by Caitlin Reid
If you’re sick of daily swelling and aching in your lower legs, it’s time to find a compression sock or stocking to help. The first step is deciding which level of compression you need. Whether you’re looking to use compression socks to help you recover after a hard workout, help a swollen injury heal or help you manage a chronic illness, there is a level of compression to suit you.
What Is mmHg?
MmHg or millimeters of mercury is a measurement of pressure, originating from the pressure a 1 millimeter-high column of mercury could generate. Despite this, it’s not a common measurement outside the medical field. Within medicine though, mmHg is commonly used; both intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull) and blood pressure are measured in mmHg. For science lovers out there, 1 mmHg is equivalent to 1/706th of an atmosphere of pressure.
Compression Socks and mmHg
Compression socks and stockings aren’t all the same. They are made according to different levels of compression. This compression comes in a range divided into different classes under two main classifications: Afnor (Association Française de Normalisation) and RAL (European Union classifications). Each classification utilizes ranges, as compression garments are crafted with graduating levels of compression. This means the compression is highest at the ankle (which is the higher number of the ranges below), and slowly decreases as it moves up your leg (terminating at the lower number in each range).
Below is an outline of how both systems break down the level of compression:
- Class 1: 10-15 mmHg (Very light compression)
- Class 2: 15-20 mmHg (Light compression)
- Class 3: 20-36 mmHg (Moderate compression)
- Class 4: 36+ mmHg (Strong compression)
- Class 1: 18-21 mmHg (Light compression)
- Class 2: 23-32 mmHg (Moderate compression)
- Class 3: 34-46 mmHg (Strong compression)
- Class 4: 49- mmHg (Very strong compression)
What Is the Best Compression Level for Sport Recovery?
To help muscles recover after sports, compressions socks and stocks are usually Afnor Class 2: 15-20 mmHg. Using compression at this level can boost the tissue repair of micro tears that occur during normal exercise. These micro tears cause swelling, leading to post-activity soreness.
Compression socks, leggings and sleeves work as a pump to stop this swelling from occurring. They enhance the transport and elimination of water and lymph fluid, as well as boost the circulation of metabolites. New research even shows compression can reduce the levels of inflammatory molecules and the enzyme creatine kinase.
What Is the Best Compression Level for People Who Sit All Day at Work?
Sitting all day at work can cause swelling and aching in your legs and feet. This swelling is known as occupational edema. The best way to minimize this swelling is by wearing compression socks or stockings. For these garments to be effective, though, they need to have the right level of compression.
To find the best compression level for people who work in different positions, one study looked at 58 people in three different groups with:
- Sitting jobs
- Standing jobs
According to the study, of these people, no one had any illnesses that would cause increased swelling in their limbs. Each person had volumetric measurements of both limbs taken at the end of three consecutive days:
- Day 1: No compression garment worn
- Day 2: 15-20mmHg compression garment worn
- Day 3: 20-30mmHg compression garment worn
After day two, significantly lower volumetric variations were observed in all three groups. Plus, the reduction of measured edema was more significant in individuals working in a prolonged seated position.
In other words, they concluded:
- Regardless of if you stand or sit at work (or both), you will experience less swelling in your legs and feet if you wear compression garments.
- Particularly if you have a sedentary job, wearing compression garments of 15-20 mmHg dramatically helps minimize leg swelling and subsequent discomfort versus not wearing them.
Who Are Medical Compression Stockings For?
A number of chronic illnesses can increase the level of swelling you experience in your legs. These include:
- Venous leg ulcers
- Sleep apnea
- Liver disease
- Chronic venous insufficiency
- (from smoking, taking the contraceptive pill, obesity, recent surgery and more)
For this population, there are medical-grade compression socks and stockings available. Compression is generally considered medical grade if it’s 20 mmHg and above.
Are Medical Compression Stockings for Everyday Life?
Absolutely. Medical-grade compression isn’t only for those who suffer from a chronic illness or increased DVT risk. If wearing compression of 15–20 mmHg doesn’t seem to be minimizing the swelling in your legs enough, higher-grade (or medical-grade) compression may be more effective.
It’s important to note, though, significant swelling in the legs is not normal for most people in everyday life. Let your doctor know about the swelling so they can see if there’s a more serious cause.
Where Can You Buy Fashionable Medical Compression Stockings?
Thanks to innovative compression brands like VIM & VIGR, medical compression stockings don’t have to ruin your outfit, whether you’re flying overseas or sitting all day at work. Offering everything from brightly striped compression socks for under your suit at work to more subtle black compression stockings that are perfect for pairing with a dress and boots, great brands make caring for your leg health easier and more stylish than ever. Medical compression stockings aren’t just the white stockings you see in hospitals anymore; they can be a fashionable part of your regular, wearable wardrobe.
Whether you’re looking to boost your tissue healing after a long run or you need a stylish way to minimize the swelling and discomfort in your legs at work, there is a level of compression sock or stocking perfect for you. Find a stylish compression brand and choose the mmHg that suits your needs.
Caitlin Reid is a freelance journalist, copywriter and PR coordinator with over 10 years of experience
with clients around the world. She is also a physiotherapist with a special interest in holistic and
environmental well-being, blending the realms of evidence-based medicine with inspiring holistic health.