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What do compression socks and stockings do?

Last Modified: August 25, 2023

Family Medicine, Sports & Exercise, Diseases & Disorders

Compression socks

This post was written by Ashley M. Bojrab, DPM, FACFAS, ABPM, CWS, PPG – Podiatry.

Have you ever seen someone wearing compression socks or stockings and wondered what they were for? Obviously, these clothing items aren’t exactly a strong fashion statement, but they must have some benefit, right? They absolutely do! These medical stockings are a great option to promote better circulation and provide relief for many conditions. In fact, these knee-high accessories have actually been gaining popularity as we discover the many health benefits they can offer.

How do compression socks and stockings benefit the body?

Compression socks and stockings are designed to have a graduated pressure against the legs, with the highest pressure at the ankle and decreasing pressure as it moves up the leg. This helps facilitate blood flow movement and velocity to prevent the pooling of blood in the legs, which can lead to increased risk of blood clots in the leg, called deep vein thrombosis or DVT.

These socks and stockings also help prevent varicose veins and edema in the lower extremities by supporting healthy circulation–helping blood move more efficiently–and helps the veins work against gravity to get the blood back to the heart. If blood pools in the lower extremities due to inactivity, this can cause the formation of a blood clot, which can be fatal.

Who would benefit from compression socks or stockings?

There are several groups believed to benefit from these accessories, including:

  • Travelers – When people take long road trips or long flights, the prolonged immobility can increase the risk for a blood clot because the blood is not moving and pools in the lower extremities. Compression socks would help return the blood back to the heart.
  • Pregnant women – Women who are expecting can experience increased pressure to their veins because of the extra fluid in the body, causing swelling and discomfort. Compression stockings help alleviate the swelling and discomfort.
  • Athletes or those working long work on their feet – Being active or spending a lot of time on your feet can cause increased leg fatigue, and compression socks can help promote better blood flow and decrease leg fatigue.
  • Those with varicose veins or edema – Varicose veins are enlarged, twisted veins that often protrude through the skin. They can cause discomfort and swelling.  Compression stockings are helpful in managing these unpleasant symptoms.
  • Post-surgery or following an injury – Immobility can cause serious issues for people, so if you are on bed rest, not able to move often or in the recovery process, compression socks or stockings should be worn.  

How do you choose the correct compression level?

Compression stockings come in different grades, which refers to the amounts of pressure applied to the legs, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The appropriate level of pressure depends on the reason for wearing the stockings. Because each use case and each patient is different, it’s important to consult with a medical provider or your podiatrist to determine the pressure that would be most beneficial to you.

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