Nursing Compression Socks – Complete Guide (with Pictures!)

illustrated picture showing a nurse in blue uniform performing different duties in hospital, patient care,  emergency room, medication, and consultation to help patients learn how thigh or knee high graduated clothing can help them

Compression socks and stockings are recommended by physicians for various individuals, even nurses, as they help improve blood circulation. Therefore, this article will explain the role, benefits, and types of compression socks for nurses.

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Background on the Nursing Profession

History

picture of Florence Nightingale treating injured soldiers of the Crimean war

Nursing is one of the most timeless and admirable professions throughout history. The origin of the nursing profession is older than the 19th century and had gained worldwide recognition through the efforts of Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale was an English nurse and social reformer and is remembered as the founder of modern nursing. She was employed in the Crimean war (which was fought between 1853 and 1856) and was the first to define and organize the nursing profession, with the establishment of nursing schools, as well as provide basic principles for nursing and healthcare.

Modern Nursing

picture of medical staff in green uniform with stethoscope and using tablet in hand while wearing graduated knee high clothing to help improve blood circulation

Nursing has expanded beyond caring for injured soldiers on the war grounds and battle fields to modern clinics, hospitals, and healthcare facilities. The current nursing profession includes additional duties and tasks, such as patient care, medicine administration, diet plan adherence, recording vital readings, and tracking the progress of recovery (from disease or accident).

In some countries, nurses are even allowed to prescribe and administer medication after specific advanced certification. Nurses can assist the physicians by accurate reporting of vitals and change in patient’s symptoms.

Challenges Faced by Nurses

Nursing involves caring for patients of any age, gender, and nationality. Nurses have to assess a patient’s needs according to their respective fields; for instance, nurses working in cancer hospitals have a different scope of work as compared to the ones working in burn treatment centers. Similarly, nurses working in emergency, trauma centers, skincare units, imaging centers, laboratories, clinics, and other health care facilities have.

However, in almost all fields, nurses will have to face several physical, mental, and emotional challenges. These include:

1. Long working hours

Work shifts can last up to 12 hours or more. These long shifts can have severe short and long term effects on the human body, including lower concentration, fatigue, stress, and a disturbed sleep cycle.

2. Occupational hazards

picture showing various ways by which a medical worker is harmed by being continuously exposed to certain elements in hospital

Nurses are exposed to germs, viruses, and contaminated or hazardous fluids and materials, as well as having to handle needles, sharp edges tools, and contaminated surgical equipment, which all place risk unto their health.

3. Staff Shortage

Hospitals and healthcare facilities can face shortages of nursing staff, which puts more work burden onto the available staff.

4. Fatigue and Exhaustion

hospital corridor with various healthcare providers wearing knee high hoses

Nurses are likely to experience high levels of fatigue and exhaustion, and are at risk of swollen feet and ankles, due to long hours of standing, sitting, and physical exertion.

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Why Nurses may be Prone to Swelling in Feet or Legs

How Swelling can Occur

painful edema feet

In a healthcare environment, especially in trauma and emergency units of hospitals, nurses have to face a fast pace of work. This can have an effect on their blood circulation.

Various duties, including working on a report, checking vitals, bending over to change the medical aids of a patient, and moving constantly through corridors, can affect. When blood from the legs do not effectively return to the heart, an uncomfortable or painful feeling can develop in the legs, or feet or ankles may swell up.

Symptoms of Swelling

edema feet

Prolonged swelling of the feet and ankles might be a symptom of some other underlying health issue, such as edema, and should be checked by a medical professional.

Symptoms of swelling include:

  • Heaviness and puffiness in toes, feet, ankles or legs
  • Size of lower limbs can be visibly seen to have expanded
  • Fluids start filling the feet or ankles
  • Throbbing

Treatments for Swelling

 Several ways to treat swelling include:

1. Elevating the Lower Body

picture of a man with feet elevated,placed on pillows for relieving swollen feet

Elevating the lower body is a temporary way to reduce puffiness and swelling in the feet by draining the accumulated fluids in the feet towards the core of the body.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals can do this activity during breaks or end of shifts to reduce swelling.

2. Soaking Feet in Epsom Salt

After a long nursing shift, soaking swollen feet into warm water mixed with Epsom salt can help. Epsom salt has high concentrations of magnesium sulfate which can help blood circulation in the feet.

picture of a nurse trying to wear white compression socks

3. Using Compression Socks

The easiest and one of the most effective treatments for swollen feet and ankles is by wearing compression socks.

These socks apply a certain amount of pressure to the feet and ankles which can even prevent fluid accumulation in the lower limbs. These can be bought online or from a local pharmacy.

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Compression Socks for Nurses

The durable, elastic material used in compression socks helps apply pressure to the limbs. This pressure reduces the diameter of veins which, in turn, increases the blood pressure through them, allowing blood to not accumulate in the feet.

Benefits of Compression Socks

Compression socks can be lifesavers for nurses; they can prevent or reduce stiffness, soreness, and swelling in the lower extremities.
Various benefits to wearing compression socks include the following:

1. Prevents Fatigue, Clotting, and Varicose Veins

illustration showing feet with varicose veins and feet with compression socks on, spider veins in nurse feet

Knee-high compression socks, or stockings are notable for minimizing leg fatigue and preventing soreness of feet and ankles. They can prevent conditions like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), varicose veins, lymphatic disorders, and clotting.

2. Minimizes Micro-tears in Muscles

Nurses may be prone to muscle tears in legs or feet; compression socks can minimize the risk of such muscle and tissue damage occurring from long shifts.

3. Material Composition Provides Comfort

picture showing material types with which compression socks can be made, nylon compression socks, spandex compression socks, polyester compression socks, wool compression socks, bamboo compression socks, cotton compression socks

The material composition of compression socks can be of importance for the nurses. Since the nature of the job requires an extra degree of cleanliness, it is necessary to wear sterile clothing, including socks. Most materials used for compression socks include polyester, nylon, spandex, elastic fibers, cotton, and wool. 

Carrying out work duties can cause a build-up of sweat in socks if they are made of material that is not breathable or have a moisture-wicking feature; compression socks are available with these features, which would allow nurses to go about their day comfortably.

4. Meets Different Needs as Various Compression Levels and Sizes are Available

Male nurses may prefer ankle-high, calf-high, or knee-high socks, while female nurses may prefer the same, as well as thigh-high stockings. Compression socks, or stockings, are available in a wide range of lengths and sizes, meeting these needs for nurses.

Compression socks, or stockings, also come in various compression levels, in which its pressure is measured in ‘millimeters of mercury (mmHg)’, which can help for various needs, depending on the compression level used. The best compression level for daily wear is 8-15 mmHg and 15-20 mmHg, however, in case of symptoms of edema and swollen feet, 20-30 mmHg may be preferred.

Refer to the table below for a more detailed compression therapy guide:

picture of comparison chart of different sizes of compression stockings

Types of Compression Socks

picture of different types of graduated thigh or knee high compression socks for legs
picture of a leg wearing blue compression socks to show percentage of graduated compression

There are various kinds of compression garments available, such as:

  • Graduated Compression Socks – Designed for clinical purposes, in which compression gradually declines upwards.
  • Anti-embolism Socks – Designed for clinical purposes and aimed for individuals with restricted movement.
  • Support Socks – Designed for non-medical purposes and has an equally distributed compression.
  • Compression Hose – Provides extra coverage on the thighs.
  • Compression Sleeves – Covers the majority of the calf and stops above the ankle, leaving the foot exposed.

These are all highly effective in treating and reducing the effects of edema, thrombosis, blood clotting, varicose veins, improve lymphatic drainage, and reducing swelling of feet, ankles, and legs. Physicians recommend knee-high compression socks and sleeves for mild swelling as well as for chronic edema patients.

Tips on Wearing Compression Socks

Although male and female nurses may choose different sizes, compression levels, and types of compression socks, the wearing method and technique are almost similar.

  • Knee-high compression socks and compression sleeves can be worn daily at home or when leaving for the hospital or clinic for work.
  • They can be worn while walking, sitting, and during your everyday work routine at the medical center.
  • Compression hosiery is usually taken off during the night while sleeping.
  • They can be worn while working on a night shift, but best to remove them during a break for a nap or resting during a shift.
  • When wearing compression socks, any wrinkles or folds should be smoothed out first.
  • Do not fold the compression socks.

Should all Nurses Wear Compression Socks?

A physician may advise to wear a specific size and length of compression socks depending on one’s health condition, which should be adhered to.

choosing the right graduated socks

With so many benefits to compression socks, it is recommended that nurses should have at least one pair of compression socks, sleeves or stockings so that they can wear them whenever they feel the need to.

Conclusion

picture of a nurse wearing a pair of knee-high white compression socks

Nurses face physical and mental challenges every day and night during their work; hence, are prone to swollen feet and ankles. Compression socks have been clinically proven to improve blood circulation and relieve swollen feet, reduce pain, and soreness, making them a convenient and effective remedy for nurses.

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