Compression socks are ‘hosiery’ (meaning they are worn on the feet and legs) that help to provide support and aid blood circulation (thus they also sometimes go by the name ‘support socks’) by adding mild pressure to the lower leg and the foot. These come in many different shapes and sizes and are often brownish in colour and translucent and of course stretchable so that they can fit onto any foot (meaning they are very small when removed) while adding pressure. Normally compression socks are tightest around the articles and become gradually less so upwards towards the knees. Essentially then they are small tight socks that provide the support of a bandage but can be worn for long periods of time without being impractical.
You should be able to get compression socks from your physician if necessary, or you can purchase them yourself from health stores and pharmacies. Bear in mind that compression socks are also graded in mmHG with 15-20mmHg providing only mild pressure and 20-30mmHg providing a firmer compression.
How Compression Socks Work
Compression socks apply ‘graduated’ pressure. During the day the body will pump blood to all extremities and this of course includes the foot or feet that the compression socks are being worn on. However throughout the day the effect of gravity can sometimes cause blood to pool in the bottom of the foot – especially if you spend a lot of the day on your feet – and this can cause a range of circulatory problems including varicose veins, edema, thrombosis or just leg cramps and discomfort.
Compression socks then work by placing pressure on the leg not far above the foot and this then means that there is less space for the blood to get through and the arteries and veins are narrowed. As the arterial pressure is increased this then means that more blood is returned to the heart rather than pooling in the feet.
Another function of compression socks can be to provide mild support much like a bandage and this is useful if you have sprained or twisted an ankle for instance. Here the compression can help to keep the bones in line and take some of the pressure off of the ankle joint while taking away some of the range of movement so that it is less likely to twist again (once you have twisted an ankle once it is far more likely to twist again) which could cause serious damage if it happened repeatedly. Often patients who have just come out of a cast will wear compression socks as an interim solution and to provide a ‘stepping stone’ between full support and being left to walk on their own. Finally some compression socks come with padded soles additionally to provide you with extra cushioning during walking or running.
Uses of Compression Socks
Thus there are many uses of compression socks. They can be used to treat the circulatory problems listed above such as thrombosis or varicose veins and they can help to counteract some of the ill effects of jobs that require you to be on your feet for large periods of time, or of being overweight which can place extra pressure on the feet through gravity. Additionally athletes may wear compression socks as a way to give themselves additional support for their activities that require running and jumping. Finally they can be very useful for those who have twisted their ankles or otherwise had bone, joint or muscle injuries focussed on their lower limbs.