Now, I seldom offer wardrobe advice. Today is an exception because I’ve noticed a growing buzz in the health world about a tried and true clothing item: compression socks.
I’ve spotted them on elite athletes at sporting events and even on savvy travelers embarking on long distance airplane flights. I wondered, what do they know that I don’t? So I decided to find out. . .
Compression stockings are traditionally used to improve circulation. They even have an ancient pedigree. According to the authors of Sclerotherapy: Treatment of Varicose and Telangiectatic Leg Veins, Roman soldiers often wrapped their legs in leather straps to improve circulation during long marches.
Luckily for all of us, super-stretchy materials have replaced the leather straps of Roman times. Still, the goal is similar as compression socks support healthy blood circulation and help a variety of health conditions.
Relief for a Very Common Health Problem
One of those conditions – probably the most common reason for wearing these socks – is varicose veins.
An estimated 40% of the U.S. population suffers from a condition called chronic venous insufficiency, which leads to varicose veins. And if you suffer from varicose veins, I bet you’d like to prevent future ones and minimize the impact of the ones you’ve already got.
Basically, the pressure of these socks compresses the surface arteries and veins. This, in turn, helps the vein valves to function properly and blood to flow back freely to your heart.
If you have a vein-related condition, compression socks can help alleviate common symptoms including swollen ankles, aching legs, fatigue and pain, restless legs and night cramps.
People in These Jobs Can Especially Benefit
A 2004 study1 revealed that calf-length compression socks with a pressure range between 11 and 21 mmHG are able to reduce or totally prevent evening edema (a physiologic phenomenon that occurs after sitting and standing).
The researchers recommended compression stockings for people with professions associated with long periods of sitting or standing.
Ditto for folks who suffer from deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
DVT results when blood clots form in veins deep inside your body. This particular issue typically affects the thighs and lower legs. It’s a scary scenario as the blood clot can travel up to the lungs and block an artery, causing a pulmonary embolism.
While DVT can happen to anyone, you are at a greater risk of developing the condition after surgery and prolonged bed rest. Other risk factors include certain birth control pills, obesity, smoking and a family history.
Undergoing Surgery? Flying? You May Need These Socks
Also, travelers should take heed, because long, long hours on an airplane or in a car can lead to a DVT. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to slip on a pair of compression socks before your next trip.
There are a several studies that underscore the effectiveness of compression socks in preventing DVT.
In one meta-study,2 researchers looked at 19 different medical trials that followed a total of 1,681 people. Nine trials included participants undergoing general surgery and six involved people undergoing orthopedic surgery.
Only 9% of those who wore compression stockings before and after surgery developed a thrombosis, compared to 21% for those who didn’t wear compression stockings. In short, the socks cut the risk by more than half.
Another study3 found that donning compression socks could reduce the risk of DVT by as much as 63% in surgical scenarios.
Research also shows that wearing these socks during flights longer than five hours helps reduce DVT in people who show no symptoms.4
When I did a quick online search for compression socks, I was a little overwhelmed by the choices. Suffice it to say, this is not your run-of-the-mill sock purchase.
To insure a proper fit you’ll need to take measurements. Next, you’ll want to determine the level of compression, which ranges from mild to firm. A word of caution: some types of compression socks may not be suitable for diabetics.
Today’s compression socks can be found in a wide selection of colors and patterns to suit everyone’s personal style. (These aren’t your grandma’s support hose!)
If you have an upcoming surgery or a long cross-country flight slated, I’d consider buying some compression socks to prevent a DVT. The elastic fabric is designed to push fluid up the legs, allowing blood to flow easily to the heart. Additionally, they are helpful in reducing swelling and pain.
Touch base with a trusted healthcare professional if you’re unsure of what type to purchase.