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Save Our Soles: The Compression Sock Revolution

Posted by Rachel on

It wasn’t long ago when you’d hear the words “compression socks” and think “boring,” “uncomfortable,” and perhaps even “matronly.” Nowadays, more and more people are opening themselves up to the relief that compression clothing can offer, and the industry has been responding with designs that are more comfortable and that are as stylish as they are effective. (The New York Times even declared they are "no longer for grandmas".) These elasticized garments apply constant pressure to leg, with the highest pressure occurring around the ankle and dissipating up the leg to help direct blood to where it should be going – up the body, back toward your heart.

There are various reasons people choose to wear compression socks – many athletes swear they help reduce fatigue in the legs, and a 2016 study concluded that compression socks can provide relief to air travellers. In general, people reach for these products for the following reasons:

- To improve blood flow
- To offer relief to heavy- or tired-feeling legs
- To reduce swelling
- To help prevent blood clots

Because of these perceived benefits, doctors may recommend compression socks for patients suffering from vein-and drainage-related maladies including:

- Varicose and spider veins
- Deep vein thrombosis
- Lymphedema
- Chronic venous insufficiency
- Phlebitis

Women who are pregnant may also be told by their physicians to wear compression socks or stockings to help improve lower-body circulation – the pressure of the fetus, changes in weight, extra blood volume, and hormonal fluctuations can all impact blood flow throughout a pregnant body. Patients who are bedridden can also benefit from the improved circulation that compression therapy clothing offer.

Still, knowing what health issues this clothing can help isn’t the same as knowing which type you need. Your doctor should be able to point you in the right direction, but here are the main things to keep in mind when shopping:

Pressure level

Official compression socks and tights will come bearing a measurement in mmHg – millimetre of mercury, or the amount of pressure created by a tube of mercury one millimetre high. When your doctor takes your blood pressure during a routine checkup, the measurement you receive is in mmHg.

Levels of pressure include 8 to 15 mmHg (mild), 15 to 20 mmHg (moderate), 20 to 30 mmHg (firm), and 30 to 40 mmHg (extra firm). Check with your doctor to determine what level would work best for you.

Length and style

More so than with your everyday, garden-variety socks and tights, the style of compression garment you choose has less to do with what goes with your outfit and more with the product’s function. (Though finishing off your favourite outfit with a bit of flash is obviously a fringe benefit!)

Compression sleeves cover the calf from below the knee to the ankle, and are favoured by endurance sport athletes.

Knee-highs, as the name suggests, go from the knees all the way down to the toes; sometimes also offered in an open-toe style.

Leggings cover the waist to the ankle, while pantyhose are generally sheer versions of leggings with closed toes.

Colour, pattern, and transparency

With a multitude of colours and patterns available in the compression sock market, you are only limited by your imagination!

Want to put the finishing touch on your professional look? Try Jobst Men's Dress Socks or Juzo Naturally Sheer Compression Hose. Looking for something that pops? Lunatik Athletiks has a ton of eye-catching patterns, including Urbane Stripe or Rockin' Dot.

The information contained on Healthwick is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your physician before buying compression garments.

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