Why Do Nurses Wear Compression Socks?

Written By Alecsa Stewart
Scientifically Reviewed by Daniel Chantigian

Nurses and healthcare professionals are on their feet for long periods of time every day, sometimes for 12-hour shifts. Because of this, blood circulation may become a problem for them, as nurses and healthcare professionals are at risk of swelling, pain, and inflammation of the legs. Nurses are also at risk of developing serious problems like high oxidative stress that can trigger venous insufficiency, or foot injuries, to name a few.

Thanks to the therapeutic pressure of compression socks and how they support the lower extremities, compression socks and stockings have become nurses’ best friends. Compression socks are not only scientifically backed to boost peripheral circulation and help alleviate blood flow problems, but they may also offer additional stability and stress relief for the joints and feet.

Read on to find out why nurses wear compression socks and the benefits these garments can have for all healthcare professionals who spend a long time standing at work.

nurse compression

Why Should Nurses Wear Compression Socks?

During long, multi-hour shifts, nurses spend most of their time on their feet, standing or walking. This places incredible strain on the lower legs and lower leg blood vessels, which can increase the risk of injuries and circulatory problems per one scientific review. Compression socks can relieve some of this stress while boosting peripheral blood flow, reducing the risk of medical conditions such as edema, blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis.

Through their therapeutic pressure and support, compression socks have been reported by research to reduce fatigue and help re-energize the legs. This helps with overall energy levels in a demanding job, where alertness is extremely important.

Finally, compression socks are a welcome relief after a long day spent on your feet. Studies show that compression socks and stockings can help muscles recover faster and reduce inflammation and swelling. This makes them a fantastic recovery tool for nurses who just stood for their whole work day.

What Are the Risks of Being on Your Feet All Day?

Prolonged standing at work has been associated with lower back and leg pain, as well as circulatory problems, fatigue, discomfort, and foot or ankle problems. These problems may happen due to how gravity pushes blood down to your legs and feet, creating an increased risk of blood pooling in the lower legs, particularly around the ankles. For those who already have damaged veins, this can lead to blood clots and bigger issues.

Nurses can be at higher risk of developing circulatory problems because of their activity. These include varicose veins, blood clots, and more. One study even found that nurses were prone to developing cardiovascular disease. Preventing these health problems means nurses should work to support a well-functioning circulatory system, which is why compression socks could prove to be essential for the well-being of nurses.

An important research report has confirmed that prolonged standing may cause these problems. That study also recommends wearing compression socks when standing for prolonged times. Compression stockings and socks take some pressure off the lower legs, bringing relief to the muscles and tendons.  

Finally, standing for very long stints has been linked to injuries of the foot, like plantar fasciitis or bunions. While compression garments cannot in themselves cure such injuries, compression socks can provide support to the feet while boosting lower leg blood flow, which has been shown to speed up recovery and reduce symptoms of those injuries.

 Discover our range of all-day wearable compression socks for work

cotton compression socks

What Do Compression Socks Do for Nurses?

Vim & Vigr compression socks can help reduce pain and alleviate the effects of working long shifts, like swelling in the lower legs. Our compression socks are scientifically designed to support your legs all day, every day with varying levels of pressure (often referred to as millimeters of mercury or mmHg).

First, graduated compression socks are tighter at the ankle and slowly release pressure as they climb up the leg, which helps stimulate blood flow away from the foot and ankle. This reduces the risk of blood and fluid pooling at the extremities, minimizing the likelihood of swelling, discomfort, inflammation, and more severe health conditions.

Additionally, compression garments are supportive and tight-fitting, which is both reassuring and comfortable during a long day on your feet. They can help nurses avoid foot or ankle strains or sprains. Compression socks also reduce the pressure on the leg muscles from standing around all day because of how the socks move lymph and fluids away from the extremities and back to the heart. Finally, compression socks are great to wear when recovering from a foot injury, as they provide welcome support to the ligaments and joints.

Why Do Nurses Wear Compression Socks?

From reducing injury and inflammation risk to keeping legs happy and energized via healthy blood flow, compression socks provide many benefits to healthcare professionals who spend long periods of time on their feet.

Improving Blood Circulation

Through their tight grip of the lower legs, compression socks stimulate venous activity and increase local blood flow. Graduated compression socks particularly help push the blood away from the foot and ankle, which reduces the risk of swelling and discomfort. Additionally, better peripheral blood flow contributes to improved well-being and a healthy circulatory system, reducing the risk of other conditions like heart disease or circulatory system problems.

Reducing Swelling and Discomfort

Looking particularly at nursing students, one study has reported that wearing compression socks reduces swelling and discomfort. The researchers found that knee-high compression socks delivered results that were as good as stockings. Wearing compression garments allowed the nursing students to experience less pain and improve their work satisfaction.

After a long day, compression socks can deliver relief from pain and swelling. They have been reported to help speed up recovery of the lower leg muscles in athletes, which could help nurses relax and feel re-energized for their next shift.

Preventing Varicose Veins and Spider Veins

When the lower leg veins become less able to send blood back to the heart, blood can pool in the veins and stretch them. Stretched veins become gradually weaker and can lead to damaged valves that create varicose veins. Working on your feet for extended periods of time is a major risk factor for developing varicose veins and spider veins (the appearance of red, blue, or purple lines from damaged blood vessels in the skin).

 

Compression garments boost localized blood flow and prevent pooling of blood, which can lead to the pressure on the veins that causes varicose and spider veins. By wearing compression socks during their shifts, nurses can reduce the impact of these conditions.

Limiting the Risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis

Compression socks increase circulation and prevent blood from pooling at the extremities, limiting the creation of blood clots or of developing varicose veins and minimizing the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This condition is triggered when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins, most often in the legs. It is dangerous, with even potentially fatal consequences. Maintaining a healthy, continuous blood flow throughout the body and particularly in the legs is therefore essential for nurses.

Combatting Fatigue and Boosting Energy

One study found that nurses can walk around 4-5 miles during a 12-hour shift. Beyond walking, however, simply standing for long periods of time takes its toll on the body, particularly the lower leg muscles. As a result, nurses may start to feel fatigued and have a lack of energy while they cope with sore legs and feet. This is obviously not the outcome they want during their working hours!

Through a combination of increasing peripheral blood flow and supporting and massaging the lower leg muscles, compression socks reduce feelings of pain or soreness, which are associated with reducing feelings of fatigue. As a result, they might contribute to better energy and focus levels overall.

Try knee-high compression socks for improved peripheral circulation

knee high compression socks

What Compression Level Should Nurses Wear?

Nurses can benefit from varying levels of graduated pressure. Many nurses start with 15-20 mmHg compression and work their way up to 20-30 mmHg compression as they need more support. Ultimately, it’s about what is most comfortable all day and helps your legs feel most relieved after work.

A sock pressure of 15-20 mmHg is great to start with, because it gives a gentle “squeeze” to your legs all day long, without becoming “too much.” Many nurses who are our valued customers prefer this level of compression during all types of situations and activities. However, those nurses who either have pre-existing conditions or already have varicose veins may want to try 20-30 mmHg compression socks.

When Should Nurses Wear Compression Socks?

Nurses can benefit from wearing compression socks before, during, and after their shifts. Nurses can enjoy the soothing lower leg massage feeling and improved blood flow when they relax away from work. Nurses can also rely on the reassuring support and stimulation of healthy circulation that compression socks provide during a shift.

Compression socks are safe to wear for as long as you feel comfortable, but we do recommend starting off with 15-20 mmHg (the lightest pressure level) and wearing them for a few hours the first time, before getting used to the feeling of compression. Remember, a health care provider should always be consulted when someone has pre-existing circulatory conditions.

In addition to compression socks, here are some other ways in which nurses can care for their legs:

  • Wear comfortable shoes, with adequate padding and arch support
  • Take cold or hot baths for the feet when returning from a long shift (both cold and hot therapy can help boost circulation and soothe the feet, it’s a matter of personal preference)
  • Ensure you program in some breaks to sit down and relax during your shift - as much as possible
  • Elevate your legs when resting at home (putting them on a cushion can work well)
  • A foot massage

References

Jakovljevic, V., Djuric, D., Pechanova, O., Bolevich, S., & Tyagi, S. (2020). Oxidative Stress and Cardiovascular Dysfunction: From Basic Science to Applied Investigations. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2020, 6985284. Read it here.

O'Riordan, S. F., Bishop, D. J., Halson, S. L., & Broatch, J. R. (2022). Compression-induced improvements in post-exercise recovery are associated with enhanced blood flow, and are not due to the placebo effect. Scientific reports, 12(1), 16762. Read it here.

Bernardes, R. A., Caldeira, S., Parreira, P., Sousa, L. B., Apóstolo, J., Almeida, I. F., Santos-Costa, P., Stolt, M., & Guardado Cruz, A. (2023). Foot and Ankle Disorders in Nurses Exposed to Prolonged Standing Environments: A Scoping Review. Workplace health & safety, 71(3), 101–116. Read it here.

Mota, G. R., Simim, M. A. M., Dos Santos, I. A., Sasaki, J. E., & Marocolo, M. (2020). Effects of Wearing Compression Stockings on Exercise Performance and Associated Indicators: A Systematic Review. Open access journal of sports medicine, 11, 29–42. Read it here.

Waters, T. R., & Dick, R. B. (2015). Evidence of health risks associated with prolonged standing at work and intervention effectiveness. Rehabilitation nursing: the official journal of the Association of Rehabilitation Nurses, 40(3), 148–165. Read it here.

Lee, Y., Kim, K., Kang, S., Kim, J. Y., Kim, S. G., Kim, T., & Jung, J. (2020). Compression Stocking Length Effects on Oedema, Pain, and Satisfaction in Nursing Students: A Pilot Randomized Trial. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 8(2), 149. Read it here.

Welton, J. M., Decker, M., Adam, J., & Zone-Smith, L. (2006). How far do nurses walk? Medsurg nursing: official journal of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, 15(4), 213–216. 


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