Are Compression Socks Good or Bad?
There have been some debate on whether wearing compression socks is harmful or even dangerous with the risk of developing blood clots or pooling of blood in the foot. Well, today we are going to debunk the myths on compression socks and let this be the ultimate guide for compression socks and stockings. But first, let’s hit the basics with a few simple Q & A about compression socks to get you started before we deep dive into the truth of compression socks.
1. What are compression socks?
Compression socks are more or less two-way stretch socks- elastic in both the longitudinal and transverse directions. It’s created by the action and distribution of pressure. This provides the stretch needed to apply a sock that has the smallest diameter at the ankle and can be drawn over the heel.
It establishes the highest support pressure around the ankle, gradually decreases along the leg with the pressure between 70%-90% of the maximum pressure around the calf then 25%-45% around the thigh.
Take Note: **Compression socks come with different compression levels and different lengths and styles like knee-high, thigh-high, etc. We will dig deeper into the compression levels later on.
2. What are compression socks/stockings made out of?
The common materials used to manufacture compression socks and stockings are rubber, spandex/Lycra, cotton, microfiber. Some manufacturers tend to produce them using Merino wools, which are labeled as the higher-end products you can find on the market.
Compression stockings made of nylon or spandex retain their original elasticity and attributes of the shape. However, nylon is a material that could be scratched relatively easy on pointy objects. So take caution when you’re putting your boots on or any shoes that require zipping. And yes! Fingernails are probably the number-one murderer of compression stockings. Just hold on to scratching that itch…
3. What are compression socks used for?
The circulation of blood relies on muscle contraction to push back to the heart, which is why muscles are also known as the second heart of the human body.
Compression socks apply longitudinal pressure on your calves and feet with the function to effectively alleviate or improve the pressure on the lower limb veins and venous valves and also to accelerate blood circulation upwards to prevent blood clots and act as decompression to treat the infamous Venous Reflux.
4. What is Venous Reflux Disease?
Venous Reflux Disease (also known as venous insufficiency) is a medical condition affecting the circulation of blood in the lower extremities. Normally, one-way valves in the veins keep blood flowing toward the heart against the force of gravity. When the valves become weak and do not close properly, they allow blood to flow backward and this is a condition called reflux.
5. How does Venous Reflux Disease significantly impact a person’s lifestyle?
Venous Reflux Disease can produce a number of clinical problems for the patient and the more serious symptoms include edema, skin changes, venous ulcers, and venous reflux disease commonly produces varicose veins.
If you’re checking on compression socks, chances are you find yourself in the position of wondering if you need a pair (or two) of them in the first place. But if you just happened to accidentally trip into this article after watching a cat trying on a pair of compression stockings video, which ultimately unleashed your curiosity about compression socks then read on. As a wise cat once said, you can never learn too much about compression socks.
Rapidly moving on to…
6. What are the symptoms of Venous Reflux Disease:
- Leg pain, aching, tired or weak legs, especially after long periods of standing or sitting
- Varicose veins
- Burning or itching of the skin
- Swollen legs and/or swollen ankles
- Color and texture changes of the skin
- Open wounds (skin ulcers)
- Recurrent thrombophlebitis (blood clots in the varicose veins)
- Spontaneous hemorrhage when the skin gets too thin and the vessel erodes through the skin
Now you know how venous reflux can significantly impact a person’s lifestyle, especially when the person’s job requires extended standing or sitting like nurses, security guards or athletes, especially runners.
Okay, before I drive us off to the universe of medical science in a rocket the shape and color of a pink compression sock, let’s come back to earth.
6. How do compression socks/stockings save the day?
Let’s look at the benefits of wearing compression socks and who are they good for.
- Wearing compression socks help in resisting the gravitational effect to prevent sagging of the lower calves.
- The pressure applied to the lower calves by wearing compression socks/stockings is also equivalent to the effect of having your calves massaged. It can relieve the blood pressure of the lower limbs, which effectively eliminate edema and reduce soreness/swelling of the legs.
- Bedridden patients are recommended to wear compression socks to prevent deep vein thrombosis of the lower limbs. It also accelerates wound healing after various operations and restores functions of the lower extremity, especially after a venous surgery.
- It helps eliminate lower limb edema for pregnant women during the third trimester and prevent varicose vein thrombosis of lower limbs after delivery.
- It can reduce the discomfort of lower limbs for heavy manual labor that requires extended standing and sitting hours.
- It’s great for athletes and sports enthusiasts simply because the use of compression socks during training can help the skeletal-muscle pump, increase deep venous velocity and decrease blood pooling in the calf veins and alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness.
- People who have obesity are also recommended to use compression socks regularly to promote better blood circulation due to high levels of blood cholesterol and blood lipids, increased blood viscosity and excessive weight. All of those make it difficult for the venous blood to flow back to the heart, leading to venous diseases of the lower limbs.
- Just when you thought it has covered all basis, it is also great at preventing and treating the Economy Class Syndrome for all the flight passengers out there.
- Other than its effectiveness in eliminating the swelling and soreness caused by varicose veins and venous blood reflux disorders in the lower limbs, it also heals the ulcerative skin that darkens and hardens over time and restores the tortuous veins with lighter tonicity.
Now, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Does wearing compression socks cause harm to the human body?
There are a few rumors about compression socks spreading on the internet. We will name them the “Compression Socks Myths” and debunk them one by one.
1. Can wearing compression socks or stockings achieve slimming results on the legs?
One of the biggest myths to debunk about wearing compression socks/stocking is can it achieve the most wanted slimming results on the legs for millions of girls out there? It is crazy on the internet! If you are one of those girls that believe in the rumors then you should know that compression socks of inferior quality are more harmful to health than you could imagine. It’s just bad. Like, BAD.
The pressure strength of regular compression socks on the thighs is already low so it has even less effect on slimming legs. The so-called slimming compression socks and stockings that are promoted on the internet are still performing high pressure around the thighs to achieve the purpose of leg slimming. This can affect the lower extremity blood supply, causing severe blood circulation disorders and oppressive effects on the lower body. Bad!
In order for the “black-hearted” manufacturers to reduce their cost to the lowest, yarns and cotton of inferior quality are commonly used by them. These poor materials can cause skin diseases and gynecological diseases. Worst come to worst, it can cause infertility. Bad!
So, first of all, do not believe in these crazy speculations and rumors! Compression socks and stockings can effectively help to eliminate edema for the legs, which can achieve the results of slimmer legs in the eye in best-case scenarios but the rumors of wearing compression socks or stockings can burn fat while you sleep is absolute crap.
Second of all, make sure you purchase good quality compression socks/stockings through the right and reliable channels. No one wants to be the one that visits the gynecology department because of the cheap compression socks/stockings she bought for $5.
2. Can you wear compression socks to bed?
This is a commonly asked question or myth as we like to call it. So, can you actually wear compression socks to bed? The answer is a huge, fat, straight-forward NO.
While compression socks are one of the best medical devices to improve blood circulation for the lower legs without having to go through surgery, it is not recommended at all to wear them to bed or 24 hours a day. In fact, wearing compression socks for an extended period of time is not conducive to blood circulation in the legs. There will be slight swelling on the lower limbs and even causing the occurrence of superficial blood vessels.
Compression socks are usually worn for 8 hours a day and should be taken off while sleeping. You see, the cause of varicose veins is because of the pressure of the lower limbs caused by long hours of standing by the person. When the person lies down, the legs and the heart are at the same horizontal levels, so there is no need to sleep with the socks on. Wearing them to sleep will have an adverse effect, which may hinder the normal circulation of blood and cause discomfort to the whole body, such as rapid heartbeat and dyspnea (difficulty in breathing).
If you are already in the habit of wearing compression to sleep, break those chains now. If you were planning to start doing so, thank you Google for directing you to this article because it had just saved you from doing harm to your precious little body.
3. What happens if you wear compression socks for extensive hours?
While wearing compression socks has great benefits, having them wrapping your lower legs with that amount of pressure applied for an extensive period of time that’s longer than recommended is no fun to your body too. And here is why.
If compression socks are overused on a daily basis, you are basically completely relying on an external tool to handle the support work of your lower limbs. Your muscles will slowly go into hibernation mode then become “lazy” and stop functioning the way they should. Over time, your “resting” muscles and ligaments will lose their strength and the knee and ankle joints will become highly vulnerable when you stop wearing compression socks as a result.
Secondly, it can cause stress on the skin as compression socks are thick and tight. Hence, prolonged wearing of them can easily affect skin metabolism and cause skin diseases.
Be responsible for your body by recognizing the benefits of wearing compression socks and the harms it can cause your body by over-wearing them. Taking them off regularly even for just a few minutes every 2 hours to let your skin breaths is not too much of a hassle at all.
Think of compression socks like the vitamins you consume on a daily basis. A healthy dose of them every day helps to boost your immune system and lead you to a greater health condition but constantly popping them like gummy bears will have their side effects too. (Look at this poor guy on the left).
If you made it this far into the article, congratulations, you have just earned yourself a brownie point! It also means the person writing this article (me) is not doing such a bad job at all (YAY!).
By now, you should know so much better about compression socks. But hold onto the ride for just a while longer before you leave the page to get yourself a pair of them should you think you need them. There are a few more things you should know before you do so.
As mentioned above, compression socks come in different pressure levels. It’s important that you know what level of compression suits you the best because the wrong compression levels could be bad for your health. Too low of the compression level will not have any effect on the treatment you were looking for; too high of the compression level may cause severe blood circulation disruption on the lower limbs if your health condition is not in the state that requires that amount of pressure wrapped around your legs. It’s critical to choose the right compression level that suits your needs and your health condition.
Compression Level Guide
The compression levels are the amount of pressure applied to your legs and are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The larger the numbers, the higher the compression.
8-15 mmHg- MILD
- Provides relief and minimized tired and achy legs
- Prevents fatigued legs from long periods of sitting or standing
- Helps relieve minor swelling of feet, ankles, and legs
- Helps prevent the formation of varicose and spider veins during pregnancy
- Helps maintain healthy, energized legs
15-20 mmHg- MEDIUM
**(We recommend this level of compression if you are trying it for the first time).
- For the prevention and relief of minor to moderate varicose and spider veins
- Helps relieve tired, aching legs, and minor swelling of feet, ankles, and legs
- Helps prevent varicose veins and spider veins during pregnancy
- Helps prevent deep vein thrombosis, also known as Economy Class Syndrome as mentioned above
- Used in post-sclerotherapy treatment to help prevent the reappearance of varicose veins and spider veins
- Ideal compression level used for those traveling long distances
**Sclerotherapy is the treatment of varicose blood vessels by the injection of an irritant which causes inflammation, coagulation of blood, and narrowing of the blood vessel wall.
20-30 mmHg- FIRM
- Helps prevent and relieve moderate to severe varicose veins (also during pregnancy)
- For post-surgical and post-sclerotherapy treatment to help prevent the reappearance of varicose and spider veins
- Helps in the treatment of moderate to severe edema or lymphatic edema
- Helps with the management of active ulcers and manifestations of post-thrombotic syndromes
- Helps relieve superficial thrombophlebitis
- Helps prevent Orthostatic Hypotension (or Postural Hypotension)
- Helps prevent deep vein thrombosis, also known as Economy Class Syndrome
**Superficial thrombophlebitis is an inflammatory condition of the veins due to a blood clot just below the surface of the skin. It usually occurs in the legs, but it can occasionally occur in the arms and neck.
**Orthostatic Hypotension (or Postural Hypotension) is a drop in blood pressure upon standing.
30-40 mmHg- EXTRA FIRM
- Helps prevent and relieve severe varicose veins
- Used in the treatment of severe edema and lymphedema
- Used in post-surgical and post-sclerotherapy treatment to help prevent the reappearance of varicose and spider veins
- Helps reduce symptoms of Orthostatic Hypotension (or Postural Hypotension)
- For the management of Venous Ulcers and manifestations of Post-Thrombotic Syndrome
- Prevent deep vein thrombosis, also known as Economy Class Syndrome
40-50 mmHg- RX
40-50 mmHg compression socks are generally indicated for more serious Venous Diseases such as:
- Acute leg/Ankle swelling
- Varicose veins
- Chronic vein insufficiency
- Deep vein thrombosis
**Compression socks with this level of compression pressure should only be worn if prescribed by a doctor. Your doctor might refer to this level as Class III.
Last but not least, people that are diagnosed with diseases below SHOULD NOT wear compression socks or stockings without authorization of a doctor:
- Skin Diseases
- Acute Neurological Disorders
- Cardiogenic Edema
- Chronic Arterial Insufficiency
- Primary Osteoarthritis
Although compression socks are medical devices that are proven to treat severe Venous Reflux Disease and other diseases, they play very important roles in the lives of millions of people in the world on a daily basis.
Whether you’re a nurse, a policeman, a security guard, an athlete, an office worker, a frequent traveler, a student, a mother; slim, regular, obese, pregnant, retired. Chances are, at the end of the day, a pair of compression socks chosen wisely can really benefit your health in the long run. If you are really unsure or concern about which compression level you should go for, consult a doctor. Don’t risk the risk.
Finally, we are at the very end of the article. The ultimate question of this article is, are compression socks good or bad?
The truth is, anything good when applied wrongly or applied to the wrong person can always lead to a bad outcome. Say you apply super moisturizing face cream that treats extreme dehydration on a person’s face with extremely oily skin conditions. Within an hour, that person’s face will be dripping so much oil you can fry chicken with it!
Pardon the silly metaphor, here’s a medical-related one. Calcium supplement is great for those who need them but for someone with heart disease, it can trigger a heart attack. You get what I mean. So make sure to take notes of what was mentioned above. From what do they do, who benefits from them, who shouldn’t wear them to the different compression support levels they come with.
Hopefully, this article is able to provide you with the information you were looking for about compression socks and stockings that can ultimately assist you in choosing the right pair for you.