Fashion trends come and go, but there will always be ones that manage to stick around. Either it’s a style that remains popular or a piece of clothing has a practical use that really resonates with a certain portion of the audience.
Running shoes come to mind here. Even when they stopped having an impact from a fashion perspective, they remained popular due to their practical use. They’re also extremely comfortable.
Compression socks are part of a similar former fashion trend. You may have heard about them in passing, but knowing exactly what compressions socks are and what service they provide might just be enough to get you to make the leap to buy. Compression socks are also gaining more traction in dress sock form due to the traditional downsides of that style and the effect that those typically uncomfortable clothes may have.
What Do Compression Socks Do?
Compression socks wrap around the tendons, muscles, and ligaments in the calves, ankles, and feet (or arms, if you wear compression sleeves). They are generally made of a blend of fabric materials like polyester and nylon. The overall purpose of the compression socks is to improve your circulation and blood flow to your limbs and the rest of your body.
Compression levels are generally measured in what is known as mm Hg (millimeters of mercury), and they are used to correlate blood pressure levels. Standard compression levels can range anywhere from 10mm Hg to 30mm Hg, with the 30mm Hg having a higher level of intensity.
Depending on your specific circulation needs, you can pick the level of compression that is the best fit for you. There are plenty of runners who want a sock with more compression in order to promote the circulation that suits longer endurance activities. Compression dress socks, on the other hand, offer lower or moderate levels of compression in order to provide comfort throughout the day.
To get technical, the blood that flows in your veins has to work against gravity in order to get back to the heart. Anything that ends up impeding that flow — circulation issues, lack of movement, weakness in the walls of the veins, etc. — will result in the blood pooling in the veins of your feet or lower legs. This can lead to aches, swelling, and leg disease, as well as predispose you to disorders like venous clots.
When the compression sock squeezes the leg tissues and the walls of the veins, this helps blood in the veins return to the heart. It can also improve the overall flow of the fluid (known as lymph) that bathes the cells. Improved lymph flow helps reduce the swelling of the tissues and improve overall blood flow. Basically, compression socks could help your legs feel less tired, if that is something you suffer from.
The Technology of Compression Socks
Compression socks and other compression gear are built with special technology that makes use of the process of applying pressure to areas of the body in order to help increase circulation and blood flow. They are used to help address issues such as swelling, poor circulation, and inflammation caused by an injury. When the blood flood is increased, more oxygen-rich blood is carried throughout your body. This process is more efficient, and broken-down soft tissue can repair itself more quickly.
Most compression products on the market today offer what is known as graduated compression technology. This means that there is more pressure in a given area, and as the sock material gets closer to the heart, the pressure decreases. In compression socks, there is more pressure applied near the feet and ankles, and as the sock rises upward, the pressure decreases.
What Are the Benefits of Wearing Compression Dress Socks?
When we think people who wear compression gear, runners and athletes are the first who typically come to mind. This is because compression socks and sleeves can promote better circulation, which in turn, can help with overall endurance during workouts and races.
However, more and more people in the business world are beginning to wear compression dress socks. This is because it can be uncomfortable to be on your feet and/or in uncomfortable dress shoes all day long.
In the past, a business person would deal with the lack of comfort and combat it with things like new insoles in their shoes to make them more comfortable. Nowadays, compression socks, especially those of the knee-high variety, can help keep blood flowing through extended periods of standing during a workday. If you work in an office setting where you are on your feet all day, having compression dress socks can help prevent soreness and keep your feet feeling fresh even on the longest days.
Compression socks are also great for those who have chronic paint in their joints and limbs. Compression dress socks provide extra comfort and support so you can focus on the task at hand rather than on how uncomfortable your feet are.
Choosing the Right Kind of Compression Sock for You
Not everyone is going to know what the mm HG numbers mean. Here is a breakdown so you can understand what each type of compression level represents and what it is meant to combat.
15-20mm Hg (over the counter, sports recovery, daily wear)
This is the standard compression socks and the easiest to find. They are great for daily use, any traveling that you do, and sporting activities. These are easy to wear and will help improve your overall circulation without being too constricting on your legs. This level of compression garment is common enough that it comes in a variety of different materials meant to fit in with any lifestyle.
20-30mm Hg (sports recovery, daily wear, managing mild symptoms, and medical recovery)
These are a little tighter in order to deal with slightly more serious issues and recoveries. You don’t necessarily need to have a medical condition to wear this level of compression sock — many who wear these do so because they offer more support than 15-2 mm Hg ones — but these are the ideal socks for those who do have various conditions. Spider veins, varicose veins, post-surgery recovering, and swelling (also known as edema) can definitely be helped when you wear this sort of compression sock.
30-40mm Hg (medical recovery, managing moderate to severe symptoms, and daily wear)
This is one of the strongest compression garment levels available. It is meant to be used for post-surgery recovery, dealing with severe varicose veins, severe swelling (edema), lymphedema, and even blood clots (deep vein thrombosis or DVT).
These compression socks can make a significant difference for someone dealing with severe circulation issues in their legs, as they can improve their circulation and help manage any pain caused by the aforementioned issues.
Sock or Stocking?
There are two distinct types of compression legwear: sock or stocking. Socks are the most common and fashionable of the two and generally easier to find. The stocking, however, provides greater coverage of the leg. This means that you can get the compression effects along the entirety of your leg: with a sock, you only go up to around your ankle or calf.
You have two choices here. The first is a knee-high sock. While there are compression socks that stop at the ankle or calf, these go all the way up to the bend of your knee, past the curvature of your calf. Certain regular socks might be stretchy enough to pull up this high, but you should not attempt to do so. If you pull knee-high socks up over your knees, it could cause them to slide down or roll, which can then become uncomfortable or even dangerous depending on what condition you have and the type of compression that you are wearing.
There are also thigh-high compression stockings that will cover the entirety of your leg, stopping at the very top of your thigh and just below the fold of the buttock. Thigh compression stockings are made to cover the entirety of your leg so you can improve the overall circulation throughout your leg, not just in the calf, ankle, and foot.
Who Shouldn’t Wear Compression Socks?
Generally speaking, compression socks and stockings are safe to wear, and there are few or no complications as long as they are worn smoothly, without any folds, against the leg.
Having said that, however, there are groups of people who should definitely avoid them: anyone with peripheral neuropathy (damaged nerves between your brain and spinal cord and your limbs) or any other type of condition that would have an impact on skin sensation.
Additionally, anyone who has a history of peripheral arterial bypass grafting, peripheral artery disease, dermatitis with oozing or fragile skin, skin infections, pulmonary edema from congestive heart failure, or any kind of massive leg swelling should avoid compression socks altogether.
Each of these conditions comes with risks for compression materials. For those who have peripheral artery disease, wearing compression stockings can actually worsen oxygen delivery to those arteries that have impaired blood flow. Anyone with sensory problems, like people with peripheral neuropathy, might not be able to feel when a compression stocking is too tight. This can impede circulation, potentially having devastating results on the legs and the rest of the body.
A safe rule of thumb here is that if you are seriously considering compression socks, consult your healthcare professional first. They will tell you if it is a good idea to wear compression socks, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions.
How to Determine the Right Height and Size of Sock
While there is no universal standard when it comes to the sizing of compression socks and stockings, there is one way to get an accurate measurement: a tape measure. While it isn’t ideal or convenient, you will need to take measurements over several portions of your leg: the circumference of your calf, ankle, and thigh, as well as the distance from your thigh or knee to the floor, depending on whether you want to go with knee-high or thigh-high socks.
How the stockings fit on your leg ultimately depends on the reasons you have for wearing them. Knee-highs are generally easier to wear and tend to be more comfortable than the thigh-highs.
For those who wear compression socks for non-medical reasons, like running or standing at their job for long periods of time, it might make the most sense to go with knee-high compression socks.
Those with medical conditions can opt for thigh-highs, as they offer more coverage, but it is probably best if you consult your physician before buying a pair of compression socks or stockings. It is worth noting that thigh-high compression socks are ideal for preventing things like DVT (deep vein thrombosis) after surgery, but there isn’t conclusive evidence as to whether the height of the sock is actually more effective when it comes to preventing clots.
For How Long Should Compression Socks Be Worn?
Again, there is no clear-cut answer to this. It depends on what your purpose is for wearing them in the first place. Generally speaking, if it is related to issues with your veins, you can wear the stockings all day long and take them off when you’re at home with your feet up or are ready to go to bed.
For those who need to wear compression socks during post-surgery recovery, it is typically recommended that you wear them when you are planning on standing or sitting for long periods of time. Again, they can be removed when you are at home resting or in bed for the night.
Ultimately, compression socks can have a positive overall benefit on the circulation in your feet during a tiring day at the office. Even if you aren’t running around, having compression socks on can help the blood flow through your legs better and keep your legs from feeling fatigue or aches.
What kind of compression socks you get is up to you, but for those in the business world, having a dress compression sock is an essential part of any busy day. They will keep your feet feeling fresh, less painful, and in better overall health!