort. If you have an aversion to reading manuals, make an exception this one time to follow the below steps when putting on your compression stockings.
Step 1: Turn the socks inside out
Reach into the sock and get hold of the heel area. Pull it out creating a little pocket for your foot. Do not pull out the entire leg length.
Step 2: Put the sock onto the heel
When you insert your foot into the little pocket you have made, don’t try to pull the sock up to the knee. Just get your foot to fit properly onto the heel.
Step 3: Pull the sock up to the middle of your shin
Reach for the overlap that is currently covering your toes. Get ahold of that and pull it up toward the knee. You will want to do this in one fluid motion to keep the sock from forming wrinkles.
Step 4: Pull the remaining fold up to your knee
With the last motion, ensure that you smooth out any gathers and folds that may have formed. The sock should feel snug but comfortable. If you feel that it is causing you pain, that could be an indication that you got the wrong size.
If you went to a catholic school, fight the urge to fold the socks at the top. That may cause too much pressure around the knee area and keep your blood from circulating properly.
In conclusion, how long you wear your compression socks isn’t about the time of day or even length of time per se. It comes down to need. Your legs only need help to counter gravity when they are below you, whether you’re seated or standing. Once your legs are elevated, then it is a lot easier for blood to travel back to the heart which is the primary objective of the veins in your legs.
Some people may only need them for long flights. Others may need them every day. Compression therapy, like most forms of treatment, doesn’t have a “one size fits all” solution. It is always advised to consult a physician to find out what options will work best for you.