Compression socks vs sleeves – Which one to choose?

Here at CompressionCarl we get the same question over and over again: should I buy compression socks or compression sleeves? There is no definite answer, each person’s situation is different. There are pros and cons to wearing both compression sleeves and compression socks. Let’s take a look at them and put an end to the compression socks vs sleeves question once and for all.

Compression socks vs sleeves: No definite answer

I wish I could tell you exactly which one is better, but the truth is that there is no one size fits all solution. Personal preference is going to influence the choice, just as comfort levels and the type of activity you do. If you are a runner suffering from shin splints compression sleeves might be a better option. For nurses compression socks might be better.

Socks are more effective in helping the veins in your feet in pumping blood up to the heart. The extra pressure put on the veins helps them regain their original, narrow shape and thus the deoxygenated blood can flow unobstructed to the heart. Then the heart pumps it through the organs, filling up the blood with nutrients and oxygen, all necessary for proper regeneration and muscle work. This is especially important if you regularly suffer from inflammation. An acute, local version of inflammation is plantar fasciitis, a surprisingly common diagnosis among runners.


Compression socks v sleeves: Compression socks in action

One of the biggest differences between compression socks vs sleeves is the mobility they offer. Since sleeves cover a smaller part of your foot, they also give you greater mobility. This is true especially for the toes, which are completely free with compression sleeves.

If you are a weightlifter, a golf or a tennis player, then compression elbow sleeves can give your arms support without restricting your movement.

There are certain compression socks which reach over your knees. These ones give your knee joints more support, but restrict your mobility a little bit.


When your legs retain too much water, your legs suffer of edema. Wearing the best edema compression socks is the most effective treatment. This is a condition where the larger surface of the socks really helps. By covering your whole feet, the socks achieve a lot better circulation than compression sleeves.

This helps the excess fluid wash out from the cells and the edema to subside.

Preventing inflammation

On the other hand, the more the compression garment covers, the larger part of your body can benefit from the effects of compression.

If you have inflammation around your toes, compression socks are the choice to go with.

After workout recovery

Compression socks vs sleeves: Compression sleeves in action

After a demanding workout it is normal to feel tired and soreness in the muscles. This phenomena is called delayed onset muscle soreness.

It makes complete sense to reduce the time the body needs to recover from workouts. This was the original reason why runners and cyclists started wearing compression socks.

The sore feeling in your muscles comes from lactic acid buildup. This material builds up in your muscles during extensive exercise. Compression garments help reduce the buildup of lactic acid during workouts, and improve circulation to wash it out of the muscles after the workout is over.

Compression sleeves are better during exercise, since they give you more mobility. At the same time they reduce the vibration of the muscles just like compression socks do.

However after workouts compression socks improve your circulation more, thus they help the waste materials wash out of the muscles quicker.

Shin splints and plantar fasciitis

Both shin splints and plantar fasciitis are common conditions among runners and active workers. Plantar fasciitis compression socks are a little more effective at treating the condition.

Compression socks cover your whole leg, thus preventing the blood from pooling up. They apply pressure to even the smallest veins inside your leg, thus improving circulation even more.

When it comes to shin splints, compression sleeves do just as well. Shin splints are not affected by what goes on inside your feet.


With compression sleeves, you need to wear an extra sock over the sleeve. This makes compression socks a favoured item among office workers, pilots and nurses. Compression socks are ideal for increasing blood flow while sitting or standing for extended periods of time. This makes them a favoured choice among office workers, teachers and nurses.

Compression socks – unlike sleeves – cover your whole leg from your toes to your knees. This covering gives your legs the most benefit from compression technology, hence they are a safe choice to start with if you are a new compression user.

Here is a video about how compression socks vs sleeves work:

Putting them on

One of the biggest pros to wearing sleeves is that they are easier to put on. Anybody who is over thirty and tried to put on compression socks can attest that they can be quite a workout. They have to be tight, and strong, so pulling them on over your legs can be quite a challenge. With sleeves a significant part of the item is missing, you basically only have to pull a tube over your leg – albeit a very tightly fitting tube.


 For competitive long distance runner, if the socks get displaced during a run it can be the end of the race. The sudden discomfort can get a runner out of her zone, and the race is done. Realigning the socks might help, but this takes important minutes from race time, and the muscles can become cold and stiff during the process.

There are no such problems with sleeves. Even if they get saggy, just stopping for a split second and pulling them up again should get the job done.

Sleeves are a much better option for triathletes. After getting out of the water, the legs are wet. This makes putting up a pair of dry socks impossible. If you try this, the socks will come down to your ankles. Compression wearables will aid running result and post-race recovery, not to mention that many racers claim that they helps with a faster transition from swimming to the bike. The custom is to wear them under the swimsuit.

Washing them

Compression sleeves are easier and quicker to wash. Although if your garments are machine washable, then whether they are socks or sleeves makes no real difference.


Whether you are a runner, an office worker or a nurse compression socks and sleeves can both improve your circulation immensely. They both help with certain conditions, but whether one should choose compression socks or compression sleeves depends on a lot of factors.

In the question of compression socks vs sleeves the former can be more helpful since it covers a larger area of the ligament. This results in better blood circulation. Compression sleeves reduce movement less, and are easier to put on.



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