Types of Compression socks

Types of Compression socks

Compression socks vary in terms of; the degree of compression, textile/fabric, color and design.  Learning about the different variations and their indications should assist you in choosing suitable compression apparel for you.

Non-medical support hosiery: This category includes flight socks and elastic support stockings. They are often used to provide additional support for fatigued and painful legs. They do not provide graduated compression, exert a significantly reduced degree of compression compared to that exerted by medical graduated compression socks, do not have to meet the strict technical and specifications required for medical graduated socks but can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy or medical supply store without the need for a prescription.

Non-medical support hosiery

Anti-embolism socks: Compression socks in this category are used to treat and prevent the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis. They provide gradient compression but have compression indicators different from those used in medical graduated compression socks. They are specifically used to treat bedridden patients.

Anti-embolism socks.

Medical graduated compression socks: Recommended category for the treatment of clinical conditions associated with poor circulation and impaired lymphatic drainage. Compression socks in this category exert the highest degree of pressure at the ankle and gradually reduces this pressure as they go up the leg. This gradient of compression ensures that the socks are incredibly effective in ensuring that blood flows upward towards the heart and minimizing reflux towards the feet. They are manufactured under strict medical and technical specifications for consistency, durability, pressure levels, and gradient of compression. You may need a prescription to acquire a pair of compression socks in this category.

Medical graduated compression socks.

Deciding what kind you need

With all the variety available, it may be challenging to find the right compression socks suited to your needs. You can judge the suitability of compression socks via the degree of compression, material/fabric and length.

Degree of compression

It may be useful to find out what compression strength best addresses the kind of discomfort/symptoms you may be experiencing. For instance, compression socks with a pressure of 15-20 mm Hg are gentle on your legs, suitable for improving circulation and can be purchased over the counter. These kinds of compression socks are ideal for people who spend a significant amount of time on their feet, athletes, and people who are always travelling on airplanes. Compression socks with pressure between 20-30 mm Hg are suitable if you wish to prevent and treat spider and varicose veins. They also alleviate leg swelling after surgery and can also be used by people who desire a bit more support than that provided by the 15-20 mm Hg compression.
Compression pressures of 30-40 mm Hg provide a stronger level of compression than that offered by 20-30 mm Hg compression levels. These levels are suitable for patients with severe varicose veins, patients who are recovering from surgery, those with a familial history of deep vein thrombosis and patients with existing deep vein thrombosis as they will prevent the occurrence of thromboembolism.
Once you have decided what level of compression best suites your needs, you can now move on to determining what kind of compression apparel you would like. Knee-high compression socks stop just below your knee while thigh-high compression stockings cover the entire length of your leg, stopping only at the top of the thigh. Waist-high pantyhose? Leotards have both legs connected by a torso like regular pants and may contain an expandable belly portion for pregnant women. Knee-high compression socks are typically designed to offer compression up to your knee. Although it may be possible to pull them over your knee, it is not advisable to do so. Pullin them up may be uncomfortable or exacerbate the severity of the symptoms you have been experiencing. Thigh-high compression stockings are intended to improve circulation throughout your leg.

Measuring the strength of compression socks

The abbreviation mm Hg, which stands for millimetres of mercury, is used to grade the level of compression pressure provided by different compression apparel. The degree of pressure supplied by the garment is based on laboratory measurements determined by the manufacturer during production. In general low compression pressures (Class 1), are pressures not exceeding 20 mm Hg, Medium compression pressures (Class 2), range from 20 mm Hg to 30 mm Hg. High compression pressures (Class 3), are greater than 30 mm Hg and provide the highest degree of compression. The degree of pressure applied to your leg by compression socks will depend on whether the fabric used to make the socks is elastic or stiff. It will also depend on the size and shape of your leg, the degree of movement and activity that you engage in, and whether you are wearing the correct size of compression socks. It is, therefore, vital to ensure that your socks fit appropriately by taking proper measurements. Ensure these measurements are adjusted, especially if you experience any significant weight loss or weight gain. Doing so will increase compression effectiveness and reduce the discomfort associated with wearing compression apparel that is too small.

Thigh-high compression stockings
Waist-high compression stockings

Fabric/ Material

Compression socks also come in a variety of materials and style, and each differs in the degree of compression and durability it offers. If you are looking for compression socks made from durable material, then you might need to consider opaque fabrics. These fabrics are appropriate for treating clinical conditions such; as varicose veins and leg edema. Moreover, opaque materials are unisex, durable, and incredibly comfortable. They are available in compression levels of up to 40 mm Hg to provide mild to robust containment depending on your needs. However, if you desire a little more style in your apparel, then sheer fabrics would be ideal for you. These compression socks made from these fabrics do not provide any significant compression and are incredibly prone to deterioration from wear and tear. However, they do look better than those made from opaque materials, and you can easily integrate them into your stylish everyday wardrobe.
You may want to consider purchasing high tech cotton or wool blends if you intend to use compression therapy to alleviate muscle discomfort during exercise. Blended fabrics enable durability and control of heat and moisture. They may also be suitable for the treatment and prevention of spider and varicose veins and alleviating symptoms of edema and fatigued legs. However, these materials are often not available in compression levels higher than 30 mm Hg.

Sheer fabric compression socks

Cotton-blend compression socks.


To learn how to take your own measurements for compression socks, click on our next article.