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What Level of Compression Socks Do I Need? (mmHG Guide!)

person using measuring tape to measure length of leg

Compression socks may look like regular stockings, but they are not. Compression hosiery exerts continuous pressure on your limbs. That’s why they are sometimes also known as pressure socks. Compression wear is efficient in promoting blood flow, preventing swollen feet, controlling vein diseases, and reduce the symptoms of edema.

legs with and without pressure

Gravity pulls down everything towards the center of the earth. This means that your body fluids, blood, and even lymph fluid experience a constant gravitational pull downwards. Although our circulatory system can pump nutrient-rich oxygenated blood in all the body parts equally; however, at times, it is not enough. Other than gravity, lack of movement, venous insufficiency, clotting, varicose veins, and standing or sitting in a similar position for a long time can result in the pooling of the blood in lower extremities. 

Compression socks are your most reliable defense against these adverse effects of gravity. They usually use a weave of durable elastic material mixed with fabric to produce compression on the veins, reducing their diameter. This increases the pressure of the fluid inside them and prevents accumulation.

 What are the levels?

runner stretching

As explained earlier, support garments all have one common purpose; to apply constant regulated pressure on the specific body part of the wearer. The compression is in a graduated from, meaning it slowly increases from bottom to top. In a single piece of garment, the ankle region will have the maximum compression while the knee region (in case of knee-high socks) will experience the minimum compression.

chart for showing variation in pressure on leg

Furthermore, the amount of compression of a sock is not arbitrary; instead, it falls in a specific category known as compression levels. These levels are the classified ranges of pressure that a piece of compression sock exerts.

Despite a wide range of brands available in the market today, the classification of compression stockings has standard units of mm Hg (millimeters of mercury). 1 mm Hg is roughly equal to 133 Pascal of pressure. 

Which compression levels are best suited for you?

white garments

The idea behind the classification of compression socks in various classes or compression levels is that each individual can find the compression range best suitable for his particular condition. Different leg conditions, edema stages, and 

You usually do not require any doctor’s prescription to buy these. However, for a very high compression range, you may want to consult your doctor and have a prescription with you when buying them. Some drug stores do not sell very high compression socks without written medical advice.

Light compression 8 to 15 mm Hg

what does it mean?

The light compression range of 8 to 15 mm Hg is the first and the lightest of all the levels available commercially. This compression is so little that the wearer barely feels them. Garments falling in this range can have several benefits for the wearer. Light compression is:

  • Ideal for individuals who experience minor swelling or edema symptoms occasionally.
  • Individuals who want to prevent the feeling of soreness, pain, achiness, and fatigue from long periods of sitting or sitting at work or traveling
  • People who do not have any specific leg condition or disease but want to protect their feet and ankles from minor injuries
  • Pregnant mothers during the initial stages of their pregnancy can also use light compression socks to improve blood flow through the legs and prevent varicose veins and other venous disorders.
  • For people who want to stay fit and keep themselves energized
 types of garment for legs

 Mild – 15 to 20 mm Hg

does it matter?

The mild compression range starts from 15 mm Hg and extends to about 20 mm Hg. It is the shortest of the compression ranges. The gentle compression range is a fantastic choice for everyday use. Support garments range is also sometimes known as ‘over the counter’ socks. It is ideal for:

  • Patients suffering from minor or moderate spider veins, varicose veins, or are prone to them.
  • Individuals who face minor to moderate swelling and edema symptoms
  • Reducing the risks of DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis and ECS or Economy Class Syndrome 
  • Pregnant mothers who suspect symptoms of venous insufficiency and varicose veins
  • People who prefer a more gentle squeeze on their legs and feel uncomfortable wearing moderate or high-compression stockings.
  • Long-distance travelers who experience edema, swollen legs, and discomfort during commuting via road or by air for long hours
  • Many athletes, runners, and workout enthusiasts also prefer mild compression range.  

 Moderate – 20 to 30 mm Hg

Medium compression socks exert a compression of 20 to 30 mm Hg on the wearer’s limbs. This range is the most common and most readily available range of compression stockings. The range is also known as class-I medical-grade garments. However, you do not need any doctor’s prescription to get a pair. Moderate compression is perfect for:

  • Patients of moderate to severe edema, swollen feet, and ankles.
  • Suitable to control the progression of varicose veins, DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), spider veins,
  • Individuals recovering from surgery, medical procedure or post-sclerotherapy treatment
  • Nurses, emergency crew, medical staff, and doctors who endure strenuous long shifts
  • Pregnant mothers who are fighting leg conditions like varicose veins, spider veins or lymphedema
  • People who recently underwent treatment for ulcers, thrombophlebitis, post-thrombotic syndrome and are prone to such conditions in the future as well
  • Gymnasts and some football players also prefer moderate compression for enhanced muscle performance.

 High compression 30 to 40 mm Hg

  reinforced heel

High compression or medical grade class-ll support garments offer compression of 30 to 40 mm Hg. Some clinics refer to this range as firm compression. These high compressions can be useful for:

  • Severe cases of edema, varicose veins, DVT, spider veins, and progressing lymphedema.
  • Patients of chronic orthostatic hypotension and rapidly increasing venous insufficiencies in legs.
  • Rarely for post-surgical recovery or treatment of active ulcer manifestations.
  • Prevent the reappearance of ulcers, varicose veins, and clotting after surgery.

Very High – 40 to 50 mm Hg

Very high compression or medical grade class-III support garments offer compression of 40 to 50 mm Hg. You can only buy these with a doctor’s prescription and use them under rare circumstances. Remember that 50 mm Hg is a firm compression and can be detrimental to use if not used with professional medical advice. They can be helpful in wound management and some severe cases of lymphedema.

What other factors that you should consider?

measurement chart

These come in a variety of lengths, shapes, sizes, and compression levels. As explained earlier, compression levels are the most significant factor that comes in play when you are choosing a pair; however, there are some other things you need to keep on the mind as well. 

  • Correct size

    Compression hosiery works on the mechanical principle of pressure application. For the gradient pressure to work correctly, the size of the stockings must be precise. If you are practicing a larger or smaller size, the pressure gradient will probably not develop appropriately, and the socks will lose their effectiveness.

    funny meme about correct size

    It is best that you take measurements of the leg, and take a good look at the size chart before ordering. If you think the size is doesn’t fit properly, you can exchange the pair accordingly.

  • Suitable length

    These are available in knee-high, thigh-high, and pantyhose or waist-high lengths. These lengths must be kept in mind when you are ordering a pair. Each length covers a particular area of your limb and can be useful according to your attire, leg condition, and personal likeness. Some people prefer pantyhose or stockings with waist attachments, and others are more comfortable in knee-highs. Thigh-highs are great for giving you coverage and can protect you from cold as well as minor cuts.

    funny meme, garments talking
  • Preferred shape or configuration

    Another exciting yet essential choice is the way of the stockings. Gradient pressure socks are available in toeless or open-end style, sleeves form, and regular (closed-toe) socks. Compression sleeves are useful for both arms and legs and do not have the foot part. Closed-end socks are regular socks that cover the entire foot while the toeless or open-toe socks keep your toes uncovered.

    funny meme about my name is socky

    Open-toe socks come in handy if you sweat on your toe fingers or have some skin conditions like corns or warts. The same is the case with compression sleeves. If it is summertime and you are on vacation, then you should go with open-toe or compression sleeves and enjoy the summers in casual sandals or flip-flops.

    pressure garments for legs

    Some modern designs include a zipper for comfortable wearing of the socks. The zipped stockings usually have a zip at the side of the calf region and can help in putting the socks on and off.

mismatch colored garments

Compression levels can determine the level of compression a sock can provide. It is a healthy habit to choose the socks at an appropriate level according to your condition, symptoms, and severity of the disease. If you still have any questions about the level of compression you need, you can always consult your physician form professional medical advice. 

people with different colored garments for legs