Compression socks were first known for their medical use, not the other uses like sports and traveling that have more recently been the focus of these helpful garments. Medical compression socks offer benefits that cut across all genders, ages, and occupations. These benefits are at the forefront of putting an end to many venous problems. However, choosing the best medical compression sock for your ailment is key to getting positive results. If you are new to medical socks and want to know how to choose them, read on.
What Are Medical Graded Compression Socks?
Medical grade compression socks, which have been in existence for over a decade, are specially designed for compression therapy. These snug-fitting, flexible socks squeeze your legs gently and come in different strengths and sizes. They also offer more compression around your ankle and are looser as they move upwards towards your calf, knee, or thigh. Although they are medical-grade compression socks, they can be bought over the counter.
These socks work to conservatively improve your blood circulation, reduce pain and swelling in your legs or arms, and reduce the risk of having deep vein thrombosis, among other things. People wear compression socks to be more comfortable, perform better in sports, and prevent some chronic medical conditions.
How Do Medical Grade Compression Socks Work? For venous blood to flow back to the heart, it has to work against gravity. If anything impedes the flow, this blood will pool in the veins of the feet or lower legs, and cause aches, leg fatigue, and swelling. This will increase your risk of having venous clot. Wearing the right medical stockings can help to squeeze your leg tissues and the walls of the veins to make the blood flow back to the heart easier. Apart from blood, the lymph, which helps return fluid from the tissues to the central circulation system, will also flow more easily and reduce tissue swelling.
Medical grade socks are specialized elastic garments that are trending globally. Worn around the leg, these socks compress the limb and offer graduated compression. The highest level of compression of these socks is found around the ankle, and it lessens towards upwards. With this graduated compression, the diameter of distended veins will reduce, and the venous blood flow velocity will increase. Additionally, these socks ensure valve effectiveness, reduce venous pressure, prevent venous stasis, prevent weakening of venous walls, and help relieve heavy and sore legs. Simply put, compression socks help improve blood circulation from the legs to the heart to prevent conditions like tired, aching feet, calf cramps, and shin splints.
If not properly worn, medical socks can exert too much pressure on the skin and become very uncomfortable with movement.
Types of Medical-Grade Compression Stockings.
- Graduated compression socks, and
- Anti-embolism socks.
Graduated Compression Socks
Graduated compression socks offer the highest level of compression at the ankles, and it decreases progressively towards the top of the legs. These socks are designed for patients who are mobile. They also meet some medical specifications in terms of length and strength.
Typically, graduated compression socks require professional fitting. Additionally, there are different features to choose from depending on personal preferences. These features include color, design, open toe or closed toe, and fabric. However, the length of your graduated compression socks has to be chosen according to medical specification.
Here are some medical specifications for the length of your graduated compression socks:
Knee-length graduated compression socks: Knee-length graduated compression socks stop just below the knee. Their major function us to reduce leg swelling caused by fluid buildup in the lower leg. They also help to limit the effects of peripheral edema.
Thigh-length and waist-length graduated compression socks: Thigh-length and waist-length graduated compression socks are very good at reducing blood pooling in the legs. They also help to prevent orthostatic hypotension.
Anti-embolism socks are specially designed to meet the needs of people who are not mobile, especially because they have just had surgery. Just like graduated socks, anti-embolism socks also provide gradient compression. However, they differ in the level of compression they offer. The main goal of using anti-embolism socks is to help decrease the possibility of developing deep vein thrombosis.
Styles of Medical Compression Stockings
Medical socks are no longer those ugly-looking rubber compression hoses we used to see senior citizens wear. Manufacturers of these compression socks have revolutionized the market with different designs and styles to choose from. The essence of making different styles of medical socks is to help with different medical conditions, purposes, and people.
- Open-toe compression socks
- Closed-toe compression socks
- Ankle-high compression socks
- Knee-high compression socks
- Thigh-high compression socks
- Waist-high compression socks
- Panty hose compression socks
- Maternity panty hose compression socks
- Unisex compression socks
Benefits of Wearing Medical Grade Compression Stockings
Compression socks offer a plethora of outstanding benefits. Their benefits make them appealing for use both those from all walks of life.
Here are some of the benefits of wearing medical socks:
- Help boost circulation of fluid in your legs.
- Reduce, and in many cases, put an end to leg swelling.
- Improve the level of lymphatic drainage.
- Help prevent venous ulcers.
- Support the veins.
- Ensure that blood does not pool in your leg veins.
- Reverse venous hypertension.
- Prevent deep vein thrombosis from developing in your legs.
- Reduce the effects of orthostatic hypotension, such as unsteadiness and dizziness when standing.
- Help decrease the pain that is caused by varicose veins.
Medical Conditions that Require Medical Socks
Compression socks are usually prescribed by doctors to deal with several medical issues. Some of the more common conditions are seen below:
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Deep vein thrombosis is the formation of blood clot in the leg. This painful condition can become a very dangerous case of pulmonary embolism if the blood clot travels to your lung. These socks help treat post-thrombotic syndrome and any other complications that may arise after DVT. Apart from relieving the pain, swelling, severe ulcerations, and skin changes that come with this syndrome, medical compression stockings also help ensure the condition does not worsen.
Additionally, compression socks are prescribed for bedridden, post-surgery patients who are at risk of having blood clots form after a surgery. People who sit in one place for too long, especially when traveling, can also benefit from wearing these socks.
Edema: Edema, also known as leg swelling, is caused by any condition that could make the body to retain fluids. Although medical stockings may not treat the underlying condition, they will provide relieve from the painful symptoms that accompany it. Edema is mostly found in the legs because of the pressure from standing constantly. Compression socks can help to ease the pain and heaviness that are associated with edema. Also, they provide comfort while promoting circulation in the legs to help someone stand, walk, and perform daily activities.
Athletes and other people who are prone to leg cramps wear medical socks to increase their comfort and improve their performance during workouts. They also help to speed up their recovery after a workout.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy comes with swelling of both the legs and feet. This is because during pregnancy, there is increase in blood volume that makes the veins work more. Leg discomfort, cramping, aches, and swelling are some of the issues that come with pregnancy.
The veins of a pregnant woman are often more elastic, and can lead to the formation of varicose veins. With medical socks, you can easily prevent the formation of varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis. Also, these socks will help you get some relief from many of the leg discomforts that come with pregnancy.
Varicose veins: Varicose veins occur when there is poor circulation in the legs, symptoms of which are achy and tired legs. If left untreated, varicose veins can become ulcers and skin lesions. Using medical-grade compression socks will help to support the veins by squeezing them gently to restore good blood flow. They do not help to eliminate varicose veins, but help instead to relieve the discomforts the vein disease may cause.
What are the Levels of Compression of Medical Socks?
Generally, medical socks are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Compression stockings are considered to be medical-grade when they are 20-30mmHg and more. Anything below this is just moderate compression, which is recommended for exercise and everyday use.
When and Where to Wear Medical Socks
Medical socks come with prescriptions and are in different levels of compression. These levels are generally lumped into three categories: 15-20mmHg, 20-30mmHg, and 30-40mmHg. After evaluation, your healthcare provider can prescribe the medical socks that will be best for your legs. You will also be taught how to take care of your socks and the easiest ways to wear them and take them off.
The time and place for wearing medical compression socks depends entirely on your medical condition. Patients suffering from symptomatic vein disease need to wear them all day and only take them off when they want to bath. They do not have to wear them when they are in bed, but they should put them on as they get out of bed. Waiting until much later to put on the socks will allow the blood to pool in the feet and lower extremities, thereby worsening the symptoms.
In sports, compression socks are recommended before, during, and after a workout. They help warm your muscles up faster by increasing blood flow before your workout. During your workout, these socks help to stabilize your muscles and improve circulation to prevent shin splints and calf cramps. After exercise, these socks remove lactic acid to aid recovery. This type of use can help maintain your legs by keeping them healthy and supporting them in everyday life after the workout.
As a way of ensuring you keep your legs healthy and prevent venous problems, it is recommended you wear medical socks from time to time. You do not have to wait until you have signs or symptoms of spider veins or other venous issue to start using compression socks.
Who Should Use Compression Socks?
Medical compression stockings are designed to meet the needs of anyone who cares about the health of their legs. There are many factors that can increase the risk of having blood clots, such as:
- Prolonged bed rest
- Use of hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
- Sitting for long periods
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Genetic clotting disorders
- Family history of DVT
You can use compression socks if you have a medical condition that requires them or if you are trying to prevent a medical condition from happening. Both men and women can wear these special socks if they need help promoting circulation in their legs.
However, there are some specific people who need medical grade compression socks to feel better. Some experts state that this set of people should wear these socks as often as possible. They include:
- People who find it hard to leave their bed or cannot move their legs
- People who have just gone through surgery
- People who have or are at risk of having problems with blood circulation, such as DVT, diabetes, and varicose veins
- People who spend a lot of time sitting in one position
- People whose work requires that they stand for very long
- People with leg ulcers
- Pregnant women
Who Should Avoid Wearing Compression Socks?
Wearing compression socks are, for the most part, safe and hardly ever result in any complications when worn smoothly without folds on the legs. However, there are some individuals who should not wear medical socks at all. Such people may end up worsening their condition if they use these socks.
- People with medical conditions that affect skin sensation, for instance, peripheral neuropathy
- People who have history of peripheral arterial bypass grafting
- Those with peripheral artery disease
- People with skin infection
- Those who have dermatitis accompanied by discharge or fragile skin
- Massive swelling of the legs
- People with pulmonary edema caused by congestive heart failure
Each of the conditions mentioned above can be worsened or become critical by wearing medical compression sock. People who have peripheral artery disease, for instance, could worsen the delivery of oxygen in their arteries if the compression socks impair blood flow. More so, for people with sensory problems, like peripheral neuropathy, medical socks may impede circulation because they will not know if the socks are too tight. There are also some skin infections or conditions that wearing socks may worsen by simply covering or pressing on the affected area.
It is important to consult with your health care professional first before using compression socks, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition.
Snug or Tight Fit?
Medical socks, as the name implies, are medical products that should not be worn carelessly. The one thing you must get right when you are buying your compression socks is the size. They must fit perfectly before you can enjoy the most benefit from them. You have to take your shoe size measurement, and the measurement of your calf circumference before choosing your medical grade compression socks. Most manufacturers provide a size chart with both calf and shoe size measurements to help you get the right size for your legs.
Note that if you get the sizing wrong, you will not have the desired quality of compression. Also, wearing compression socks that are too tight will most likely cause more harm than good because blood circulation will not be possible. On the other hand, over-sized medical compression stockings will not stay upright on your leg and may fall to your ankles from time to time. These loose socks will not give you the desired level of compression for your medical condition.
It is best to make sure that your medical socks fit snugly. This is the best way to enjoy the benefits of these socks.
Tips for Putting on Your Medical Grade Compression Sock
Medical socks are quite difficult to put on because they are snug. They can be even harder to put on if you are in severe pain or your leg is very swollen. To make the process of wearing your medical grade compression socks easier, it is better to lie down first, then elevate your feet above your heart level for some minutes. This usually helps to reduce swelling in your ankles and legs significantly. Then you can wear the socks just as easily as you wear your normal pair of socks.
These tips can help you easily put on your medical socks and get the best result from them:
- Make sure you get the proper feet (right and left) to ensure effectiveness.
- Wear your medical socks every day.
- Before wearing the socks, put on rubber gloves to give you a firmer grip on the material.
- If you find it hard to wear your socks all day, try wearing them for a couple of hours every day. Then increase the time you wear them everyday until you get very used to wearing them more often.
- Put on your medical compression stockings first thing every morning.
- If your legs are wet, apply talcum powder or cornstarch to them first.
- Make sure your legs and feet are warm to encourage circulation.
- Watch your weight, as your weight gain or loss may affect your socks’ fit.
- Read the washing instructions that come with your compression socks.
- When you wear your socks, make sure there are no wrinkles on them.
- Do not cut your socks or alter them.
- Do not fold or roll down your socks.
- Take off your socks if you notice numbness, tingling, pain, or discoloration on your toes, feet, ankles, or legs.
Where Can You Get Medical Socks?
There are many options available when it comes to places that sell medical grade compression socks. Some of these options include online stores, pharmacies, and medical supply shops. However, you should talk with your health care provider to know if medical compression stockings are okay for you to wear. If they are, he or she will advise you on the pressure grade to use. Your health care provider may recommend an authorized vendor who can take your measurements and provide compression therapy education.
What Factors Determine the Prices of Medical Compression Stockings?
All compression socks are not made equal. There are a wide variety of these socks with different price tags. The prices could range from $10 to over $100. Why is one pair cheap but the other expensive? What causes the variation in prices?
Prices for compression socks vary based on a couple of factors, such as:
- The brand
- Quality of fabric (this has to do with the smoothness breathability, ability to wick moisture away, softness, etc.)
- Is it a custom fit, sheer, or opaque? (this is for people concerned about fashion)
- Toe design (is it open-toed or closed-toed)
- Strength of compression
- Purpose of the socks (for instance, can it provide relief from leg ulcer?)
- Latex-free or made with latex
If compression socks were prescribed for you by your doctor, your health insurance may cover the cost.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, medical compression socks are worth having. Their benefits are worth every penny you will spend on buying them in most situations. Ensure that you consult with your healthcare provider if you have any medical issue that you think medical grade compression socks can help.