Our body functions optimally thanks to our circulatory system, with blood traveling to each organ and delivering much-needed oxygen and nutrients. The moment there are blockages within this system, such as in the lower limbs and extremities, you can start to suffer from a number of difficult conditions.
Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) is a condition affecting blood flow to the legs or arms. It occurs most often in the legs, leading to pain and discomfort and even further problems in severe cases. As compression therapy can support healthy blood flow in your lower limbs, you may be wondering: can compression socks help relieve PAD symptoms?
Compression socks and stockings are beneficial for boosting circulation, helping your legs feel fresh and energized even after long days sitting down or standing up without much movement, and for recovering after exercise. They give a much-needed boost in blood flow from your lower limbs back towards the heart, keeping your body in good shape overall. However, it’s important to remember that everyone is different and that not all garments or health-related products work the same for everyone. This is why we recommend consulting with your doctor before wearing compression socks with PAD - in some severe cases of this illness, compression socks are not recommended.
What is Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD)?
Peripheral artery disease affects, as the name suggests, the blood vessels on your periphery - i.e., the legs and arms. It occurs when the blood vessels are narrowed, which can be caused by fatty plaque building up in the arteries (atherosclerosis). PAD most often appears in the legs and leads to painful sensations.
Symptoms of PAD start with pain in the legs when you carry out any physical activity, even from walking. When you rest, you’ll feel better. Over time, aches and pains can develop in your buttocks, hips, thighs or calf muscles, although 40% of PAD patients don’t experience any pain.
Worsening PAD leads to muscle atrophy (where muscles become weaker), hair loss, cold skin that accompanies pain when walking, and smooth, shiny skin. Patients also experience loss of pulses in the feet, cold or numb toes, and sores or ulcers in the feet that don’t heal. Some of these symptoms are common with other conditions such as diabetes, so you need to look into them with a medical professional first and foremost.
Risk factors for PAD include:
- A high blood pressure;
- High cholesterol levels;
- Being over 60.
Currently, the CDC advises that around 6.5 million people over the age of 40 suffer from PAD in the United States alone.
What are Compression Socks and What Do They Do?
To understand if compression socks can be good for PAD, we need to look at how they work. Both compression stockings and socks are designed to apply gentle pressure to the lower limbs, starting with stronger compression at the ankle and slowly releasing as they travel up towards the knee.
This pressure contributes to stimulating blood flow back towards the heart, helping to prevent swelling and discomfort. For those who spend a long time on their feet all day, compression socks can be excellent tools to keep legs feeling fresh. Equally, these garments are of real help to those suffering from edema, deep vein thrombosis, or even diabetes.
The main benefits of wearing compression socks for chronic illnesses are:
- Preventing swelling and fluid build-up in the lower legs;
- Relieving aches and pains;
- Allowing good blood flow throughout the body.
However, since compression garments apply pressure on the body, they can have side effects for those suffering from other conditions already causing dysfunctions of the circulatory system. So, although compression socks are prescribed by doctors in a number of scenarios, they should be checked with them by anyone who has doubts about their health benefits.
Are Compression Socks Good for PAD?
One of the key benefits of wearing compression socks is that they help stimulate the blood flow back up towards the heart, from the legs. If, however, you have a condition whereby blood struggles to arrive to your extremities, you are likely to either not benefit from these socks, or even to suffer some negative side effects.
During the early stages of PAD, you may use compression socks to combat swelling and mild pain. Studies have also shown that graduated compression helps those with venous ulceration and in the initial stages of developing varicose veins. At this point, wearing compression stockings may be recommended or prescribed by a doctor. They will also check the pressure levels you need and advise on very specific types of compression wear.
If you have severe PAD, it’s generally not advisable to wear compression socks. There are links between peripheral artery disease and the onset of venous thromboembolism, which is a condition that develops blood clots and occurs more often in people with a low ankle brachial index. If you fall within this category, then wearing compression stockings can cause you more pain, delay the time it takes wounds to heal, and provoke neuropathy.
Wearing compression socks on the advice of a medical specialist and with very specific directions around sizing and compression levels can be beneficial. Another factor to consider if you have PAD is the stage of the illness, its symptoms, and any other personal illnesses or conditions. All these need to be looked into carefully before making a decision to wear compression socks for treatment purposes.
Diabetic Socks for PAD
Compression socks and diabetic socks are different, yet similar, too. Diabetic socks are designed to protect the lower limbs from injuries such as bee stings and blisters. Patients suffering from diabetes need to reduce their risk of infection, so diabetic socks are essential against this goal.
However, while there are similarities between diabetic socks and compression socks, they are quite different and therefore, have different applications and impacts on PAD. Compression socks are first and foremost designed to improve blood circulation. Diabetic socks, on the other hand, aim to protect the legs and feet from infection, keep them dry, and generally work for diabetes patients who have specific issues with their limbs.
Can diabetic socks help with PAD? Having diabetes puts you at increased risk of developing PAD, so there’s a chance you already wear these socks if you had diabetes before being diagnosed with PAD. Some diabetic socks help measure the moisture levels and temperature in your feet, which can be important for those who cannot feel their feet because of numbness.
Other Ways to Treat PAD and Relieve Your Symptoms
Wearing specialized socks is not the only way to treat symptoms caused by peripheral artery disease. In the first instance, doctors will recommend antiplatelet medicines (such as aspirin) to prevent serious complications from PAD and atherosclerosis. Additionally, you may need to take medicine to lower your blood cholesterol, if this is high and is linked to the onset of PAD in your case.
Smokers should quit smoking immediately if diagnosed with PAD. Furthermore, some patients require surgery to bypass blocked arteries. Finally, it’s beneficial to start an exercise program when you have pain from very little blood flow getting into your muscles. Gentle movement helps stimulate blood flow and reduce soreness in the legs.
Generally, when you suffer from heavy legs, you can do some gentle stretches and try to add movement to your day so that blood flows into and away from your legs. However, if you have a chronic illness, you always need to check with your doctor what’s best for you.
If compression socks are right for you, have a look at our catalog of various styles, compression levels, and fabrics. You’ll find your perfect match for any activity and setting.