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What to Know About Compression Socks and Stockings

Source: Healthline; Medically reviewed by Gerhard Whitworth, R.N. — Written by Scott Frothingham on August 7, 2019


Compression socks and stockings are designed for compression therapy. They apply gentle pressure to your legs and ankles, promoting blood flow from your legs to your heart. Compression socks can also reduce pain and swelling in your ankles and legs. Read on to learn about the health benefits of compression socks, how they work, different types of socks, and side effects to be aware of.



Benefits of compression socks Your doctor may prescribe compression socks to:

  • boost circulation in your legs

  • support veins

  • prevent blood from pooling in your leg veins

  • diminish leg swelling

  • reduce orthostatic hypotension, which causes lightheadedness or unsteadiness when you stand

  • help prevent venous ulcers

  • prevent development of deep vein thrombosis in your legs

  • help lessen the pain caused by varicose veins

  • reverse venous hypertension

  • improve lymphatic drainage

How do compression socks work? Compression stockings apply pressure to your legs and ankles, which may:

  • reduce the diameter of major veins by increasing the volume and velocity of blood flow

  • help blood flow up toward the heart

  • help prevent blood from refluxing downward to the foot or laterally into superficial veins

Types of compression stockings The three primary types of compression stockings are:

  • graduated compression stockings

  • anti-embolism stockings

  • nonmedical support hosiery

Graduated compression stockings In graduated compression stockings, the level of compression is strongest at the ankle and gradually decreases towards the top. They’re designed for mobility and to meet certain length and strength medical specifications.

Graduated compression stockings typically require a professional fitting. Stockings that end just below the knee help limit peripheral edema, or lower leg swelling due to fluid buildup. Stockings that extend to the thigh or waist help reduce pooling of blood in the legs and help prevent orthostatic hypotension. Some suppliers offer features for personal preferences, such as color, and a choice of open- or closed-toe.

Anti-embolism stockings Anti-embolism stockings reduce the possibility of deep vein thrombosis. Like graduated stockings, they provide gradient compression. However, the level of compression differs. Anti-embolism stockings are designed for those who aren’t mobile.

Nonmedical support hosiery Nonmedical support hosiery don’t typically require a prescription. They include elastic support hose and flight socks sold as potential relief for tired, aching legs. These deliver uniform compression that exerts less pressure than prescription compression stockings. You can find nonmedical compression stockings at most pharmacies or online.


Side effects of compression socks If your doctor has prescribed compression stockings, check your legs daily for areas of skin changes, such as irritation or redness. These changes could indicate:

  • your stockings don't fit properly

  • you’re not putting on or taking off your stockings properly

  • you have an infection

  • you’re allergic to the stocking material

It’s important to get a proper prescription and be sure to use compression stockings and socks properly.

  • According to a 2014 case reportTrusted Source, improperly worn compression stockings have the potential to cause problems, such as breaking the skin.

  • A 2007 study cited reports of peripheral nerve damage associated with misuse of compression stockings.

  • According to a 2014 article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, if you have impaired arterial flow, using compression stockings can worsen ischemia, or inadequate oxygenated blood flow.

The takeaway Compression stockings apply pressure to your legs and ankles to promote blood flow from your lower extremities to your heart. If your doctor prescribes compression stockings to help you with a condition such as venous insufficiency, remember to:

  • get fitted properly

  • follow instructions for properly putting on and removing them

  • follow all your doctor’s instructions, including when and how long to wear them

  • monitor any skin changes in the areas that come in contact with the stockings


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