The compression sock debate is complex: should you wear ankle or knee-high socks? Should you go for calf sleeves or full socks? Are stockings, leggings, or tights better or worse than compression socks for the same benefits? When should you go for open toe designs?
The truth is, there is no simple answer. In this article, we’ll analyze the pros and cons of ankle compression socks vs knee-high. Read on to find out:
- How and why ankle compression socks work;
- What both ankle and knee-high compression socks are used for;
- The differences between them;
- How to choose the best socks for you.
Do Ankle Compression Socks Work?
So far on our blog, we’ve covered many benefits of wearing compression socks with the implication that it’s always socks that go up to your knees. However, this doesn’t mean that ankle compression socks don’t work or that there isn’t a role for them, too.
Regardless of their length, compression socks help improve blood circulation. When you go for ankle-high socks, they apply pressure from the ankle down and still stimulate blood flow up towards the heart. Ankle socks are tighter around the ankle and then release this pressure just above it, just like any gradual compression socks. They also massage and support your ankle and your foot.
By supporting good blood flow in your feet and ankle area, compression socks help prevent the formation of blood clots and swelling. Wearing ankle compression socks will keep your feet feeling light and comfortable when you’re on your feet all day or during prolonged periods of sitting (like on long flights).
Finally, ankle compression is great when you’re returning from an injury to that joint. Wearing compression socks helps you feel more supported and stable around the ankle, also reducing the effects of micro-vibrations to the area.
Are Knee-High Compression Socks Better Than Ankle?
Whether you apply compression on a specific part of the body is linked to your requirements - either from exercise, daily pressure, or medical conditions. Therefore, there is no “better” or “worse” type of sock, just the one that is most appropriate for your case.
For runners and hikers who put a lot of pressure on their calf muscles, knee-high compression socks are more helpful because they offer benefits higher up the leg. They can also be a lifesaver from cuts and grazes out in nature. However, if you’re looking to boost circulation just in your feet and ankle area, or if you regularly get swollen ankles but don’t want socks that go all the way up to below the knee, then ankle socks are a better choice.
What Are Ankle Compression Socks Used For?
Compression socks that go up to just above the ankle are great for boosting circulation in your feet and for supporting the ankle joint. Here are some of the best use cases for ankle-height compression socks:
- Increasing blood flow to the feet, especially for those with circulatory problems or cold feet;
- Relieving soreness in the ankle and feet;
- Supporting the ankle joint after surgery or when recovering from injuries;
- Preventing blood clots and vein related injuries and damage;
- Keeping feet warm thanks to increased blood flow.
What Are Knee-High Compression Socks Used For?
Knee-high compression socks provide all the benefits listed for ankle socks, but they’re also specifically supportive of the calf muscles. This area between your ankle and your knee can find itself under a lot of pressure when playing sports, running, walking or hiking. It’s also a part of our bodies where we can develop blood clots, varicose veins, or deep vein thrombosis.
To prevent pain and swelling in the lower legs and to avoid medical conditions like varicose veins, knee-high compression socks stimulate blood flow and prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities. They also massage and gently support the calf muscles (along with the feet and ankles), helping speed up the recovery process after exercise. After a long day on your feet (working, walking, or standing), knee-high compression socks are a great way to get relief and prepare for going out again the next day.
You can use knee-high compression socks to:
- Increase blood flow in the lower legs below the knee;
- Support and speed up recovery for the calf muscles after vigorous exercise;
- Support for the lower legs during walking, hiking, running, or standing;
- Preventing the formation of blood clots and other medical conditions in the lower legs;
- Preventing or reducing swelling and aches and pains below the knees.
Ankle Compression Socks vs Knee-High Compression Socks
Now we know that ankle and knee-high compression socks are each beneficial, depending on your priorities, here are some key differences to remember when choosing your next pair.
Ankle socks cover your feet and ankles, stopping just above the ankle (where typically a sneaker would hit). Sometimes, they can be a little higher than that (midway up, like a crew sock).
Knee-high socks cover your feet, ankles, and up the lower leg until just below the knees.
Stability and Support
Both knee-high and ankle compression socks apply pressure to the lower legs, providing support and stability, as well as relief from aches and pains. When you wear knee-high socks, the feeling of tightness and slight massage will continue up the leg until just under your knees. With ankle socks, this only applies to the foot and ankle joint.
Intended Uses and Benefits
Both types of socks are great for sports enthusiasts looking to improve recovery times and increase performance. Compression is one of the key elements of recovery from effort. If you’re feeling particularly tight in the calf area, then knee-high socks are preferable to make the most of the benefits.
For those looking to improve their peripheral circulation and reduce the risk of blood clots and other medical conditions, ankle and knee-high socks deliver multiple benefits. The question is of choosing the area that you’re most concerned about - i.e., just the feet, or the feet and below-the-knee section as well.
Finally, ankle-high socks can be great for focusing the compression in the foot and ankle area only. You may want to do this if you’ve had a foot injury, a sprain, or a stress fracture. On the other hand, for preventing shin splints or calf pain, you will need knee-high compression socks.
Choosing the Right Option for You
For lifestyle and athletic needs, compression socks can be great for reducing the time it takes to recover from exercise, as well as to keep you feeling fresh and energized during travel or at work. For those suffering from certain medical conditions, they also support better blood flow and prevent issues, or help reduce the effects of certain illnesses. Here’s how to choose whether ankle or knee-high socks are the best for your situation.
Medical Conditions and Level of Compression Needed
Your doctor or medical professional will refer you to the right type of compression socks that can help with a medical condition. When you’re suffering from blood clots or varicose veins, knee-high compression will likely be the most effective.
Compression socks also come in various compression levels, becoming tighter for those with medical conditions. You can read more about compression levels here.
Finally, if you’re looking for compression socks to help with recovery after an injury or surgery, then start from the area that’s been affected. As we mentioned above, if you’re coming back from a foot stress fracture or an ankle sprain, you may find ankle-high socks to be perfect for you. But, for those who’ve had shin splints, for example, knee-high socks are essential.
Lifestyle and Individual Needs
Compression socks are not just functional, they can be fun and stylish, too! Some might frown at the look of knee-high socks with their outfits, but these compression socks can enhance your looks and offer a pop of color. Depending on your individual style, however, you may be happier choosing black stockings or compression leggings.
If your lifestyle involves a lot of standing around or sitting for long periods of time in trains or planes, you may want to consider ankle-high socks to prevent your ankles from swelling up. However, runners and hikers will opt for knee-high socks to get more benefits higher up the leg.
Recommendations from Healthcare Professionals
Finally, which compression socks are right for you can ultimately be a question for the specialists. Especially if you’re suffering from a specific medical condition or have some doubts or particular challenges, it pays to consult with a healthcare professional who can advise on whether to wear ankle compression socks or go knee-high.