compression socks

Why use compression socks?

In FAQs, Foot Facts, Services, Wellness by Alnoor Ladhani, Chiropodist

Have you heard of compression socks?  Do you know what they do?compression socks

Do they make you think of your grandmother?

Compression socks can relieve things like leg pain, cramps, and varicose veins.  People often associate them with older people or as something diabetics often wear.

Did you know they can also help you if you often have to sit or stand for long periods of time, if you are active or sedentary, young or old?

I’ll bet you didn’t know they come in many styles from ultra sheer to super sexy.  Not just for grandmothers anymore!

Today, we’ll be talking about what compression socks are, and how they can help you find relief from many uncomfortable or painful conditions.

What are compression socks and what do they do?

Compression socks are tight stockings that are worn to help increase blood circulation.  They are made from many different kinds of fibre, such as nylon, cotton, spandex, or natural rubber.  They are knit using different blends or thicknesses depending on the intended compression level, and the desired look and feel of the final product.

Compression socks are worn to increase blood flow in your legs.  By putting pressure on your legs, they make veins and blood vessels smaller, causing blood to flow through at a stronger pace and allowing valves to work better.  Basically, it increases the blood pressure in your legs to allow it to get recirculated back up to your heart rather than pooling in your lower legs and feet.

Reasons for prescribing compression socks

There are a lot of symptoms and conditions compression socks can help with:

Diabetes

Diabetes can have a significant affect on your body’s ability to efficiently circulate your blood.  This is why diabetic foot complications are so serious and such a real threat to a diabetic person’s health.  Compression socks are often prescribed to people with diabetes to help increase the blood circulation in their legs.

Venous disorders

There are many disorders that can affect your veins.  Conditions such as deep vein thrombosis causes blood flow to slow down, particularly in your lower extremities (legs and feet), and leads to blood clots.  Chronic peripheral venous insufficiency is another condition that simply means the veins cannot pump deoxygenated blood to the heart.  Varicose veins can lead to phlebitis, which is an inflammation and clotting in a vein.  These are just some of the venous disorders that might be helped by wearing compression socks.

Inactivity

Compression socks can also be helpful when you must be inactive for long periods of time.  For example, they are sometimes used if surgery, injury, illness, or some other condition keeps you in bed or in a chair.  During these long, continuous stretches of inactivity, blood can pool in your legs, and this can cause clots to form as well as just an uncomfortable, achy, heavy feeling in your legs.

People who travel can also develop leg clots due to sitting for long periods of time, such as a long flight in a small airplane seat.  There are a couple of conditions that can be caused by long distance travel:

  • Economy class syndrome (ECS) is a slowing of blood flow through the legs and is caused by gravity, inactivity, and cramped seating.
  • Economy class stroke syndrome happens when a clot is formed during long flights and causes a stroke.  There is a possible connection between a heart defect called patent foramen ovale (PFO) which normally doesn’t cause any harm or noticeable symptoms, but seems to increase the chances of developing Economy class stroke syndrome.

Pregnancy

Sometimes compression socks are prescribed for pregnant women who stand for long hours.

Pregnancy releases hormones that can cause regular blood circulation to slow.  Also, the woman’s expanding uterus can put pressure on the inferior vena cava, which is the major vein that carries blood back to the heart.

Compression socks can help keep the blood pressure high enough in the legs to overcome the effects of the hormones and even the pressure caused by the growing baby belly.

Sports

It is suggested that compression socks or tights can help athletes perform better and recover faster, particularly runners.

There is no conclusive scientific evidence to support this yet, but real-world tests by runners have shown possible improvements, in particular to recovery time after a marathon or a particularly hard workout.

The theory that sportswear manufacturers are basing their claims on makes sense on the surface.

Compression socks improve circulation, which means they help to get deoxygenated blood to flow back through the heart where it is re-oxygenated, which helps muscles perform.

It might also make sense that shorter recovery times could be a result of muscle damage being minimized due to the compression.

However, studies so far have shown mixed results, a fully credible scientific study which includes a control group and a reliable measurement of possible placebo effects is needed to prove this theory one way or the other.

Types and levels of compression

There are different styles of compression socks or stockings.  They come in knee-high, thigh-high, and pantyhose lengths.  Maternity pantyhose and waist-attachment designs are also available.

Compression socks are also made with different “levels” of compression.  Compression is measured by a unit of pressure called a “millimeter of mercury”, which used to be defined as the pressure needed to move mercury one millimetre high.  It is now calculated more precisely with a mathematic equation.  The symbol for millimetres of mercury is mmHg.

Support hose are sold over the counter and come in two compression levels, which are 10 to 15 mmHg and 15 to 20 mmHg.

Prescribed compression socks are only available upon the recommendation of a physician or a medical professional such as a chiropodist/podiatrist.  They also require proper sizing which is done by a trained fitter.  The common compression levels are:

  • 20 to 30 mmHg
  • 30 to 40 mmHg
  • 40 to 50 mmHg
  • 50+ mmHg

It is also possible to get custom stockings with a customized compression level.

If you have any concerns about how your existing health conditions might be affecting circulation to your legs and feet, if you have chronically achy, tired legs and feet, or even if you travel frequently and think compression socks might help you, come see us at Step by Step Professional Family Foot Care.

We can discuss your concerns and provide a credible, professional assessment of your best options, and if compression socks are recommended, we can help you get the right fit, compression level, and style to suit you best.