It’s a known fact: compression socks boost peripheral circulation, giving people of all backgrounds multiple benefits. From improved blood flow that keeps feet warm, to quicker time to recovery after sports, to a gentle, relaxing massage at the end of a long day - there are lots of reasons to buy a pair.
But, how long does it take for compression socks to work, really? Will you be able to feel the benefits immediately once you put them on? And what are the timescales you should expect, depending on your situation?
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about timescales to see improved circulation, less fatigue, enhanced athletic performance, or pain relief. We’ll also cover what to expect when you first wear compression socks and how to know they’re working, plus some must-know factors that influence their effectiveness.
How Long Do Compression Socks Take To Work?
Compression therapy covers a wide range of uses for restrictive garments that boost blood flow in the area they are worn on. In the case of compression socks, this includes wearing them preemptively before an event that’s expected to cause some discomfort, during the event, or afterwards.
If you’re wearing compression socks ahead of playing sports or running, to boost blood flow and get your muscles warmed up, then you will notice the positive effects during exercise and well beyond it. Compression socks boost blood flow locally in the lower legs, while massaging the muscles gently. If you then feel less fatigued during your run or hike, or when your post-exercise soreness takes longer to settle in (or is less strong), this is likely because of the effect of wearing compression socks preemptively.
Similarly, compression socks are worn during a period of time when blood flow to the lower legs may suffer. This includes during a long flight, while teaching or working as a nurse, or during a long hike, for example. You’ll notice a tight grip on your muscles right away, as well as the enhanced support from the socks. As far as reduced muscle soreness or decreased risk of swelling and discomfort, this can be felt during the event and long afterwards.
Finally, if you wear compression socks to recover after a long day on your feet, you’ll get an immediate pleasant feeling of lower leg massage. You should then expect to see swelling go down in a few hours, depending on your personal circumstances. And research suggests that you’ll be ready to go back out on your feet quicker than you would without compression socks.
It’s difficult to know exactly when the improvement in blood flow takes place once you put on a pair of compression socks. What we know is that graduated compression socks stimulate the flow of blood from the feet back up to the heart. This contributes to continued, regular circulation throughout the body. It decreases the risk of blood clots and venous insufficiency and reduces the chances of feet swelling and becoming painful.
Reduced Swelling and Fluid Retention
Swollen feet and ankles can be extremely uncomfortable. They are often caused by spending a long time on your feet, where gravity works against proper blood flow in the lower legs. You could also suffer from fluid retention, which will also lead to swelling.
Thanks to the blood flow stimulating action of compression socks and the ongoing gentle massage they apply to the lower legs, you’ll have less of a risk of swelling. In terms of timescales, this really depends on individual circumstances, but you should feel the beneficial effect of the lower leg massage right away.
If you’re in pain because of swelling in the lower legs, compression socks can bring this down through improved circulation. It will take some time for blood to flow continuously and for swelling to go down, however. Wearing compression socks for a few hours, however, will kickstart a process of reducing inflammation and a gentle massage at the same time.
Studies have observed an improvement in muscle recovery 24-48 hours after maximal exercise when wearing compression socks. In other words, comparing athletes who wore compression socks for recovery to those who didn’t, their levels of soreness were improved in a timespan of both 24 and 48 hours. This isn’t to say that’s how long it takes for complete recovery, but it is an indication of the improvement from wearing compression garments vs not doing so.
Reduction of Fatigue and Heaviness
As a subjective feeling, “heavy legs” can start to improve as soon as you put on compression socks. You should feel a gentle massage on the lower legs right away, which often leads to less heaviness as inflammation and swelling begins to go down. The time for this to fully take effect will vary from person to person, as will the fatigue reduction.
Enhanced Athletic Performance
There is no linear correlation between wearing compression socks and gaining improvements in athletic performance. However, the benefits of boosted blood flow and the reduction in recovery time have been proven in multiple studies. Anyone from regular athletes to insufficiently active adults can experience less muscle soreness after wearing compression socks, compared to when they don’t.
Being able to return to training sooner and feeling less sore contribute to increasing workout frequency, which - over time - will improve an athlete’s performance. So, there is a connection there, albeit not yet demonstrated scientifically.
What to Expect When You First Wear Compression Socks
Compression stockings, socks and tights may take a short while to get used to. When you first wear them, the first thing to expect is a tight grip on the lower legs. Graduated compression socks will feel tighter at the ankle and slowly less so, towards the knee.
This feeling of tightness should be comfortable, however. To get the benefits of wearing them, your socks should never be too tight or too loose. That’s why it’s important to get the sizing right - use a guide if needed. You should not get tingling or numb feet from the socks, nor should they hurt.
For first-time users, there’s no particular “magic” effect right away. However, after regularly wearing compression socks when you’re on your feet a long time, working out, or taking a long-haul flight, you should notice that your ankles and feet don’t swell as much and that your legs feel fresher and more energized.
Long-Term Effects of Compression Socks
The best way to experience the positive effects of compression socks is to wear them regularly, especially when you come across activities or scenarios where the need for them first came up. For example, wear them if you’re bed-ridden for a long time or if you spend a long time on your feet at work.
With regular use of compression socks, those at risk of developing blood clots or suffering from circulatory problems will not necessarily observe a benefit. However, following up with your doctor can allow you to see if any medical condition has improved. Remember: a large part of how compression socks help is that they prevent certain issues from occurring.
Athletes, active people, and people who work behind a desk or in professions where they have to be on their feet all day will feel more energized after wearing compression socks regularly. They’ll notice less swelling, quicker time to recovery, and overall lighter feelings in their legs. However, the exact space of time for noticing effects depends on your personal situations and lots of factors that we’ll see below.
How to Know Compression Socks Are Working
The best results from wearing compression socks look like this:
- Less or no swelling around ankles and feet;
- Energized, lighter legs;
- Reduced muscle soreness after exercise;
- No tingling or numbness.
However, depending on medical conditions such as varicose veins or deep vein thrombosis, there are many ways in which compression socks work without being noticeable. For example, improved blood circulation that prevents a blood clot from forming cannot be observed freely. However, a regular check-up with your doctor should enable you to look into this in more detail.
Factors That Influence the Effectiveness of Compression Socks
So, what can influence how well compression socks work for you? As we’ve mentioned before, personal circumstances affect the results of wearing these garments. From your individual lifestyle to other elements like compression level, sizing, etc., here’s what you should be aware of.
Of course, everyone is different. Even two patients with the exact same diagnosis will react to treatments differently. This is also the case with wearing compression socks. While someone’s circulatory system can respond relatively well to compression, it may not have an impact on someone else. This is why we recommend trying compression socks for yourself and seeing how they impact your everyday life.
Consistent Use vs Occasional Use
Wearing compression socks occasionally can yield great results for those who use them for very specific scenarios. For example, they can help avoid the formation of blood clots and keep swelling and pain down when you take a long-haul flight.
At the same time, if you wear compression socks to address symptoms of an ongoing medical condition, then consistent use will be essential for observing the benefits. Discuss the desired frequency and length of use with your doctor.
Proper Size and Fit
Compression socks need to fit tightly to give you any benefits. However, many unwanted side effects of wearing them stem from improper sizing and fit. Ensure you have measured your calf circumference and matched it with the sizing chart here.
Graduated Compression vs Regular Compression
For an optimal blood flow boost, we recommend wearing graduated compression socks. This is because they actually stimulate blood flow towards the heart from the lower legs, whereas regular, uniform compression doesn’t have this directional action.
However, if you’re looking for compression socks or calf sleeves to support the muscles and joints, then the upwards blood flow boost is less of a priority. You’ll instantly notice the tighter grip from a regular compression sock, sleeve, or tights as well.
Choosing the Right Compression Level
Another important aspect to consider with compression is how much pressure is applied to the legs. Compression socks come in a number of such categories, shown in mmHg:
- Moderate compression for everyday wear (15-20 mmHg) - These will feel like a tight, but gentle pressure on the legs, stimulating blood flow and supporting the muscles; they can be worn all day long;
- Firmer compression (20-30 mmHg) - Usually prescribed for patients suffering from moderate edema, DVT, or pre- and post-surgery. You should consult with a doctor before wearing these;
- Medical grade compression (30-40 mmHg) - Available by prescription only, these socks are designed to help treat conditions like DVT and lymphedema. They will be effective in conjunction with other treatments prescribed by a medical professional.
Duration of Wear
The longer you wear compression garments, the more of a chance they have to apply their pressure onto the muscles and deliver blood flow boosting benefits. However, it’s best to start off wearing compression socks for a few hours at a time, until you get used to them. Then, gradually increase the length of time you have them on.
For a very active person, muscle soreness could be the primary reason they wear compression socks. They can notice results (i.e. decreased soreness, fresher feeling) in a few hours after they relax with their socks on.
At the same time, more sedentary people, bed-ridden patients, or diabetics, among others, may wear compression socks primarily for the blood flow boosting benefits. This is harder to notice right away and can require a follow-up with a doctor.
Overall Health and Underlying Conditions
If you have other health concerns or underlying conditions before you start wearing compression socks, these may impact their effectiveness. There’s a lot of variability here, so please check with your doctor how medication, health conditions, or anything else could interact with wearing compression garments in general.