Everything You Need To Know About Compression Socks (2024)

Chances are, you’ve probably seen compression socks before — specially made stockings that gently squeeze around legs at various lengths. But if you’ve never had to use them, there may be plenty you don’t know about them.


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From their medical advantages to the misconception about age-appropriate use, there’s lots to learn about compression socks.

We turn to foot surgeonGeorgeanne Botek, DPM, for everything you need to know.

What are compression socks/stockings?

Compression socks (or compression stockings) are socks of various length and tightness that are designed to gently squeeze legs a bit more than typical socks.

“The key intention is to promote better blood circulation in the legs,” explains Dr. Botek. “It’s a very practical and common thing. But at the same time, it’s a very underutilized option.”

In other words, more people could benefit from using them, particularly if you have swelling in your legs, insufficient veins or to aid with blood flow when you’re sitting for long periods of time. Even athletes may benefit from wearing them from time to time.

What do compression socks do?

Compression socks work most notably to help with venous problems of the legs.

“Nearly90% of leg disorders originate within the veins,” says Dr. Botek.

A common issue known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) occurs when the veins in your legs become damaged and the valves in your veins aren’t functioning well enough. When this happens, blood pools and causes swelling in your legs, increased pressure in your leg veins and insufficient blood flow to your heart. If blood pools in the veins of your legs, it can cause a variety of other issues, too, like:

  • Skin changes.
  • Damage to vein walls and valves.
  • Inflammation of the veins (thrombophlebitis).
  • Varicose veins.
  • Blood clots.

Compression socks gently squeeze your legs to increase the pressure in the tissues beneath your skin. The result: Reduced swelling, swelling prevention and increased absorption of excess fluid. They also reduce the ability of superficial veins to expand in order to fill with blood, which prevents that blood from flowing backward and causing congestion.

Besides venous insufficiency, Dr. Botek says that another common reason for wearing compression socks is to aid in blood flow when you’re sitting for long periods of time, like on a long flight. With less movement and weaker circulation, there’s more pooling and retention of blood in the legs, which can raise chances of clots.


While the threat of clots isn’t that high if you’re healthy, you’ve probably noticed discomfort or swelling still taking place on long flights. Compression socks help keep that circulation going and reduces those symptoms.

Benefits of wearing compression socks

Compression socks help by:

  • Increasing circulation and blood flow in your legs.
  • Decreasing swelling in your legs and ankles.
  • Preventing blood from pooling in your veins.
  • Preventing blood clots.
  • Improving lymphatic drainage.
  • Helping reduce pain and discomfort.

Compression socks are safe to wear by most people. But if you have severe peripheral artery disease (a condition where you have reduced blood flow in your legs), you shouldn’t wear compression socks. And while it’s OK to wear compression socks for several hours, you shouldn’t sleep in compression socks either, as they won’t be as effective — plus, you should give your legs time to rest.

It’s not uncommon to see athletes in various sports wear different types of compression socks or even compression sleeves. According to Dr. Botek, while there’s not a lot of evidence to support the direct cause for how they positively benefit athletes, there has been some evidence that compression wear can help recovery.

There was an Australian study that looked at runners and found that compression socks could possibly have a positive impact on subsequent running performance,” he notes. In other words, if you wear compression socks for a run, you might have a better run the next time you hit the pavement.

There have been theories about the effects they have for a runner’s circulation — increasing oxygen delivery to muscles, improving blood circulation, speeding the removal of lactic acid — but Dr. Botek says we don’t really know yet if that’s the case.

“It can be about personal preference, too,” he continues. “People might wear them because they feel good, and everyone wants that little competitive advantage.”

How to pick compression socks

You’ll generally find two types of compression socks: graduated and anti-embolism stockings. As always, be sure to check with a healthcare provider first with any questions may you have.

Graduated compression socks are the more common types you’ll find and what most people use. While available in a range of compression tightness, these socks are all tightest around the ankle, getting looser the higher up the leg they go. Compression socks generally come in two lengths — knee-high and thigh-high — but full compression tights are growing more common with athletes.

Anti-embolism stockings are more specific in purpose. They’re designed to help maintain circulation, thus preventing blood clots, particularly for anyone confined to a bed after surgery.


Most compression socks you’ll find on store shelves — be it a sporting goods store or drugstore — are going to be of light to medium compression, but you may want to reconsider getting an over-the-counter version or purchasing compression socks online.

Companies don’t have any regulations on how much compression their products provide. So, while you may find a product contains descriptions like “mild,” “moderate” and “heavy compression,” there’s no way of telling just how much compression you’ll get unless you purchase medical grade compression socks or prescribed stockings.

And if it’s your first time wearing compression socks, but you find them uncomfortable as you wear them throughout the day, it’s OK to take them off.

“Don’t feel you have to wear them from breakfast to dinner,” reassures Dr. Botek. “Sometimes, you need to adjust to them if you find them uncomfortable, like when you break in a new pair of shoes.”

You may also want to consider whether you prefer below- or above-the-knee socks.

“If you have thicker calf muscles, I would say go with the above-knee compression socks,” advises Dr. Botek. “Sometimes, that extra few inches of material can create more comfort at the top of your calf, so it’s not necessarily tight on your skin there.”

But remember: Taking care of your legs and overall health takes much more than pulling on a pair of socks and calling it a day.

“Compression socks are just one part of your regimen. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, consuming a low-salt diet and moving your legs,” states Dr. Botek. “Just sitting for long periods of time or just standing for long periods of time can cause swelling in your legs. Try to find that happy balance between the two, keeping your muscles working and not just succumbing to gravity.”

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Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in this article.

Compression Socks/Stockings:

Compression socks, also known as compression stockings, are specially designed socks that apply gentle pressure to the legs. The main purpose of compression socks is to promote better blood circulation in the legs They are commonly used to address venous problems and conditions like chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), which can cause swelling, varicose veins, and blood clots Compression socks work by gently squeezing the legs, increasing pressure in the tissues beneath the skin, reducing swelling, preventing blood from pooling in the veins, and improving absorption of excess fluid.

Benefits of Compression Socks:

Compression socks offer several benefits, including:

  1. Increased circulation and blood flow in the legs: Compression socks help improve blood circulation, which can be beneficial for individuals with venous insufficiency or those who sit for long periods of time.
  2. Decreased swelling in the legs and ankles: The gentle pressure exerted by compression socks can help reduce swelling and prevent fluid buildup.
  3. Prevention of blood clots: Compression socks can help prevent blood clots by improving blood flow and reducing the pooling of blood in the legs.
  4. Improved lymphatic drainage: Compression socks can aid in the proper functioning of the lymphatic system, which helps remove waste and toxins from the body.
  5. Reduced pain and discomfort: Compression socks can provide relief from leg pain and discomfort associated with conditions like CVI.

It's important to note that compression socks are generally safe to wear for most people. However, individuals with severe peripheral artery disease should avoid wearing compression socks Additionally, it is not recommended to sleep in compression socks, as they should be given time to rest and the legs should have a break from wearing them.

Compression Socks for Athletes:

Compression socks are also used by athletes, although the direct benefits for performance are still being studied. Some evidence suggests that compression wear, including socks, may have a positive impact on recovery and subsequent running performance The exact mechanisms behind these potential benefits are not yet fully understood, but theories include increased oxygen delivery to muscles, improved blood circulation, and faster removal of lactic acid.

Types of Compression Socks:

There are two main types of compression socks:

  1. Graduated compression socks: These are the most common type of compression socks and are available in various compression tightness levels. Graduated compression socks are tightest around the ankle and gradually become looser as they go higher up the leg. They come in knee-high and thigh-high lengths, and full compression tights are also available for athletes.
  2. Anti-embolism stockings: These stockings are designed specifically to help maintain circulation and prevent blood clots, particularly for individuals who are bedridden after surgery.

When choosing compression socks, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider. Over-the-counter versions may not provide the same level of compression as medical-grade compression socks or prescribed stockings.


Compression socks are a practical and underutilized option for promoting better blood circulation in the legs. They can be beneficial for individuals with venous problems, swelling, or those who sit for long periods of time. Compression socks offer various benefits, including improved circulation, reduced swelling, prevention of blood clots, improved lymphatic drainage, and reduced pain and discomfort. Athletes may also find compression socks helpful for recovery and potential performance benefits. When choosing compression socks, it's important to consider the type, compression level, and consult with a healthcare provider if needed.

I hope this information helps! If you have any more questions or need further clarification, feel free to ask.

Everything You Need To Know About Compression Socks (2024)
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