How Tight Should Compression Socks Be? Compression socks are a special type of garment. They are designed to prevent or reduce the symptoms of disorders in a person’s veins. Physicians often recommend the socks for medical purposes. Some people also wear them for cosmetic reasons, mostly to reduce the visibility of varicose veins.
What are Compression Socks?
A compression sock is an elastic garment that looks similar to a trouser socks or regular pantyhose, but it fits tighter than both. These socks compress a person’s feet, ankles and lower legs.
The socks force blood to circulate through narrower pathways. They compress a person’s surface veins. Arteries and muscles are also slightly compressed. This causes more of the blood to flow to a person’s heart. As a result, a smaller amount of blood collects below the ankles.
Gradient socks and anti-embolism socks are the two varieties of compression garments. Gradient socks are designed for increased blood flow in a person’s veins. They fit tightly at the ankle and are made to gradually loosen the higher they go up a person’s leg.
Gradient socks can help patients with various health issues, such as the following:
- Blood clots
- Pain from walking or sitting for long periods
- Poor blood circulation
Anti-Embolism Socks are similar to gradient socks. However, anti-embolism socks are most often prescribed to patients who are bedridden. Many of these patients are immobile or else they are recovering from surgery. Overall, anti-embolism socks are designed to lower the risk of developing blood clots in people with limited mobility.
Medicinal Uses for Compression Stockings and Socks
In many cases, compression hosiery and socks are recommended for the treatment of venous disorders. Such disorders include:
To treat the above conditions, the socks are designed to reduce the diameter of a person’s distended veins. By doing so, venous blood flow is increased, which improves valve effectiveness.
The socks also provide the following medical benefits:
- Decreases venous pressure
- Helps prevent venous stasis
- Helps prevent the impairment of venous walls
- Relieves pressure on aching legs
- Relieves pressure on swollen or heavy legs
How Tight Should Compression Socks Be?
The socks come in various levels of pressure. The pressure level is measured in mmHg. Your compression socks should fit snugly. However, if you experience any of the following, you should try a different compression level:
- You have pain in the legs, feet or ankles.
- Your skin feels pinched by the socks.
- You experience numbness in your legs or feet.
- Your skin becomes discolored.
As a general rule, if the sock fits painfully tight, then you need to choose a different size.
Choosing the Right Sock
You should choose a compression level depending on what you want to use your socks for. Millimeters of mercury (mmHg) is used to measure pressure, and it’s the same unit of measure used to classify compression socks.
The mildest level for compression is 8-15 mmHg. This pressure level is not recommended to treat any serious disorder of the legs or veins. The 8-15 compression level can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription.
This mild compression level is commonly used for the following:
- Helps relieve tired legs in patients who sit or stand for long periods
- Relieves minor swelling in legs, feet and ankles
- Helps relieves aches and pains in patients who have heavy or tired legs
- Helps prevent spider veins and varicose veins in pregnant women
The next pressure level is 15-20 mmHg. This level is considered moderate, and it’s used to treat the same issues that the mildest level socks are used for. However, this moderate level can also treat slightly more severe problems related to leg fatigue, aches and pains.
The moderate sock category is also considered the ideal pressure for treating leg issues in people who travel long distances. For instance, pilots and flight attendants might choose moderate level compression hosiery or socks. They wear them to prevent blood clots that form as a result of sitting or standing for extended periods of time.
The next compression range is 20-30 mmHg. This compression level can help treat or prevent the following conditions:
- Moderate to severe varicose veins
- Moderate to severe lymphatic edema
- Post-thrombotic syndrome
- Orthostatic hypotension
- Superficial thrombophlebitis
The next compression level is 30-40 mmHg. This compression level is used to treat severe cases of varicose veins, lymphedema and edema. Some patients choose this category to treat venous ulcers.
The last category of compression is 40-50 mmHg, and it is classified as extra firm. This last category is generally only used to treat serious venous conditions. For instance, some patients wear this level of compression sock to treat acute swelling in the legs or ankles. Chronic vein insufficiency and DVT are also treated with this extra firm sock. This sock is generally purchased with a prescription from a physician.
There are some rules of thumb to consider when choosing a compression level. For instance, a mild level compression with lower mmHg numbers is good for people who simply want to reduce leg pain or stay comfy on days when they walk a lot. To treat or prevent a condition like Deep Vein Thrombosis, you will need a tighter sock that applies more pressure.
Purchase the Right Compression Level
If your physician recommends a compression garment, he or she will advise on the size and tightness. The physician will measure your ankle, calf and thigh. The distance from your thigh or knee to the ground will also be measured depending on the length of sock you need. Or, in some cases the staff at the medical supply store will measure your leg instead of the doctor.
However, some people choose to purchase the socks on their own without a prescription. For instance, some athletes believe compression socks lessen pain during athletic performance. Other people purchase the socks over-the-counter without a prescription for cosmetic reasons, such as improving the look of varicose veins.
In such cases, you can buy low pressure socks at a drugstore. If you buy your compression socks over-the-counter, ask a pharmacist for help with sizing.
Sock vs. Stocking
You have several options. You may purchase a knee-high sock that stops below your knees. They are designed to stop below the place where your knees bend.
Or, you could choose a thigh-high stocking that covers the entire leg. This stocking stops at the top of the thigh. Such stockings are made to improve blood circulation in your entire leg.
Your third option is pantyhose. These stockings are worn waist-high. The men’s version looks like a leotard. These stockings cover the legs and a portion of the torso. The design is made to draw swelling out of the legs.
When choosing between waist-high and thigh-high stockings, make the decision based on what you need the compression for. For instance, if you’re purchasing compression garments for swelling only in your ankles, then a knee high sock is probably what you want. However, if you need a compression garment for swelling located on the knee or higher, then you should choose a thigh-high or knee-high compression stocking or pantyhose.
How to Wear Compression Garments
One easy way to pull on a compression stocking is to unroll it over your foot first, just as you do when you put on socks. Then, you should unroll the bunched portion slowly over the ankle and the leg. Be careful not to tear the material or snag it on your jewelry. A hole or tear in a compression stocking or sock will, in most cases, mean that you must replace the garment.
If you have compression stockings and are unable to put them on yourself, you could purchase a stocking donner. This donner makes it easier to pull on socks and pantyhose for people with limited hand skills.
Always wear your socks or stockings just as your doctor has prescribed. Some physicians recommend that a patient put on stockings or socks early in the morning. In most cases, the physician will recommend that the socks be worn until bedtime. In other cases, a patient may have to wear the stockings both daytime and nighttime.
Challenges of Wearing Compression Garments
Some people do not like compression garments because they struggle to put them on. This creates frustration, and it causes some people to give up on wearing compression hosiery. However, if you choose the right size, compression level and brand, you can find a sock or stocking that works for you.
Swelling can occur while a compression garment is not being worn. When the person goes back to pull on the compression garment, the socks or pantyhose may be difficult to pull on over swollen ankles or legs. In such cases, try lying down with your feet up. Keeping your feet elevated could reduce swelling. Or, you could wear a compression bandage to reduce swelling.
Wearing compression garments might be a challenge for people who have particular medical conditions. For instance, some older people have a condition called Senile Purpura. This condition is generally benign and not considered a medical emergency. Senile Purpura is a term used to describe easy bruising in older adults.
Senile Purpura develops because a person’s skin and vessels become fragile as a person ages. This makes it much easier for the skin to bruise after only minor bumps or trauma to the person’s skin.
If a person has senile purpura and wears compression socks, small blood vessels can bleed under the skin. Though this is not considered a serious condition, such a problem should still be monitored by a physician.
Benefits of Knee-high Compression Socks
Knee-high socks provide many health benefits. Most importantly, the socks are used to help increase blood circulation. Some patients who are prone to blood clots wear them to prevent clots from forming. They can also be worn to treat ulcers in a person’s lower legs.
We sell knee-high socks with a compression level of 20-30 mmHG. Our socks are 35% spandex and 65% nylon. The stretchy materials used to make our socks are flexible enough to provide comfort.