Should You Wear Compression Socks?


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May 28, 2023

Should You Wear Compression Socks?

Canva/Verywell Compression stockings or socks are usually thought of as part of the standard “you’re getting older” toolkit, so you might be surprised to see them trending among the younger set on


Compression stockings or socks are usually thought of as part of the standard “you’re getting older” toolkit, so you might be surprised to see them trending among the younger set on social media. The tight socks are commonly seen in nursing homes and hospitals, but now they’re being showcased on TikTok and Instagram in bright colors and patterns.

Since compression socks are usually worn for medical purposes, should you get a pair if you don’t necessarily need them? Here’s what experts say.

Collin Johnston, DO, ABFM, a physician at Vein Envy, told Verywell that compression socks are meant to help get the blood flowing to the lower extremities—so, your legs and feet. Medical grade compression socks are different from normal socks in one important way: They gently squeeze the leg from the ankle up to improve blood flow.

Compression stockings come in different lengths, including below the knee, knee-high, thigh-high, and all the way to the waist, depending on what they’re being used for. Instead of putting the same amount of pressure through their length, the socks apply graduated pressure to keep your blood moving.

“This compression helps tiny valves inside the vein function better and promotes the flow of blood back to the heart, preventing excessive pooling of blood in the lower extremities and even reducing the risk of blood clots,” Johnston said.

The amount of pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Johnston said while the ideal level of compression is 20–30 mmHg, there are higher or lower levels available.

Jeffrey Apple, MD, FACS, a vascular surgeon at VeinSolutions, told Verywell that compression socks are most often used in two cases: to treat varicose veins and a condition when lymph fluid pools in the legs and causes swelling (lymphedema). Diabetes is one condition that can lead to this type of swelling. Compression stockings can also be prescribed for patients after vascular surgeries, too.

Most patients report that their legs feel ‘fresher’ and more energetic than when they don’t wear any form of compression.

“Stockings are also used as part of the healing process after certain varicose vein procedures like sclerotherapy, minimally invasive vein surgery, and endovenous ablation,” said Apple, adding that usually, patients should wear compression stockings for at least two weeks after their surgery, or for however long their provider tells them to during their recovery.

Compression socks are also used by people whose jobs keep them on their feet all day. KC Dwyer, a Registered Nurse (RN) and critical care nurse in Kansas City, told Verywell that compression socks are essential to their work wardrobe.

“They can make the difference between whether your legs function the day after a shift,” said Dwyer, explaining compression socks keep fluid from pooling in the legs, preventing swelling, pain, and varicose veins. “People know we walk a ton at work, but they don’t realize how much standing we do. I know nurses who passed on wearing them when they started and lived to regret it.”

More casually, many people wear compression garments on airplane flights or when they’re in other situations where extreme changes in pressure could affect blood circulation or cause swelling.

Outside of medicine, endurance athletes sometimes use compression to increase energy levels in their limbs—and there’s actually been some research to back up that anecdotal evidence.

When used correctly, Johnston said compression socks can be very effective. For varicose veins or swelling (edema), providers recommend wearing them for 6–10 hours during the active parts of the day. While there are no side effects or risks to wearing compression socks while you sleep, they won’t work as well when you’re not active.

“Patients will typically report a noticeable improvement in the amount of swelling in their lower legs at the end of the day,” said Johnston. “Additionally, most patients report that their legs feel ‘fresher’ and more energetic than when they don’t wear any form of compression.”

While compression socks can be prescribed by your provider and might even be covered by your insurance, you can get them over-the-counter (OTC) without a prescription. Since they’re becoming more popular on social media, they’re becoming easier to find and are as fashionable and functional.

According to Apple, the compression stockings you choose should fit tighter than usual socks but not be painful or make your feet or legs feel numb. Look for socks with compression levels of 20-30 mmHg to start. If that feels too constricting, you could still get benefits from 15-20 mmHg.

If they fit right, you should not have any side effects from wearing compression socks; however, you could have some mild skin irritation or itching, depending on the material they’re made from. Apple said to try different lengths or fabrics to find the one that’s best for you.

Compression stockings are tighter than normal socks and help improve blood flow. While they’re commonly used after surgery and by people with conditions that affect their blood circulation, you may find them beneficial if you’re an athlete or are on your feet all day at work.

Experts say there are no serious risks or side effects of wearing compression socks, but to get the most benefit, find a pair in a comfortable length and material and wear them during the most active parts of your day.

Mota GR, Simim MAM, Dos Santos IA, Sasaki JE, Marocolo M. Effects of wearing compression stockings on exercise performance and associated indicators: a systematic review. Open Access J Sports Med. 2020;11:29-42. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S198809

By Rachel MurphyRachel Murphy is a Kansas City, MO, journalist with more than 10 years of experience.