Compression socks or compression stockings are tightly fitting knee-high socks that can help your blood flow. They lightly squeeze your legs, making it easy for blood to return to your heart when the blood is working against gravity. If you have certain health conditions, your doctor may recommend wearing compression socks to help your blood circulate.
When you might need compression socks
Andy Dunn, MD, a family medicine physician at Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, WY, shares some health conditions where compression socks might help:
- Deep vein thrombosis. DVT occurs when a blood clot develops in your leg. The clot could cause pain or swelling and could break loose and move to your lungs, causing a dangerous condition that needs to be treated right away.
- Varicose veins. The valves in your veins don’t work properly with varicose veins, so it’s harder for your blood to recirculate back to your heart.
- Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to experience swelling in your feet and ankles, increasing your infection risk.
- Pregnancy. You have more fluid in your body when you’re pregnant, which can lead to swelling. Plus, the hormonal changes you experience during pregnancy can increase your risk of DVT.
- When recovering from surgery. After surgery, when it’s hard for you to move around, you may have circulation problems, swelling or a higher risk of DVT.
In these situations, your doctor may suggest that you wear compression socks to reduce your risk of developing complications. “It’s a good idea to wear your compression socks all the time unless you are bathing. You can wear other socks and shoes over them if you need to,” Dr. Dunn said.
You may also choose to wear compression socks if you stand for a long time, work as a pilot or flight attendant or spend a lot of time flying. Some athletes also wear compression socks to help their blood flow. In these cases, you may want to wear compression socks when you are working, flying or exercising. Unlike people with health conditions, you may not need to wear them at other times.
How to choose compression socks
“There are different types of compression socks or stockings to consider,” Dr. Dunn said. Most are knee-high, but you can also get compression socks that reach your thighs or compression tights that go up to your waist. Another option is compression sleeves, which cover your leg but not your foot. Compression sleeves for your arm are also available—athletes and people with lymphedema may want them.
The amount of pressure in compression socks varies. Lower compression levels might be preferred if you stand up for work or fly a lot. Your doctor may recommend a higher compression level to combat health conditions, especially after surgery or if you’re confined to bed.
If your doctor prescribes compression socks, you’ll get a recommended size and compression level. Insurance may cover the cost of prescription compression stockings. If you buy them over the counter, you may want to ask your doctor for a recommendation. You want socks that feel snug but not painful.
The bottom line
Compression socks can help improve your blood flow and alleviate the risk of dangerous complications from certain health conditions. Your doctor can help you choose the compression socks or stockings that are right for you. If you would like to connect with a health care professional, reach out to Banner Health.