Compression Socks vs Ace Bandage: Choosing the Right Option

ACE bandages, also known as elastic or compression bandages, offer effective joint support for injuries such as sprained ankles. The term “ACE bandages” has become generalized, but it comes from the brand name “ACE” or All Cotton Elastic. Compression socks provide compression like ACE bandages or ACE wraps. However, compression socks wrap around the feet and lower limbs all the way up to below the knee, supporting the affected area of an injury in a more complete and stable fashion.

In this blog, we will look at the key differences between ACE bandages and compression socks, and we will cover when to use compression socks and when to use compression bandages or wraps instead.

Compression Socks vs ACE Bandages

High-quality compression socks and compression wear, like our complete collection at Vim & Vigr, effectively apply pressure in an even and comfortable fashion. In addition, here at Vim & Vigr, we made all our compression wear with moisture-wicking, comfortable materials that make them comfortable to wear even while exercising. Our compression socks boost peripheral blood flow, help you recover after an injury, and may also reduce your risk of getting a new injury. Unlike high-quality compression wear, ACE bandages are not a good, long-term solution or prevention tool. If not applied by a medical professional, ACE bandages do not apply even pressure and can be prone to loosening or coming off completely. If they are put on wrong, ACE bandages can cause skin lesions or pressure ulcers, according to a 2020 report. So, if you want an easy at-home compression, compression socks are also easier to wear and use than medical bandages, especially for injuries like sprained ankles.

Material and Design

An ACE bandage is a type of compression bandage, which includes short stretch and long stretch wraps or bandages. Short stretch bandages shorten around the affected area to apply pressure. This applies consistent pressure and makes them a good choice for small wounds that need compression. Long stretch bandages can be applied to larger body parts, often around joints, and can stretch up to three times their original size. ACE bandages are altogether different - they’re designed for acute sports injuries and provide quick relief in cases of sprains, twists and strains. They are all cotton elastic compression bandages, which provide short term pressure and support to the joint.

ACE bandages are typically made from cotton, polyester, and synthetic rubber. These elastic bandages can often cause discomfort and, in severe cases of improper use, compartment syndrome, which often leads to permanent pain.  On the other hand, compression socks are made from a variety of materials and are designed to offer more than an easy and safe way to apply pressure to the lower limbs. Vim & Vigr socks, for example, offer an all-day wear cotton range which is extremely versatile. You can also choose from moisture-wick nylon, regular nylon, or merino wool for wearing while running or hiking.

A key difference between ACE bandages and compression socks is the versatility of compression socks and how easy they are to use. Compression socks cover the feet, ankles, and lower legs, coming up to just below the knee. Compression socks prevent painful swelling and give your lower legs a muscle massage – all at the same time. Because of how compression socks work, they are effective for any activity, from wearing them all day long to using them for a warm-up or for recovery after exercise. Finally, you can wear compression socks at work or during your workouts to improve peripheral blood flow while avoiding swelling and discomfort.

Benefits and Effectiveness

An ACE bandage applies a higher level of pressure when moving, and lower when resting. This makes it most effective in short-term treatment of an injury. A pair of compression socks, meanwhile, can be used in the long term to continue to support a previously injured joint and to prevent swelling, as well as to prevent a new injury.

Very often, doctors and physiotherapists suggest that athletes returning to workouts after an injury wear compression socks or sleeves. Compression socks help boost blood flow in the lower limbs while offering gentle support to the joints and muscles. This takes some of the pressure off relatively fragile ligaments or muscles, especially after injuries to the Achilles tendon or calf muscles, for example. In contrast, ACE bandages are not easy to use and apply when playing your favorite sport or running, and they often come undone and can be put on incorrectly, which could lead to skin irritation or other swelling problems.

 

Prevent injuries when running with compression socks.

Differences in Compression

While compression socks apply continuous and consistent pressure to the limbs, ACE bandages are considered “inadequate” in the level of pressure they apply. ACE bandages do not apply consistent pressure throughout the area they are applied to – areas may have too high of pressure while some may not have enough. Additionally, with graduated compression socks, you can have more pressure applied towards the feet and ankles, gradually loosening as the sock climbs up towards the knee. This stimulates blood flow out from the legs and boosts peripheral circulation. ACE bandages do not offer this gradual compression and cannot provide a boost in blood flow that also helps patients recover more quickly – unless applied by a medical professional.

Finally, there is a concern that ACE bandages can loosen or become undone, especially if they were self-applied. Graduated compression socks do not have this problem. As long as you put compression socks on correctly, they should not roll down or loosen. Compression socks are also a fashionable and comfortable item to wear, unlike the obvious compression bandages.

Ease of Use and Convenience of Compression Socks

ACE bandages come in many sizes and can be adapted to a specific area of your body (e.g., ankle). Verywell Health advises users to only keep them on for the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury, while removing them at least twice daily for several minutes. Because ACE bandages lose their elasticity much more quickly than high-quality compression socks, using ACE bandages can be more expensive than compression socks, especially if you need compression long-term.

Further, you can wear compression socks for 24 hours continuously, especially once you get used to the level of pressure applied to the limbs. Compression socks offer gentle and even support and pressure. Compression socks can be adapted to suit your situation: for example, you can wear lighter compression, 15-20 mmHg, for injury prevention and boosting your blood flow. In cases of recovering from surgery or for specific medical conditions and injuries, you can upgrade your compression socks to 20-30 mmHg or medical-grade 30-40 mmHg pressures.

Can You Use an ACE Bandage for Compression Stockings?

ACE bandages can be effective for providing compression if they are applied correctly and are the right size for the affected area. However, compression bandages will lose their tightness over time and cannot be kept on for hours on end. Conversely, compression socks and stockings are made with high-quality fibers that maintain tightness and elasticity, which makes them able to apply pressure on the limbs for a long time and over many wears.

It may seem that an ACE bandage is a cheaper alternative to compression stockings. However, compression bandages are only a short-term solution. If you consider the number of wears and versatility you get from compression socks, compression socks are a much better investment, especially if you need regular compression when recovering from an injury. You can wear your compression socks many, many times without losing tightness, and they can become a regular, stylish part of your wardrobe.

Finally, if you are concerned about the degree of pressure applied on the injured area, talk to your doctor about what is right for you. Vim & Vigr socks come in different levels of compression, including medical-grade 30-40 mmHg, which can be beneficial for those suffering from circulatory problems or edema. And the best part is that you can still style these socks with different outfits for work or casual outings!

When to Choose Compression Socks

So, what is the best use for compression socks vs ACE or compression wraps and bandages? For long-term use, staying active, and day-to-day scenarios like long flights or injury recovery, compression socks are a smart choice thanks to their versatility, ease of use, and how long you can use one pair of compression socks.

Medical Conditions

Doctors prescribe compression socks or medical ace bandages to patients suffering from circulatory problems, particularly in the lower limbs. If you have conditions like varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, or edema, graduated compression socks help reduce swelling and inflammation. They are known to support peripheral circulation and can also reduce the symptoms of neuropathy and other problems that particularly affect the feet and lower legs.

 

Soothe aching limbs with comfortable compression socks.

Long-Term Use and Daily Wear

Whether you are looking for a solution to make your limbs feel lighter and more energized, trying to get rid of uncomfortable swelling in the heat, or simply searching for a bit more support for your ankles, compression socks can be worn in any setting and for as long as you feel comfortable. This sets them apart from compression bandages or wraps, which are applied specifically to an injured area and meant to be used for the short term only.

Long Flights and Travel

The CDC states that passengers on long flights have an increased risk of developing blood clots and potentially deep vein thrombosis. To avoid this, boosting peripheral circulation is the best method. Graduated compression socks like the Vim & Vigr 15-20 mmHg pressure range allow casual users to prevent swelling and discomfort during long bouts of travel. They also stimulate blood flow, preventing it from pooling around the ankles when you sit still for a long time. This reduces the risk of a blood clot forming, particularly in the deep veins, which can lead to DVT and dangerous complications.

Prolonged Sitting or Standing

When you spend a long time sitting behind a desk, you  increase the risk of having painful swelling in your legs. It is recommended that people change positions often and move around as much as possible. Compression socks are also a great tool to prevent any discomfort in these situations. They stimulate blood flow while gently massaging the lower leg muscles and keeping the legs and feet from going numb or tingling.

Similarly, extended periods of standing can be detrimental to the health of your lower leg veins and lead to blood pooling around the ankles. Professionals like teachers, nurses, or hairdressers all resort to compression wear to prevent this.

During Exercise and Sports

Finally, compression socks and sleeves are great for supporting your joints and muscles while exercising. When you return to sport after an injury, wearing compression garments provides extra firmness around the ankles and lower legs, which is reassuring for athletes. Moreover, the extra support these types of clothing give to your calf muscles and shins can reduce the impact of running, walking, or jumping on the body, making it easier for athletes and recreational players to keep practicing the activities they love.

After workouts, compression socks have been found to improve recovery, according to a 2021 study. The boost in peripheral blood flow from compression socks helps transport oxygen and nutrients to muscles, aiding the recovery process. Additionally, the massage provided by compression socks is soothing and may help reduce muscle soreness.

When to Choose an ACE Bandage

While compression socks are extremely versatile and effective for long-term wear, ACE bandages are great for immediate injury care and short-term (24 - 48 hour) interventions.

Short-Term Use

A compression wrap can prevent swelling immediately following an injury. ACE bandages can be wrapped around a sprain or strain and will apply pressure to the affected area to prevent further problems.

It is important to know that these bandages can become loose, so you should check them periodically. Consult with your doctor to find the best course of treatment for the longer term, including suggested rehabilitation or physical therapy courses.

Compression bandages can also provide short-term relief from edema and improve local circulation. However, they are less effective for the longer term and not as easy to use as compression socks and stockings.

Immediate Injury Care

Compression wraps can be effective in the short term for sprained ankles, swollen feet, or knee pain. In these cases, an ACE bandage applied correctly can support the affected area, improve localized blood flow to bring down inflammation and pain, and reduce the range of motion to protect you from further injury. It is recommended that you seek a first aid trained specialist to apply the bandage correctly and that you check with a medical professional soon afterwards to analyze the extent of the injury.

References

Rabe, E., Partsch, H., Morrison, N., Meissner, M. H., Mosti, G., Lattimer, C. R., Carpentier, P. H., Gaillard, S., Jünger, M., Urbanek, T., Hafner, J., Patel, M., Wu, S., Caprini, J., Lurie, F., & Hirsch, T. (2020). Risks and contraindications of medical compression treatment - A critical reappraisal. An international consensus statement. Phlebology, 35(7), 447–460. Read it here.

Danner, R., Partanen, K., Partanen, J., & Kettunen, K. (1989). Iatrogenic compartment syndrome, A follow-up of four cases caused by elastic bandage. Clinical neurology and neurosurgery, 91(1), 37–43. Read it here.

Sugahara, I., Doi, M., Nakayama, R., & Sasaki, K. (2018). Acute effect of wearing compression stockings on lower leg swelling and muscle stiffness in healthy young women. Clinical physiology and functional imaging, 10.1111/cpf.12527. Advance online publication. Read it here.

O'Riordan, S. F., Bishop, D. J., Halson, S. L., & Broatch, J. R. (2023). Do Sports Compression Garments Alter Measures of Peripheral Blood Flow? A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 53(2), 481–501. Read it here.

Moñux, G., Serna-Soto, M., Plá-Sanchez, F., Zamorano-León, J. J., Segura, A., Rial, R., Freixer, G., Zekri-Nechar, K., Hugo-Martínez, C., Serrano, J., & López-Farré, A. (2021). Compression stockings attenuate the expression of proteins associated with vascular damage in human varicose veins. Journal of vascular surgery. Venous and lymphatic disorders, 9(2), 428–434. Read it here.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Advice for Travelers – Blood Clots. Travelers’ Health – CDC. Read it here.

Montoye, A. H. K., Mithen, A. A., Westra, H. L., Besteman, S. S., & Rider, B. C. (2021). The Effect of Compression Socks on Maximal Exercise Performance and Recovery in Insufficiently Active Adults. International journal of exercise science, 14(7), 1036–1051. Read it here.


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