I used to think that aching legs are unavoidable as we age. It turns out leg pain can come from poor blood circulation, resulting . Various interventions are available to keep our legs healthy. In this article, I’ll talk about if do compression socks really work, and how you can use them effectively.
To understand the health effects of compression socks, you need to learn about their basic working principles. A brief discussion of human biology will help you understand how compressive garments can resolve leg discomfort. So, let us find out if do compression socks really work.
Blood flowing into your legs passes through the arteries with relative ease. However, the journey back toward the heart is more difficult since the blood has to flow against the force of gravity. Sometimes, the remaining pressure is insufficient to drive fluids up through the veins. While the veins have valves that prevent backflow, they can deteriorate over time due to inadequate blood flow, resulting in the narrowing or blockage in the blood vessel.
When veins degrade, their vascular walls may start to bulge. The degradation makes the valves less effective, so more blood starts to flow erratically inside the blood vessels. The resulting poor circulation can further weaken the veins and prevent the tissues in your legs from receiving enough oxygen and nutrients.
To provide additional support to the veins, compression socks apply external pressure on the leg veins. The added support takes off some of the mechanical stress away from the blood vessel walls. The compression also prevents fluid buildup. By enhancing blood flow, compression devices help prevent vascular problems that would otherwise lead to leg discomfort and problems in returning blood from the leg to the heart (venous insufficiency).
Are Compression Socks & Stockings the Same?
Many people also refer to compression socks as compression stockings, given that they appear similar to regular stockings. They tend to cover your ankle and lower legs, with some variants also applying pressure on your thighs. Most people ask if do compression socks really work. But, let us figure out some questions about it.
What makes them different from ordinary stockings is that they consist of stronger elastic threads. This construction allows them to provide stronger and more localized compressive forces on your legs, giving them their therapeutic effects. Ordinary stockings might be able to apply some pressure. However, the forces that they exert tend to be inconsistent, have unequal distribution, and insufficient to bring about significant health benefits.
Types of Compression Socks
There are many types of compressive undergarments for your legs. Each category addresses a specific need and offers particular benefits.
1. Graduated Compression Stockings
The most familiar type would be graduated compression stockings. These are medical devices that place a pressure gradient on your legs. Usually, they are most constrictive near the ankles, where special pads of the material may be present to ensure the pressure is evenly distributed across the ankle’s irregular profile.
The compression level decreases as you go toward the upper region of the stocking. Circulating blood would experience reduced external pressure as it flows back to the heart. By assisting the veins in facilitating blood flow, graduated compression socks help improve venous circulation.
Doctors usually prescribe graduated compression stockings for most people, especially those who are physically active. With their relatively light construction, these garments do not inhibit mobility. You can still engage in basic movements you do every day, such as walking, running, or bending your knees.
2. Anti-embolism Stockings
Anti-embolism stockings are another type of compression socks. Unlike graduated compression stockings, they are for people who are unable to move around. Examples of people who can benefit from anti-embolism stockings are bedridden patients or people recovering from surgery.
The main objective of this medical hosiery is to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis. This condition occurs when poor circulation in the deep leg veins causes blood clots to form. By encouraging the normal flow of blood, anti-embolism stockings help prevent blood clot formation. People in periods of inactivity are at higher risk of thrombosis, so doctors prescribe anti-embolism stockings to manage the increased risk.
3. Nonmedical Stockings
Finally, you can use nonmedical stockings to alleviate discomfort. Unlike medical compression socks, you can purchase them without a prescription. They are available in many medical supply stores.
However, while they can offer support for your legs, they might not be enough to treat any underlying conditions. Regulations limit the compressive pressure that nonmedical socks can exert. Make sure to prioritize a consultation with a doctor to check if you need medical hosiery.
The different types of compression socks have the following health benefits:
- Better management of pain and discomfort
- Improved blood circulation
- Prevention of vascular diseases or mitigation of existing ones
You may find it odd that applying compression to your legs improves blood circulation. Here’s how: moderate amounts of compression help support vein structure, especially for veins that have started to take damage from poor circulation. Wearing compression socks reduces the veins’ diameter, so blood has to travel faster to compensate. Putting vascular walls closer together also allows valves inside the veins to make better seals, increasing their capacity to ensure normal blood flow.
At the same time, compression socks selectively constrict veins over arteries because the internal pressure is lower within the veins. By not affecting the arteries, the medical hosiery performs its intended functions without compromising blood flow toward the legs.
Some people have leg swelling (edema) due to the accumulation of liquid within the leg tissues. By wearing compression socks, you can improve fluid drainage within the leg and reduce edema severity.
Another specific application for compression socks is in managing orthostatic hypertension. For some individuals, suddenly standing up can cause a temporary drop in blood pressure. As a result, it limits the blood supply to the brain momentarily, causing lightheadedness or fainting. Compression stockings help shunt blood flow back to the body, lessening the severity of the blood pressure drop.
Perhaps most importantly, compression socks alleviate discomfort from your lower extremities. People who sit or stand for most of the day tend to develop leg pain. By wearing compression stockings, they can work for longer hours without feeling significant discomfort. These stockings may also reduce their risk of developing vascular disorders due to the physical stresses from their occupation.
Of course, you can’t expect compression socks to work well for everyone. Some people will experience side effects, and you need to watch out for these signs and get prompt medical advice if you do encounter them.
A typical side effect is skin irritation. For some people, the elastic material might trigger an allergic reaction. Improper usage of these socks, such as allowing the fabric to form folds and bumps, can cause pressure points that lead to local inflammation. A more severe factor would be an infection, especially if the material retains moisture near the skin and allows microbes to thrive.
Given the potentially severe implications of skin irritation, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor if you notice persistent inflammation. Switching to a different stocking material might be all you need.
More severe side effects, such as ulcer formation, tend to occur due to improper or unauthorized use of medical stockings. Some conditions, such as heart failure or arterial vascular disease, contraindicate the use of any compressive garments. People who wear compression socks regardless of other circulatory issues or those who wear an ill-fitting pair may develop low blood circulation. Your leg pain and edema might only worsen as the socks cut off blood flow through the leg.
The most effective way to wear compression socks is to follow your doctor’s orders. Wear the appropriate type of compressive stocking, even if you can find cheaper alternatives. Never switch socks without informing your doctor and wear them for the prescribed number of hours each day. Do whatever your doctor recommends, even if they contradict some of the general guidelines that I discuss below.
To receive the appropriate compression stocking, you will have to undergo fitting with a trained professional who will measure the dimensions of your legs. Schedule the fitting session early in the morning, which is usually the time when your legs are least swollen. If you already have significant swelling in your legs, discuss your options with your doctor.
For graduated compression stockings, you should develop a systematic method for putting them on while minimizing the risk of damaging the fabric. Many people focus on fitting their feet into the stocking first before unrolling it to cover the rest of your leg. You may also utilize a stocking donner to make it easier to wear compression socks.
Check that the fabric is snug against your skin and that there aren’t any folds or bumps. Also, make sure that you fully unroll the upper part of the stocking.
Be careful when wearing footwear and avoid sharp objects that might snag onto the fabric. If you see that the material has holes or that it no longer fits tightly, find a replacement. Worn out stockings can increase the risk of side effects since they put unequal pressure on your veins.
Proper hygiene reduces the risk of infection. Generally, it’s better to hand-wash your compression socks to keep them clean while preventing excessive wear and tear. If the fabric is soiled, prioritize cleaning them at the end of your day.
By now, you should know if do compression socks really work. Also, what compression socks are and how they can help with your aching legs. Their health benefits can matter a lot for people who suffer from vascular problems in their legs. However, the small risk of side effects means you need to adhere to the proper way of using compression stockings. Treat your compression socks with respect, and they will pay you back with relief from leg pain and protection from leg vein disorders.