Diabetes is a medical condition that encompasses your entire body. But, while most of us know of its impact on elevating blood sugar levels, the way diabetes affects blood circulation and, therefore, the extremities, may be less obvious.
How does diabetes affect blood circulation and what can compression socks do for diabetics? Compression garments boost blood flow in the area they are worn on, which counteracts some of the side effects of suffering from diabetes.
To fully understand this, we’ll look at how compression socks for diabetics work, what are the key symptoms of diabetes, and how compression socks relieve these. We’ll also cover key information like how to choose your socks and any potential risks and precautions you should be aware of. As always, this is not medical advice, and you should consult with your doctor if you are unsure if compression socks are right for you.
Are Compression Socks Good for Diabetics?
Many people suffering from diabetes experience swelling and discomfort in the lower legs or poor peripheral circulation. Compression socks support the muscles and joints, provide gentle massage to the lower legs, and boost blood circulation. All these actions are extremely helpful to diabetes patients.
Additionally, for those diabetics suffering from nerve damage, neuropathy, peripheral arterial disease, and other associated conditions, compression socks can also provide multiple benefits thanks to how they stimulate circulation. We’ll go into more detail below.
Understanding Diabetes and Circulation
Diabetes is a medical condition where a person’s blood sugar, also known as glucose, is too high. Glucose is what gives the cells in your body energy through the help of a hormone known as insulin.
However, diabetes isn’t a singular disease. There are multiple forms of it:
- Type-1 diabetes - when a person’s pancreas doesn’t produce a sufficient amount of insulin. It occurs most often in children and adolescents.
- Type-2 diabetes - occurs more often in adults and is the most common type of diabetes. This type is indicated by a person’s body being unable to make good use of insulin.
- Gestational diabetes (GDM) - similar to type-2 diabetes, except it occurs in pregnant women. It is indicated by high blood glucose, which can affect the health of both the mother and the developing fetus. Fortunately, it usually goes away after delivery, but type-2 diabetes may develop for the mother and/or child later in life.
Around 1 in 3 diabetics over the age of 50 are at risk of developing peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This condition occurs when the blood vessels in the legs become narrower because of fat deposits. As a result, there is less blood flow to the feet and legs. This leads to numb feet, tingling, feeling cold, and other discomforts and risks.
Generally, both types of diabetes cause too much sugar in the blood and this leads to a build-up of inside the blood vessels. Over time, they become narrower and can get inflamed. Blood flow becomes more difficult. This also increases the risk of a stroke.
Finally, many diabetics also suffer from diabetic neuropathy - nerve damage caused by the disease. In the limbs, peripheral neuropathy affects the feet and legs most often. About one-third to half of diabetes patients also suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
How Compression Socks Work for Diabetes
While compression socks cannot address the root causes of diabetes, they can alleviate a lot of pain and discomfort. Additionally, they are recommended by doctors to diabetics thanks to their unique ability to improve peripheral blood flow.
Wearing compression socks has also been found to reduce swelling and discomfort in the legs and feet. Moreover, over time, poor blood circulation can lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which are blood clots in the leg. When left untreated, a blood clot can travel to the lungs, heart, or brain. This can have fatal consequences so addressing it with any means available is obviously a good course of action.
Graduated compression socks stimulate blood flow from the lower part of the leg upwards towards the heart. This counteracts the effects of gravity and reduces the likelihood of blood pooling at the lower extremities, diminishing the risk of developing blood clots and other complications. Additionally, compression socks provide support and protection from cuts and grazes, which can also get infected easily and create even more health problems. And their gentle massage relaxes the muscles, supporting an active lifestyle - which is also essential for diabetics.
Benefits of Compression Socks for Diabetes
How exactly do compression socks for diabetes make a difference? Here are some key benefits that have been confirmed through studies and medical advice.
Enhanced Blood Circulation
The key benefit of wearing compression socks, especially graduated ones, is that they boost blood flow to the lower legs and throughout the body. Graduated compression socks are tighter at the ankle and ease up as they travel towards the knee. This stimulates blood flow upwards, towards the heart and back into the regular circulatory system.
As a result of improved circulation, there’s less swelling and pain in the legs. Better blood flow also helps diabetics recover more easily and quickly from physical exercise. Crucially, it reduces many risks of associated medical conditions, from blood clots to DVT and more.
Reduced Swelling and Edema
One of the added benefits of compression therapy is that the boost in blood flow works to reduce swelling in the legs and feet. When capillaries (small blood vessels) leak fluid, this can pool up, becoming edema. Instead of getting swollen, puffy feet and legs, wearing compression socks ensures there’s a continuous gentle pressure applied to the legs, supporting the blood flow through capillaries and working existing fluid out of the tissues.
Minimized Risk of Blood Clots
A well-functioning circulatory system reduces the risk of blockages in the veins, which can lead to the formation of blood clots. Wearing compression socks avoids risks associated with damaged veins that diabetes may have caused. Thanks to stimulating regular blood flow through these veins, you’re less likely to suffer from life-threatening complications such as blood clots.
Alleviation of Leg Discomfort and Pain
Swollen legs and feet often lead to pain and discomfort. When you’re suffering from diabetes, you’re likely to get numb or tingling feet from bad circulation. The build-up of blood and fluid can also feel painful and uncomfortable.
Compression socks help with this in two ways. Firstly, continuing to support blood flow means that the build-up in the veins is less likely to occur. Secondly, if you already have swollen legs and feet, wearing compression garments will massage them, reducing the discomfort through gentle pressure. It will also re-stimulate blood flow to the periphery, helping the swelling, inflammation, and associated pain levels decrease.
Do Compression Socks Work for Diabetic Neuropathy?
Diabetic neuropathy refers to damage to the nerves caused by suffering from diabetes. This manifests itself as numbness, pain, or weakness of the limbs - particularly, the feet.
Compression socks offer relief from diabetic neuropathy symptoms in a number of ways:
- They boost blood flow, which increases heat and reduces tingling and numbness in the area;
- They lower the risk of swelling and edema;
- They offer added support to the ankle joint, making diabetics gain better balance and confidence when walking or exercising;
- They massage the muscles, reducing numbness and discomfort;
- They add a layer of protection from the elements such as cuts and grazes, and offer extra padding to keep the feet more comfortable.
How Often Should a Diabetic Wear Compression Socks?
Although there is no specific restriction on how long or how often you should wear compression socks for diabetes, this varies depending on your condition and on your personal preferences.
We recommend trying compression socks for a few hours at a time when you’re wearing them for the first time. See how you feel and increase your time wearing them gradually. You can wear your socks all day long, and it’s recommended that you take them off before going to bed.
Should Diabetics Wear Compression Socks to Bed?
Although there is inherently no danger to wearing compression socks overnight, it’s best that you consult with your doctor if you’re thinking about this. Many diabetics suffer from cold feet, so may enjoy wearing socks in bed for that reason. However, compression socks vary in pressure levels and you should check the best option for you before deciding to use them to sleep.
Choosing Diabetic Compression Socks
To make the most of your diabetic compression socks, you should be aware of a few factors that influence how well they’ll work for you:
Potential Risks and Precautions
While compression socks can help with a lot of symptoms of diabetes, you should also be aware of some tips to avoid any unwanted side effects. These include:
- Avoid wearing compression socks at night unless a doctor has confirmed this is safe. Opt for diabetic socks instead, for keeping feet warm and having some extra protection.
- Always ensure socks fit right and don’t feel too tight. They are meant to support blood flow, not restrict circulation.
- If you suffer from sores or have any open cuts, avoid wearing compression socks until these have healed. Equally, don’t put on compression socks immediately after using a treatment lotion on the skin (they will absorb it and can get damaged, while reducing its action on the area being treated).
- If you have cuts or sores on your toes, choose open-toed compression socks so you can inspect them easily and let them breathe.