by Nick Marshall
If you’ve spotted the rise in runners, athletes and fellow gym-goers wearing long, knee-length stockings, you’ll realize that the secret’s out about compression socks. But those are just the ones you can see. You might not be aware that thanks to the range of fibers and styles available, you can wear compression socks under your everyday clothes for work, travel or just lounging around at home. Whatever the setting, compression socks are a powerful ally in reducing swelling, speeding up muscle recovery and restoring a little energy to tired legs.
Why You Need Compression Socks
You don’t have to be an athlete to see the benefits of compression socks, even if they’ll give you a much-needed boost on any long hike or run. The key benefit of compression is that it forces blood and fluid away from where gravity wants it to settle. Stand up or remain in the same place for any extended period and you’ll know what that feels like, with uncomfortable swelling or soreness in the feet and ankles. It’s usually only temporary, but if you’re suffering from edema — or simply going through pregnancy — that discomfort can be longer-lasting. Compression socks keep the circulation pumping and take the pressure off tired or aching limbs.
When to Wear Compression Socks
For those who are wearing compression socks for medical reasons, follow your doctor’s advice first and foremost. They may suggest you wear just one, for example. Otherwise, you can comfortably wear compression socks all day. Remove them when you go to bed to allow blood to circulate freely while your legs are raised. For sports or travel, pick a pair of socks with a lower compression rating. You might expect a longer stocking to be hot, but by hugging your skin closely, the breathable fabrics draw heat and moisture away from your body quickly, so you can keep them on for the duration of your run, bike ride or hike.
Types of Compression Socks
If you’re prescribed compression socks by a doctor (usually following surgery or if you’re suffering from edema or DVT), you can expect to need a slightly higher level of compression than those you’d wear for travel or sports. And this is where the humble sock gets surprisingly technical. The compression level of a sock is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Medical-grade socks start at 20 to 30 mm Hg, whereas recreational or comfort compression socks will be around 15 to 20 mmHg. That means you won’t have unsightly grooves or lines around your calves; most of the compression is around the ankles to push the circulation against gravity.
You could easily be forgiven for thinking that medical-grade compression socks might look, well, medical. In fact, you can find the same variety of colors and patterns that you’d expect if you were picking out a pair of debonair socks for everyday use. Compression socks also come in a wide-range of materials, allowing you to experience the benefits of compression regardless of what your day throws your way. Below is a breakdown of a few of the most common materials and when to wear them:
- For a soft, comfortable fit, cotton is breathable and ideal for light to moderate activity. Keep a pair of these in your drawer for wearing around the house or to work.
- If you’re going to be working up a sweat, nylon is just as soft but dries quicker. Our nylon and spandex blend gives you extra stretch and durability, so your socks will stand up to frequent use.
- Merino wool also wicks fast and keeps your feet snug and warm. This luxuriously soft fabric doesn’t itch like other wool blends, making it great for sensitive skin.
- For intense activity, moisture-wick nylon will keep your feet dry by drawing the sweat away fast. They’re light enough to slip easily into a backpack, gym bag or saddle bag, but they dry off quickly when you’re finished — so you don’t have to carry a roll of wet socks home after a killer workout.
When it comes to size, you can stick with your standard shoe size, but look for a choice of calf sizes. Calf circumference can vary by as much as 10 inches, so you’ll want a size that lets circulation flow freely.
Experiment with compression socks and you may well find that standard socks lose their pride of place in the sock drawer. After all, your everyday sock doesn’t bring much to the party, whereas compression socks will give you a noticeable energy boost. If you want to extract some marginal gains in your sports, or just feel better after a long flight, roll on a pair of compression socks and feel the difference.