Have you ever felt the pain of sore leg muscles the day after a long run? Have you ever felt your aching leg muscles after a long day at the office? Are you expecting a baby, and started experiencing pregnancy swelling? Did you know that all of these problems could be solved with a simple product? I am going to let you in on a little secret. Choosing the best compression socks can not only treat, but also prevent varicose veins, swelling and muscle soreness.
In this article I will tell you what the benefits of finding the best compression socks for your situation are. We are also going to give you some ideas and a guide on which compression socks you should wear, and which ones are the right models based on your individual needs.
The sudden popularity of compression socks
If you go to a running event at any major city, you will see the vast majority of entrants wearing compression socks. The running community has been one of the first ones to recognise how great it is to feel refreshed all day long, enjoy the benefits and better athletic performance compression products provide. Serious runners know that the best compression socks can help their muscles recover in just a fraction of the time. Even to this day, runners are one of the largest consumers of compression garments.
Even science confirms what runners have felt in their performance. A study published in the 2015 February issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that wearing compression socks for 48 hours after finishing a marathon improved performance on a treadmill test two weeks later.
Compression socks used to be associated with the worn-out, brown hosiery worn by pensioners in the movies. It is no wonder that young people didn’t want to do anything with them. But the landscape is changing. Now people from all walks of life wear these products, available in different designs, colours and styles. Young, hip athletes started wearing them, Allen Iverson started a fashion craze among NBA players by wearing compression arm sleeves. Nowadays you can’t turn on a basketball game without seeing multiple athletes on the court wearing some kind of compression garment.
Compression socks at work
People with standing occupations, such as nurses, teachers and doctors are wearing knee-high compression socks to work every day. Many of these professionals used to complain of swollen ankles, sore leg muscles and cramps in their calves, but not anymore. These inconveniences are a product of the past. Now they can enjoy the freshness and the vitality that comes with fresh, rejuvenated leg muscles. Pilots and flight attendants are one of the largest consumers of compression socks, since these products significantly reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Even truck drivers started wearing them to mitigate the effects of sitting behind the wheel.
A phrase I hear more and more is ‘sitting is the new smoking’. There is certainly some truth to this statement. Sitting puts a huge workload on the circulatory system of the lower extremities, which leads to swollen ankles and varicose veins. These conditions can even require surgery to get rid of in extreme cases.
Office workers complain of leg pains every day, and decades of working in front of a computer can lead to severe health issues. The effects can be mitigated by a healthy, active lifestyle, but many don’t have the luxury of taking time off to go to the gym every day. For them compression technology can provide a great alternative in keeping their legs healthy for long decades.
A few years ago people couldn’t choose from as many different styles of compression socks as in 2017. A simple search for the term ‘compression socks’ on Amazon return almost 87 000 results. Companies have realised how big the demand was for quality compression socks, and responded accordingly.
Who should wear compression socks?
It is astonishing how many different people can benefit from wearing compression socks.
- Do you have aching legs from too much standing during your workday?
Compression socks can increase blood flow, and recovery in your tired limbs.
- Are you a competitive runner?
Compression socks can not only reduce the risk of injuries, they can also enhance your athletic performance, and help you recover faster.
- Are you about to embark on a transatlantic flight?
People taking flights longer than seven hours also benefit from compression technology. On long flights compression socks significantly reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Do you notice small blackish veins on your thighs?
Anybody who has to sit or stand for extended periods of time is in risk of developing varicose veins. More people suffer form this condition than you would think. According to statistics 33 % of American women and 17 % of American men develop this condition at one point or another during their lives.
- Are you expecting a baby?
By wearing the best pregnancy compression socks, you can enjoy your pregnancy more, and reduce varicose veins, swelling and leg pains that occur as a natural side effect of expecting.
What are varicose veins, and how to deal with them?
Instead of more text, here is an excellent video by the NHS explaining what varicose veins are:
There are multiple ways of dealing with varicose veins. The most severe is surgically removing the affected veins, but most doctors recommend a less invasive treatments first. Such can include keeping the legs in an elevated position for a longer period, or treating the skin with different creams.
However your best bet by far will be to use compression socks. These products not only treat the skin condition, but help the blood flow from the muscles, thus they treat the real reason behind the problem.
Most people can get by or seriously improve their condition with support pantyhose stockings, but if the problem is more advanced a special pair of compression socks might be in order. There are different models out there based on their intended use. A runner might need a model with achilles padding, a pregnant woman might do better by wearing special pregnancy leggings.
What other conditions can the best compression socks treat?
Compression sock put pressure on the limbs, which makes the veins more compact. The subsequent decrease in the diameter of the veins makes the blood flow quicker. The video below explains the process very well:
In short, the best compression socks increase blood flow from and to the limbs. The socks are made with a unique design, that squeezes the muscles of the limbs. This way the veins get squeezed also. Most people are taken by surprise by the force with which their muscles are contracted when they first wear a pair of the best compression socks.
The pressure on the muscles also applies pressure on the veins, which helps the blood travel up to your heart. This way the blood lacking in oxygen gets to the heart quicker. In turn the blood full of oxygen and nutrients will get to the muscles quicker. This process is behind the treatment of the conditions below:
Swelling: The blood flows through the swollen area quicker, and washes the excess fluid away.
Leg pains: Due to the quicker blood flow the nutrients get to the aching muscles quicker.
Delayed onset muscle soreness: The blood washes the lactic acid and other waste materials out of the muscles.
Inflammation: The T cells and nutrients reach the inflamed areas in no time, leading to a quick recovery.
Compression socks are excellent at getting rid of muscle soreness. Teachers, nurses, waiters, or any professional who spends the majority of their workdays on their feet should consider wearing compression socks. The socks that are tighter around the ankle area are especially effective at reducing muscle soreness and giving additional support to the legs. Special socks with graduated compression are the favourites among these types of users, these feel tighter around the ankles.
The best running compression socks can prevent injuries. For a competitive runner even small injuries like cuts and bruises can be devastating. The material of the socks is also crucial. The material has to keep their feet cool, and allow the sweat to evaporate from the skin.
The premium products even have an antibacterial silver linen running through them, to prevent bacterial growth or fungi development. For a more comprehensive guide on the subject, please see our guide to choosing the best compression socks for runners.
After the run the socks speed up the regeneration of the muscles by increasing blood flow to the tired muscles. The best compression socks help reduce the risk of suffering common running-related injuries, such as shin splits and plantar fasciitis.
What is the difference between compression socks and compression sleeves?
Mixing up the two products is a common mistake. However it should not be this way, since they differ in a fundamental quality. Compression sleeves start above your ankles, so they don’t apply the benefits of compression technology to your feet like compression socks do. Sleeves are easier to put on your legs, since you are only pulling on essentially what is a tube. Whereas socks require what some would call a herculean effort to get them on your legs. It is not that hard to be honest, but you need good strength or a few tricks.
A good trick I saw a few elderly people experiment with is getting two pairs of compression sleeves. They put one pair on their lower legs, and one pair on their thighs over their knees. This way they can enjoy the benefits of compression at the key areas, but with severely lower energy costs in terms of putting the products on.
Some sleeves are very short. They cover only your feet, and they completely disregard the area above your ankles. They are especially helpful if you suffer from plantar fasciitis.
Different length compression socks
There are different length compression socks on the market. The most common models go up to your knees. There are other models that end somewhere in the middle of your thighs. These ones apply the benefits of compression technology to a larger portion of your legs, thus they are excellent if you want to fight varicose veins or swelling in the parts above your knees.
The best compression socks are different for each person and situation. I would advise you to get a model that covers the are just where you have problems, but there is no need to buy a longer model. Why? Although longer compression socks apply pressure to a larger portion of your legs, they are also harder to put on.
The best compression socks for women and men
I often get the question: Are the best compression socks different for men or women? Well, the answer is…complicated. Yes and no.
The best compression socks for women should be the same as the best compression socks for men, right? The circulatory system of the two genders are the same. That is why in everyday use, it doesn’t matter too much if the product is intended for men or women. The same models can be used as running compression socks, or for sitting in the office.
The main difference is in terms of the style of the product. While the best compression socks usually have unisex designs, there are some models that cater for a female audience. The best nursing compression socks would be a great example of these. However most models are available in both male and female colours.
There are conditions that require special design. For example, pregnancy compression socks are only designed for women.
The type of compression
There are two types of compression technologies most common among socks, sleeves and hosieries. Graduated compression puts the most pressure on the ankles, and slightly subsides as the product gets higher on the legs. Uniform compression puts the same amount of pressure everywhere on the legs.
Graduated models are more common, since they are excellent in preventing and treating most circulatory diseases found in the limbs. Spider veins, varicose veins, swollen feet, muscle soreness, muscle cramps, deep vein thrombosis and plantar fasciitis can be all prevented, or cured by using the best compression socks. Most models available in commercial stores will have graduated compression. Uniform compression can be dangerous if applied in the wrong circumstances, so it is available only with doctor’s prescriptions. Uniform models are also called anti-embolism socks, which gives a slight hint at which condition they used for treating.
Strength of compression
Compression products are put into different categories based on how much pressure they put on your legs – also known as strength of compression.
The pressure put on the legs is measured in millimetres of mercury – mm Hg. You can find compression socks anywhere between 8 mm Hg to 40 or even more mm Hg.
8-15 mm Hg: Low compression – best for treating mild cases of muscle soreness, or recovery after workouts. If you have a history of limbic venous disease, these are most likely not the recommended products for you.
15 – 20 mm Hg: Medium compression – best for office workers, or long flights. In some cases pregnant women are also advised to wear products from this range. Can treat not too advanced cases of varicose veins, spider veins and swelling.
20 – 30 mm Hg: Firm compression – This is the most common compression range advised for people suffering of venous diseases. These products treat advanced cases of all the diseases talked about above.
30 – 50 mm Hg: Medical grade compression – You can not buy products in this compression range in regular commerce without a doctor’s prescription. These models are used for various degrees of chronic varicose veins, edema, swelling.
I recommend that you consult with your local physician if you have severe leg pains, or you feel unsure of which compression range would work best for you. If you never tried compression socks before, the best thing might be to start with a low compression product, and work your way up as you become more comfortable with wearing them.
What parts does a compression sock have?
In order to talk about what you need to look for when shopping for the best compression socks, first let’s talk about what parts one of these consists of.
First of all, there is the toe area. Yes, you have guessed it, this the the part that holds your tiny little toes. Some models have one big toe area, others are designed with small little areas for each toe. The key to getting this part of the socks right are the seams. If the seams don’t fit, or they are designed poorly, they will cut into your foot and the whole thing will make your life miserable. If you choose a five toe model, make sure that they fit perfectly. If the socks are saggy, or too tight, your legs will have a torrid time during your runs.
Another crucial area is the bottom of the socks at the feet. In most cases, this area is designed to give you added arch support. This is especially important for runners, who are at a heightened risk of suffering from plantar fasciitis.
The heel area is padded in most cases. This reduces the vibrations that stem from the moment you put down your leg on the pavement. With normal socks that lack padding, the vibrations are absorbed by the muscles and the joints. This causes injuries in the long run.
There is an elastic, yet firm band at the top of the socks. Its purpose is to prevent it from slipping down. Always make sure that the socks you are about to purchase are the right size. If they are too big, not even the best elastic band will save it from moving around.
What should you pay attention to when choosing the best compression socks?
Let’s get this straight. Size matters. Your socks should fit and hold your legs tightly. A product is useless unless you feel the tight grip of the socks squeezing your leg muscles. Don’t go overboard with this either. A little bit of pressure is fine, but you don’t want the socks to choke the life out of your legs.
However if you have the correct size, the socks should not cause any considerable discomfort. There is a size chart on the box of every product, which can help, you only need to know your shoe size. There are more advanced ways of measuring the size of your legs, and getting to know which size compression product you need. If you have the chance, go and try on the product you want to buy.
The size chart and the Physix Gear Sport Compression Sock
There are different kinds of models on the market based on how big a part of your legs they cover. Ankle socks compress only your feet. Knee-high socks put pressure on your calf muscles too, making them the mot popular choice. Thigh-high models have an elastic band sitting somewhere on your upper leg. Pregnancy compression hosiery goes from your feet up to your lower stomach.
This is all good and well you say, but what is the ideal product length for me? To get an answer, consider which part of your leg hurts, and buy the shortest product that covers that area. So for example if you struggle with frequent calf pain, a product reaching up, and ending just below your knees would be the ideal choice. The reason being, that compression garments are not easy to put on, so you have to get the shortest, most comfortable product posible.
Pads and support at the achilles tendon
Do you struggle with knee pain? Does your achilles tendon hurt? Do you have a pinching feeling on the balls of your feet frequently, that requires you to stop playing sports, and even prevents you from moving around in your daily life?
Premium models have soft pads on their bottom, which gives you more comfort. This feature can help you by absorbing the impact of your steps. When you put down your feet, the vibrations coming from the impact of your steps have to be absorbed by your muscles, bones and joints. Over time, this can lead to aching knees, cranky ankles, and inflamed achilles tendons. The soft pads on the bottom of the socks, or around the backheels help reduce this impact and the subsequent vibrations.
Have you ever opened your sports bag with your used workout clothes in them, and found a smell so otherwordly, that it stuck with your nose for days?
Socks made of the right materials can make a profound difference in your life. They help keep your legs dry by repelling sweat. During the summer they keep your feet cool by letting it breathe. For winter weather I would recommend thicker models that keep you warm. You should choose ones that have silver or copper linen in them, as such materials are added to prevent fungi development and bacterial growth. The really high end models are made of anti-odor materials.
Compression socks have a bad name, because many people confuse them with compression hosiery worn by the elderly. Those are not very hip, but compression socks are.
No matter which product you choose, there are a host of colours it comes in. Nowadays sock manufacturers pay a whole lot of attention to making theis products in different sizes, styles and colours. You can choose socks based on the occasion, what goes with your dress, or your mood. No matter what you are into, you will find the perfect looking model.
The toe design
There are basically two ways to go when it comes to toe designs. Single toe area models and five toe models. The single area models are better in the sense, that they minimise the chances of blisters or chaffing. With five toe models if the material between the toes does not fit perfectly, it can cause inconvenience and kin burn if it gets caught between your toes.
It is remarkable how little the sock design companies pay attention to properly designing their seams. A bad seam can get stuck, rub against your skin, cause chaffing, blisters and skin burns. If you have the option to choose between a seamless and a regular product, always go for the first. With compression socks, the seams at the toes are the biggest question. If there are no seams in the socks, or they are well designed, your life will be a lot better.
Plantar fasciitis is a very common condition among runners. It appears as a result of inflammation at the bottom of your feet and the backheel area. Arch support is an essential piece in preventing plantar fasciitis.
Let’s admit, compression socks have to be extremely durable. You wear them for hours on end at your workplace. In most professions – like nursing – this can mean even twelve or sixteen hour shifts.
Running socks have to withstand the harsh elements, and resist if debris and little rocks hit against the material. Compression socks can even cost over thirty bucks per pair. It would be unaccaptable to have to throw them out after only one a few uses. Amazon reviews can be a good indicator of which models are manufactured in a quality way. On this website you will only find reviews of models that will serve you for a long time.
If you plan on running during the night, or working out in an environment where visibility is key, choose light reflecting products. Most of them include reflective silver accents, which will keep you safe even in the worst visibility conditions.
Type of compression
As mentioned above, there are basically two ways to go about compression products. Graduated compression socks put the greatest pressure on your ankles, and slightly decrease the pressure as the product gets higher on your legs. Uniform compression on the other hand puts the same amount of pressure on your legs everywhere. The first type of compression is more common among products in commercial use, they are used for treating as well as preventing varicose veins, spider veins, muscle pains, plantar fasciitis, swollen feet, deep vein thrombosis and delayed onset muscle soreness. Uniform socks are used mainly for treating swelling and edema.
Some models are called targeted compression socks. They have one or a few areas on the product, that puts more pressure on your muscles, than the socks otherwise do. This has multiple positive effects. The immune cells of the body travel through the circulatory system. The faster the blood flows, the faster the so called ‘T cells’ can get to the area in question.
These socks come in a variety of different price ranges. Some are considered premium products, and are made of the best materials out there. However there are also mid-priced products and value socks that can do almost as good a job, in some cases they might even be better than their high priced counterparts.
There are many different factors that determine which ones are the best compression socks for you. I hope this long and detailed article helped you decide. Do you have experience wearing compression socks? Tell us about it in the comment section below!