The many uses for compression socks and tights
Posted 5th October 2016
What are compression socks?
Let’s start with the basics – compression socks are designed to aid the circulation in your legs and feet and improve blood flow. They do this by compressing the lower part of your leg – this increases the pressure and speed of blood flow.
The compression is strongest around the ankle and eases off as it gets higher up the leg – similar to squeezing a toothpaste tube from the bottom, pushing the blood flow up the body and back to the heart faster.
They also reduce the size of superficial veins in the leg, preventing them from overfilling with blood and stopping blood from flowing backwards.
What are they used for?
Compression socks are used in a number of situations …
You’ll probably first come across compression socks if you’ve got a medical issue. These include varicose veins, where the veins become swollen and enlarged, and lymphedema, a condition that sees your body's tissues swell up.
It can also be used for some injuries, like calf strains. Often if athletes have such an injury, they might wear compression socks over night to help speed up the healing process.
In sports, when you get tired your legs start to ache and you sometime even feel ‘the burn’. This is down to two facts – firstly, blood needs oxygen in it to function properly. Secondly, your body produces lactic acid during exercise, which accounts for the burning feeling.
When the blood travels to your heart it gets more oxygen and removes the lactic acid. So the faster your blood flows from your legs to your heart, the less tired you’ll feel.
Compression socks, as mentioned, help increase the velocity of your blood flow. Not only that, but they provide muscle support preventing muscle vibration, which saps even more energy from your tired legs.
Your body goes through some amazing changes during pregnancy, but these can have negative side effects.
Not only does the amount of blood in your body increase, but the walls of your veins become more flexible. Add to that the position of the baby putting more pressure on the leg veins and it’s clear you need some help.
Compression socks help keep the blood flow even, while offering support for the more flexible veins.
Energising for long days at work
There are two things that can cause blood to start pooling in your legs and feet – being stationary for extended periods, and being on your feet all day.
This is just gravity working on your blood. If you don’t move or are upright all day, gravity drags the blood down.
Nurses, who often spend long shifts on their feet, will sometimes use compression socks to help keep the blood flowing back up to their hearts to prevent sore and tired legs. The same goes for people spending hours on end sat staring at a computer screen.
Compression socks are often worn during long haul flights to help prevent a condition called deep vein thrombosis – or DVT. This is when the blood pools in your leg more than normal and can lead to pain and swelling and even blood clots in legs. If these clots break off, they could cause pulmonary embolism.
Some people are more at risk of DVT than others, so it’s often recommended they wear compression socks on flights of more than 4 hours. They help keep the blood flowing to prevent pooling and clotting.
If you think you’re at risk of any of the conditions above, please contact your GP before trying compression socks.