Are Compression Garments Worth the Squeeze on Your Wallet?

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  76 comments   :  30,859 Views

If hearing the term "compression garments" calls to mind Grandma's not-so-stylish orthotic pantyhose, it's time to expand the definition. These days, it refers more to the fitted sleeves and socks that hug the legs of runners, walkers, weight lifters and other active folks, enticed by the promise of greater endurance and accelerated recovery. Often seen in neon colors and fun patterns, these functional garments can really brighten up a race course—but do they offer any real benefits beyond their fashion factor?

How Do Compression Garments Work?

In a nutshell, these products help to improve blood flow by applying pressure to the feet and lower legs, which accelerates the return of blood to the heart from these areas. "When blood flow is accelerated, so are the vital processes that depend on it—including oxygen supply to your muscles," explains ultrarunner and sports coach Matt Fitzgerald. "This can result in better performance and removal of metabolic wastes after exercise for quicker recovery."

According to Fitzgerald, the key factor is whether or not a particular product puts the right compression at the right places. "If the pressure is too low, you might as well be wearing a regular sock," he says. "But if it’s too high, it will act like a tourniquet, squeezing so hard that the blood flow is reduced rather than increased." He likens it to a tube of toothpaste: A graduated compression sock is like squeezing the tube from the bottom to get the contents to come out the top, while a non-graduated product is like squeezing the tube in the middle.

So, what's the right amount of pressure? The pressure applied by compression garments is measured in the same unit as blood pressure itself: milliliters of mercury (mmHg). Fitzgerald says the optimal compression range is 20-30 mmHg, which is classified as "medical grade." It’s also important also that the pressure is graduated, meaning that it's highest at the foot and lowest at the calf, which directs blood flow upward. A true graduated compression sock is narrower at the ankle than at the calf.

Who Benefits From Compression Socks and Sleeves?

Running coach Kyle Kranz is an advocate of compression socks for runners and other athletes as a means of speeding up recovery after a fatiguing workout. He says they're especially helpful for people with calf issues, as the compression may reduce the muscle oscillation (movement) while running.

According to physical therapist Vivian Eisenstadt, older adults can also benefit from compression garments. As we age, she explains, the elasticity in our veins weakens, especially for people who spend a lot of time on their feet or have secondary issues. "Lack of movement also leads to pooling of blood in our lower extremities," she says. "When our body can’t push the blood back up, or if we have swelling in our legs for other reasons, we get extra pressure buildup in our legs."

Frequent travelers may also use compression to make flying more comfortable. When sitting on an airplane for an extended period of time, passengers are more likely to develop deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), which causes blood clots in the legs that can lead to pain, swelling and redness. Some research has shown that those who wear compression stockings experience fewer symptoms of DVT compared to those who don’t wear the stockings.

Many diabetics wear compression stockings to relieve their symptoms. Studies have shown that compression socks and sleeves can help to reduce lower-limb edema in diabetes patients. "Using compression stockings can help with fatigue and cramping associated with edema in the lower extremities, and may also help with long-term venous health," Dr. James Wrobel told Medscape Medical News.

Choosing the Right Compression Garment

With so many brands and styles to choose from, how do you know which sleeve or sock to try?

According to strength and conditioning coach Brandon Mentore, not all compression socks are created equal. "Compression gear use is highly dependent on the application and what you want to use it for," he says. "There are hundreds of various fabrics, levels of thickness, linings and breathability that should be considered before choosing one that's appropriate for you."

Kranz, who prefers the TIUX brand, points out that there's an important distinction between socks and sleeves. "Compression socks are better for recovery as they compress all the way down the foot, and tights are even better as they cover even more body area," he says. "Since sleeves stop at the ankle, they are not as ideal for recovery, but they can be more helpful for runners since they let you use your normal socks."

Sizing may be a bit different than traditional socks. Instead of basing it on your shoe size, Fitzgerald says to consider the circumference of the calf rather than the length of the foot when choosing compression socks. He also recommends looking for socks and sleeves with a higher thread count, as they will apply compression more precisely than products with fewer threads.

Although compression socks and sleeves may not work miracles, they can help to improve blood flow and provide extra stability to the lower-body muscles. Whether you're a long-distance runner, nurse, frequent traveler or food service worker, a little squeeze could make your workout—or your workday—more comfortable and productive.

Do you ever wear compression socks? Have you noticed any benefits?


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Comments

  • 76
    I have venous insufficiency and if I don't wear my stockings, my legs swell up like balloons and then I can't walk at all. I have to wear them approx 10 hours a day to maintain blood flow and control the edema. Much as I grumble about having to wear them and how they are uncomfortable, they are literally a lifesaver for me..... - 1/2/2018   1:15:52 AM
  • 75
    I bought a very expensive pair of compression tights I saw in a running magazine because I am in my 70s and am loathe to give up my favorite exercise. Hill running and intervals really cause my knees to hurt (walking up stairs is the worst), I usually wear knee braces but they don't help me much. My new tights seem to work quite well although the top portion is too snug for me and I get a horrendous case of muffin top when I wear them. I wear a baggy shirt to hide that lol. - 12/18/2017   6:11:59 AM
  • 74
    I should compression socks because I have varicose veins. I had tried a few times when I used to run but they bothered me because they were too tight. My younger swear by them so I gave her the pair I got. I should try them again. - 11/18/2017   10:01:57 PM
  • 73
    I wasn't able to tell the difference actually - 8/29/2017   7:53:29 PM
  • 72
    diabetics have to watch it-compression socks are not great for diabetics and we should talk to our doctors. - 7/6/2017   1:27:21 AM
  • 71
    great - 7/4/2017   5:28:15 PM
  • 70
    I wear a type of socks without the toe piece. Really help me when traveling, doing lots of sitting, or having walked a great deal. DH has been using them for years, since he's often parked at a desk for hours. The healthiest onion is more movement. These help tho. - 6/29/2017   5:19:01 PM
  • 69
    I'm definitely going to check these compression socks out! - 6/14/2017   9:40:16 AM
  • 68
    They don't make them in petite, so I can't wear them unless I pay out the wazoo for custom ones. - 6/13/2017   11:39:23 PM
  • 67
    I read this article this morning and was going to Dick's anyway, so I picked up a pair of Copper Fit "Compression Energy Socks." It was the only option at Dick's. There were only two sizes, so I went with large.

    I wore them on a run just a little bit ago and wow, they did make a difference. It's almost hard to describe but them, coupled with good running shoes, made it feel more like running without shoes on - minus the pain. I could feel every step more - which now makes me wonder if my feet usually go slightly numb and I just didn't realize - and I feel like that made me land on my foot different. Different in a way that promoted both speed and comfort.

    Long story short, I'm going to pick up more. (BTW, the only color I had to choose from was black) - 6/13/2017   8:27:51 PM
  • 66
    where does one go to get measured ..I have big calves - 6/13/2017   3:50:46 PM
  • CGREENE96
    65
    I have venous stasis and I HAVE to wear medical compression stockings ALL the time to prevent more blood clots and to try and save my legs.
    For me it's genetic and I have had it all of my life.
    I almost bought these but after talking to a professional compression stocking fitter I was informed that first a medical doctor needs to asses you so you know the leveel of compression you need. They come in 3 different levels. 8 to 15mm, 15 to 20mm, or 20 to 30mm. This goes according to your medical condition. So how does this company know to tell everyone they need one type of compression? They don't.
    Then there is the fit. Going by shoe size like socks do does not give you an accurate fit.
    You must measure by ankle and calf size. Especially if you have one calf a bit bigger than the other.
    Wearing compression socks that are not a good fit for you could actually cause issues.
    If wearing compression items actually helps people and does what they claim it does then people should go to a professional and get fitted correctly.
    These are nothing but a gimmick and probably not needed for most people.
    Put your health first and contact a medical professional before wearing these.
    Also insurance will sometimes cover the real compression stockings. - 6/12/2017   9:15:56 PM
  • 64
    wearing compression socks after a ten mile run is awesome. - 6/12/2017   9:07:00 PM
  • 63
    I am going to check into this - 6/5/2017   9:52:54 AM
  • 62
    I stand for a living plus I teach at the Y four nights s a week. I use compression socks when at work and take them off when change to go to the Y. I did use them when. I walked a half marathon May 7, 2017. Made a huge difference. My legs did not hurt at all the day of or the week after. Worth the investment! - 5/20/2017   12:06:36 PM
  • 61
    This was an informative article. - 5/17/2017   10:50:28 PM
  • 60
    I have not used compression often so far in my life. Interesting article though! - 5/17/2017   6:43:34 PM
  • 59
    I wear compression hose on all long distance vents and find I feel much better and don't have the swelling I usually see on a big event. - 5/17/2017   12:39:06 PM
  • ROBBIEY
    58
    A good article, worth looking into - 5/16/2017   8:46:56 PM
  • 57
    Interesting - 5/16/2017   7:21:28 AM
  • ZRIE014
    56
    nice - 5/16/2017   12:16:29 AM
  • 55
    I am recovering from head surgery and have spent a lot more time sitting - compression socks are great for me as they help relieve the cramping that can come from sitting too long. I started wearing them on long flights - never thought about it until I needed to but they make a difference TO ME. - 5/15/2017   10:48:55 AM
  • 54
    I've worn them off and on for the last 2 years due to getting some work done on varicose veins, however honestly I have never seen the difference when wearing them or not wearing them. - 5/15/2017   9:00:22 AM
  • 53
    I love them & wear them a work, I sit at a desk for 7.5 hours 5 days a week. I found my legs & feet were swelling, someone recommended compression socks. I found really great colors/styles on Amazon. I got a package of 6 in different colors for $35 - 5/14/2017   6:27:51 PM
  • 52
    I have lymphedema in my left lower leg and work long hours as an ICU nurse. My lower leg, ankle, and foot swell greatly in I don't wear my compression stockings. I wear the 30-40 mm/hg. I order mine from foryourlegs.com and get the silky smooth for women with a non-bind top. I have tried multiple brands and styles, and these work the best. - 5/14/2017   11:55:14 AM
  • 51
    Thanks for the informative article! - 5/14/2017   6:36:10 AM
  • 50
    nice - 5/13/2017   11:51:49 PM
  • 49
    I've been wearing compression stockings for years. I broke an ankle over 25 years ago and it still swells if I don't wear something. When it swells it has a tendency to break open and get infected, so I am careful to see that it doesn't swell.

    I order my stockings online at discountsurgical.com and I have been generally happy with their products and service. They have quite a variety to choose from and carry quite a few brands.
    - 5/13/2017   10:33:43 PM
  • PATRICIAANN46
    48
    I have worn compression socks for the past 9 years since my knee replacement. If I don't wear them, there is swelling to contend with. - 5/13/2017   9:11:25 PM
  • 47
    I wear compression socks, the old fashioned kind. These look pretty snazzy.
    - 5/13/2017   8:20:25 PM
  • 46
    Good subject, excellent information! - 5/13/2017   7:51:17 PM
  • 45
    As a teacher I was always counseled to use them. Now retired, when I feel my legs too tired, I wear them for my walks. - 5/13/2017   7:44:16 PM
  • 44
    Had DVT when I was younger. I never thought of wearing compression socks while working out. I will definitely give it a try. Thanks. - 5/13/2017   10:31:46 AM
  • CHERYLHURT
    43
    Thanks - 5/13/2017   6:55:41 AM
  • 42
    Good information - 5/13/2017   1:04:26 AM
  • BRIARGAL
    41
    Worth the squeeze! - 5/12/2017   11:59:36 PM
  • 40
    Great Info! - 5/12/2017   10:57:58 PM
  • GORDONED
    39
    Good info! - 5/12/2017   10:29:06 PM
  • 38
    With my poor circulation I have been wearing socks like this for years! - 5/12/2017   9:07:04 PM
  • 37
    Interesting - 5/12/2017   8:24:14 PM
  • 36
    I recently bought a pair - 5/12/2017   5:43:17 PM
  • 35
    I love compression socks. I mostly wear them when I'm traveling and in the winter--I get heavy ones because my feet get cold really easily. They are so comfy! - 5/12/2017   5:31:49 PM
  • 34
    Keep trying to find what works for you! - 5/12/2017   2:32:24 PM
  • 33
    I have varicose veins, and have had surgery, on one leg they just returned. The only thing that keeps them at bay (or keeps my leg from swelling) is a compression stocking. I use Sigvaris. They can pass as regular stockings and they fit well. - 5/12/2017   12:54:09 PM
  • 32
    I had some jobst thigh high but somehow managed to lose one of the legs. Need to find some more. - 5/12/2017   12:40:13 PM
  • 31
    I've been wearing Jobst compression hose for years because of a circulation problem. No, they're not the prettiest hose, though I have some in black, gray, and navy blue, but they do the job, and I know it when I don't wear them. - 5/12/2017   12:35:15 PM
  • 30
    Good information! - 5/12/2017   12:17:13 PM
  • 29
    Great article - 5/12/2017   11:30:15 AM
  • 28
    I had a 2 friends who wore compression socks and had pinched nerves in their feet as a result. I would suggest compression sleeves that do not cover the feet. - 5/12/2017   11:05:09 AM
  • 27
    I wear them at work (ICU nurse) but have never noticed a difference...12 hour exhaustion is tough to overcome. At least my shoes can't eat my socks! But I notice a HUGE difference when flying. It used to take me a day to start feeling good after a long flight but no more! - 5/12/2017   10:42:52 AM

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