How Do Compression Socks Work For Swelling?


In this article, I’m gonna be answering the common question that comes along from the people considering using compression socks for their tired and swollen legs.

How do compression socks work for swelling? The pressure applied by the compression socks narrows the diameter of the veins, which helps the blood to flow more quickly. The compression is strongest at the ankle where it gradually decreases towards the top. As soon as you start wearing properly fitted compression socks it has a noticeable, immediate effect.

But there’s a caveat, because as you probably know, there are multiple kinds of compression garments, and not all are created equal. So let me show you how you can choose the best compression socks for your swollen legs.

How Compression Socks Can Help With My Swollen Legs?

Let’s start by addressing how swelling or edema occur. Here’s how it works. Gravity is pulling fluid from everywhere in your body and it brings it down to your legs, ankles, and feet. And the more you are in the static, immobilized position then your blood will want to settle down. So with having swollen legs or feet you want your blood to be moving up towards the heart.

Using a gradual compression sock, which means there is a higher pressure around your ankle, will force the blood to be moving up. Let me give you a few examples of when that may be a good idea to consider using compression socks.

Sitting

It is common sense that people with sedentary jobs sit more on workdays comparing to leisure days. And sitting for a prolonged period of time causes your legs to be in a cramped position, which reduces the circulation and can lead to swelling in the legs. If you find yourself that your legs swell after all day at work, this can be the cause. This study suggests that using compression during the sitting period not only reduces swelling but also improved the perceived quality of life due to less discomfort.

Standing

Many occupations require workers to stand for a long time. Even without the possibility to walk, move or sit during their work time. People who do a lot of work, standing all day long on concrete, work in retail stores, nurses, doctors, or surgeons in the operating room, hairstylists, bartenders, security staff, or laboratory assistants. That’s hard work. And these are the examples of people who usually complain about their legs to feel “heavy” in the evening.

Exposure to long-standing at work it been linked with many health consequences, like back pain, cardiovascular problems, fatigue and discomfort. The same study also demonstrates that using mild compression stockings had positive impact on beneficial in reduction of ankle swelling, heavy leg and night cramps.

Long distance traveling

Everyone likes to travel. Especially to new and far destinations. But sometimes the trip itself can feel like hell. A long, uncomfortable position on the journey (doesn’t matter if it’s an aircraft or the car) is usually the price we have to pay to experience foreign countries in person.

Here I wrote an article about should you wear compression socks while traveling. And the short answer is yes. Traveling, just like sitting, causes the blood to pull towards the legs. And good fitted, comfortable compression socks can ease the discomfort of the traveler’s edema.

Sports

I love to exercise. Especially the “endorphins high” after the good workout. It helps me to stay grounded. But it comes with the price. Because we can’t work out every day. And it doesn’t matter if you exercise for health or if you’re a competitive athlete, we can’t escape the fact that sooner or later, we all need to take time to rest and recover. 

Endurance sports like running or cycling require constant, repetitive movement. Which put lots of pressure on your legs. So how does compression socks can help? Here I’ve explained in detail how compression socks can help while running.

It’s all down to recovery. It’s not about how hard you can go in one session. It’s about how well you can recover, so you can do it again and again. And using compression garments help to improve your recovery time. Being active is one of the best things you can do for your body. If you want to do it as often as possible, focus more on your recovery.

How Long To Wear Compression Socks For Swelling?

So let’s see how long should you wear your compression socks during the day and, very importantly, how often?

For the best results, you should be using them on a daily basis. If you sit or stand for the bigger part of your day your compression socks help to prevent the discomfort and swelling that can happen, even to healthy people.

I’ve personally noticed that wearing compression socks every day helped me with my energy levels and sleep quality. Here’s how it works. Imagine that you didn’t drink any water for the entire day. How would that make you feel? At the very least, you would feel tired. How about the next day? Not good. The same with your legs.

If your legs swell after all-day standing or sitting, then your next day won’t get much better, if you don’t do anything about it. So if wearing compression socks can help with circulation, I don’t see the reason why shouldn’t use them every day. It’s like wearing glasses. You can’t wear them once a week and expect to see better every day.

Related article: Should you wear compression socks while running?

During the day

If you are using your compression socks for everyday comfort and relief from too much sitting or standing, then try to put them on as soon as possible after getting up in the morning. If you’re gonna use them only for the exercise, then there’s no need to keep them on. At the end of the day, it’s all about your comfort. I have separate pair for working out (compression sleeve) and separate for travel and everyday life (knee-high).

Remember that wearing them all day doesn’t mean you must sleep with them. One of the common questions about compression socks is about wearing them overnight in bed. So let me explain.

Should You Wear Compression Sock During the Night?

Is it safe to wear compression socks at night? There’s no need to keep your compression socks at night. When you are in bed, your venous and lymphatic system doesn’t work against gravity, which means your legs are elevated and the blood flow is efficient.

In fact, the gradual compression on the leg can cause the opposite effect, because it can prevent blood from coming in towards the legs. This can cause much discomfort. Especially if you’re using the higher pressure grade.

What Are The Best Compression Socks For Swelling?

There are three types of compression stockings.

  • Gradual

Gradual compression means that stockings apply the biggest amount of compression at the ankle area, and the level of pressure gradually drops towards the knee or hip. These are the most popular compression socks in high-quality brands. Because of the gradual compression, they are often used to treat problems like swelling or pain.

  • Antiembolism stockings

These are popularly called TED hose (thrombo-embolism-deterrent) which means they prevent blood clots. They are commonly used after surgery because patients after surgery are normally in bed for a while. So that means they are not walking and blood is puling towards legs, which is a bi riks for blood clots. In other words, those stockings are made for people who don’t walk.

  • Non-medical support stockings

Non-medical support stockings, which include flight socks and over the counter elastic support, are commonly used to give quick relief for tired and aching legs. They come with much less pressure comparing to gradual compression socks. The biggest difference is that the compression is the same throughout the entire leg. They are manufactured without strict technical specifications.

So for swelling, I would recommend using something like gradual compression socks. They are of better quality, durability and offer higher pressure.

Related questions


Can compression stockings be harmful?

The way you put on compression socks it’s relatively simple, however, you must remember that inappropriately worn garments have the potential to cause discomfort. When pressure is redistributed unevenly, it can break the skin, especially in older people.

How do you wash compression stockings?

Take a good care of your compression socks and they will last for long time. That include washing after each wear, following the washing instructions, ideally in cold water or on a gentle warm wash cycle.

Sources:

  1. Waters, Thomas R, and Robert B Dick. “Evidence of health risks associated with prolonged standing at work and intervention effectiveness.” Rehabilitation nursing : the official journal of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses vol. 40,3 (2015): 148-65. doi:10.1002/rnj.166
  2. Horiuchi M, Takiguchi C, Kirihara Y, Horiuchi Y. Impact of Wearing Graduated Compression Stockings on Psychological and Physiological Responses during Prolonged Sitting. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(8):1710. Published 2018 Aug 10. doi:10.3390/ijerph15081710
  3. Brown F, Gissane C, Howatson G, van Someren K, Pedlar C, Hill J. Compression Garments and Recovery from Exercise: A Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2017 Nov;47(11):2245-2267. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0728-9. PMID: 28434152.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc), nutrition coach, Ashtanga teacher, and fitness blogger. He shares his successes and failures to help busy men and women squash down 20, 50, or even 100 pounds of fat without leaving their home.

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