Knee pain troubles up to 25% of US adults and can become more frequent with age. Knee pain stops you from doing the activities you enjoy, like playing with your grandchildren. Importantly, it can also prevent you from walking and staying fit. Knees can become sore from spending too long without moving, and they can also be injured while running, hiking, or sport.
Compression stockings and tights that cover the full length of your legs maintain a tight grip on the leg muscles and help stabilize the knee joint. Through stimulating blood flow, they help reduce inflammation and swelling, or prevent them from occurring. They can be an ideal recovery or prevention tool for those with sensitive knees.
Read on to find out how to use compression stockings to improve knee pain, including our tips on finding the right garments for you.
Do Compression Socks Help with Knee Pain?
Traditional compression socks reach up to just below the knee, which doesn’t give them the ability to help support the knee joint or boost circulation locally around the knee. Longer tights and compression stockings are, however, ideal for improving support. One scientific study even found that compression stockings improve blood flow in the knees and throughout the legs.
Through their tight grip on the legs, compression stockings add support to the knee joints. This improves stability and helps you feel reassured when you’re practicing a sport or even taking a walk. Moreover, they support the leg muscles in the lower extremities, from calf to quadriceps and hamstrings. The support provided by the compression stockings improves the biomechanics of walking and running, according to one study. This means that they take pressure off the articulations like the knee joint. This means that compression stockings can reduce knee pain while walking and may even reduce the risk of injury. It may be possible that the compression stockings could reduce the impact felt from running or walking because of better biomechanics.
Another reason compression stockings can help reduce knee pain is by improving blood circulation. Athletes, frequent travelers, and those who spend the day on their feet use compression socks or stockings to prevent blood from pooling around the lower extremities (particularly the ankles). Compression tights and socks boost circulation, maintaining good blood flow throughout the body. This keeps you more energized, helps reduce swelling and discomfort, and reduces the risk of circulatory problems like blood clots, among others.
Better blood flow also ensures that swelling and inflammation heal faster, which benefits people suffering from inflamed knee joints. Wearing compression stockings can help relieve pain, reduce swelling, and speed up recovery.
How Do Compression Stockings Work for Knee Pain?
Since they cover the entire length of the legs, compression stockings or tights provide support and boost circulation for the limbs. This is extremely beneficial for stability and reducing the stresses of exercise on the joints, while also reducing the likelihood of developing circulation problems.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, compression garments grip the body tightly to increase local blood flow. This reduces the risk of blood pooling in the area, forming blood clots or leading to conditions like deep vein thrombosis or varicose veins. Stockings and tights cover the entire length of the legs, which boosts blood flow from the ankles up towards the midsection and, ultimately, the heart. The effects of compression socks and stockings help people to recover in less time after exercise, according to one study. Moreover, good blood flow reduces inflammation and swelling, which can cause extreme pain around the knees.
In addition to benefits linked to blood flow, compression garments are also very supportive. The tight grip they have on the limbs reduces some of the strain of running or hiking on the muscles and joints. As a result, you’ll feel less sore and more energized for longer when you’re out exercising. Moreover, this support can help the knees feel more stable and track better - reducing knee pain and the risk of injury.
The Benefits of Compression Stockings for Knee Pain
While knee-high compression socks cannot deliver localized pain relief and support to the knees, switching to full-length compression stockings and tights boosts circulation and improves knee stability. Here are the top benefits.
Improved Circulation to Promote Healing
Better blood flow due to compression stockings was found to decrease swelling, shorten recovery time from exercise, and quicken healing from injury. When your knees are sore from arthritis or a recent injury, you’ll likely experience inflammation and pain. Covering the knee area with compression clothing boosts local circulation while taking some of the pressure off the knee joint. This will promote faster healing and soothe localized pain.
Reduced Swelling and Inflammation
While a boost in blood flow is linked with quicker recovery from an injury, it is also beneficial for reducing swelling and inflammation levels. Sore knees are often caused by sprains and strains or tendon damage, which are all linked to inflammation and swelling. Compression tights gently massage the legs while improving blood flow throughout - providing pain relief as well.
Muscle and Joint Support
Since they grip the legs tightly, compression stockings are also great for supporting the knee joints and the muscles. They improve the biomechanics of landing on hard surfaces (such as when running on the road), which is essential for protecting weak knees. They also support the muscles by enhancing blood flow to them during and after exercise. In turn, this keeps the muscles fresher and stronger, enabling them to better support the knees as well.
When and How to Wear Compression Socks for Knee Pain
One essential aspect to be aware of when resorting to compression therapy for your knee pain is that you will need to apply pressure to the knee joint and surrounding area. This can include knee sleeves which only cover the section just above and below the knee, or the much more practical and supportive full-length cover from tights or leggings.
Compression stockings can be worn the whole day and blend seamlessly into your wardrobe. You can pair them with work clothes for everyday wear or you can wear performance-focused compression tights for sporting activities. Either way, the key is to listen to your body and only wear these items for as long as you feel comfortable. We recommend starting with a couple of hours if you’re new to compression, then slowly increasing the length of time.
If you have a history of blood clots or vein disorders, be sure to consult your doctor before trying compression socks or stockings.
How to Pick the Best Compression Socks for Knee Pain
How can you make sure your compression garments will deliver against knee pain? We have a few essential tips to take into consideration.
Sizing and Fit
Any item of compression wear must fit well to deliver any benefits. This means not too tight (or it will be uncomfortable and cut off your circulation), but not too loose either (or it simply won’t work). Sizing is therefore essential - and we recommend following a sizing chart to match against your calf circumference and clothing size.
When you put on your compression tights, you should ensure that they are smoothed out, without any bunching or folding, which can also become uncomfortable.
Graduated Compression and mmHg
For those struggling with their peripheral circulation, graduated compression stockings are ideal for boosting blood flow up towards the heart. Only graduated garments (which are tighter towards the ankles and gradually loosen up) can give you a real upwards boost in circulation.
As for how tight your tights really are, you need to consider the mmHg - a way of measuring the pressure applied to your limbs. For full-length tights and stockings that you plan to wear the whole day long, 15-20 mmHg (i.e. everyday compression levels) is sufficient for being supporting and effective at boosting circulation.
Those suffering from deep vein thrombosis, poor circulation, or varicose veins can also use 20-30 mmHg compression tights. These are firmer, while still comfortable for longer-term wear.
Other Compression Garments to Consider
While tights and stockings are great for full-leg cover and support, your knee injury or specific pain source could benefit from a more local solution, such as a knee compression sleeve. This only covers the area around the knee and won’t deliver some other benefits like boosting upward blood flow, however. Consult with your doctor to see what is most appropriate in your case.
Find compression socks to help with your aches and pains here!
Bunt, C. W., Jonas, C. E., & Chang, J. G. (2018). Knee Pain in Adults and Adolescents: The Initial Evaluation. American family physician, 98(9), 576–585. Read it here.
Cheng, L., & Xiong, C. (2019). The effects of compression stockings on the energetics and biomechanics during walking. European journal of applied physiology, 119(11-12), 2701–2710. Read it here.
“Everything You Need to Know about Compression Socks.” Cleveland Clinic, 16 Aug. 2023. Read it here.
O'Riordan, S. F., Bishop, D. J., Halson, S. L., & Broatch, J. R. (2022). Compression-induced improvements in post-exercise recovery are associated with enhanced blood flow, and are not due to the placebo effect. Scientific reports, 12(1), 16762. Read it here.