If you’re an athlete, then your competition walks around post-event in knee-high socks. In the medical field, compression socks are the daily norm for a variety of patients. Next time you’re in an airport, you’ll spot a few pairs scurrying by you.

So, what exactly are compression socks and why do they feel so good? Compression socks are a versatile, science-backed therapy for individuals of every age to support a variety of conditions. 

What are compression socks?

Although you may be picturing tight, white, knee-high knit socks that were the popular style back in the 80s, compression socks have actually come a long way. 

Compression socks (or stockings) are made of snug-fitted stretchy spandex that gently squeezes the skin and muscles beneath it for medical as well as athletic purposes.

You can find them in a range of colors – from skin hues to unique prints. Athletic compression socks tend to have special stitching that provide pressure and support in specific areas, like the calves or arch of the foot; whereas, a medical-grade compression sock tends to be tighter in the ankle and gradually less restrictive as it moves up the leg. And they aren’t just for legs; arm sleeves are popular for the same reasons. 

What are the benefits?

Compression therapies – whether it's from stockings, compression boots, or hydrostatic pressure (water) – have proven useful in improving blood flow. Veins have one-way valves that prevent the backflow of blood and support blood flow in one direction – from your extremities and organs back to your heart.

When veins don’t work as they should, blood can pool – most commonly in extremities like lower legs or arms.

Your lymph system doesn’t have a pumping mechanism so depends on muscles and joints to keep the fluid moving. Gravity plays a role too, so the more you stand or sit, the more pooling you can experience.

For athletes, excessive exercise stress or a damaging workout, like a long run, steep hike, or tempo bike ride, can overburden your veins with tension and restrict circulation. Your bottom half is achy, sore, and even a little swollen.

The support from compression therapy increases circulation and provides relief for fatigued muscles, foot pain, and shin splints, and can also help speed up recovery.

Compression socks should feel good, not tight or uncomfortable – like you’re applying slight pressure to a sore, damaged muscle and holding it in place.

On the other extreme, if you don’t exercise at all, then you are at risk for valve damage too. These stockings are helpful for individuals who experience feelings of heavy legs, lower limb swelling, or are looking to prevent clots from forming after surgery or while sedentary.

Standing or sitting for long periods, like on planes or road trips, can change the pressure in veins and damage or weaken their valves, which can cause discomfort.

Pregnant women sometimes wear compression stockings to prevent blood from pooling in their veins and to reduce elevated heart rates in both mother and child.

Medical-grade compression stockings can be prescribed for patients with a history of diabetes, chronic venous insufficiency, deep vein thrombosis, cardiac insufficiency, and varicose and spider veins – all to help prevent blood pooling and to help return blood to the heart.

Beginner tips

Athletic grade compression socks can be purchased online; whereas, a health-care practitioner usually prescribes medical grade socks. Compression socks are graded in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), like a blood pressure scale. For athletic purposes, look for socks rated 15-20 mmHg in pressure.

Because you don’t want to wear them 24 hours a day, consider wearing them only during daytime hours, after a hard workout, or during a flight, and then sleeping with your legs slightly elevated at night.

During the day, get up and walk around when you can. Change sitting and standing position regularly, keeping your legs uncrossed and your feet flat on the floor.

 In situations where you’re sitting for a while, such as when working at your desk or sitting on a plane, move your legs, flex your feet, and extend or raise your legs up and down in sets of 10 every 30 minutes. For some people, wearing compression socks while working out can provide performance benefits too.

Nutritional considerations

Having excess body weight puts you at risk for less than optimal blood flow, both by straining the vasculature of the circulatory system and from the excess circulating proteins, fats, and clotting factors.

If you’re packing around excess weight, then consider a weight management program of diet, lifestyle, and supplements, such as the Thorne Weight Management Program. Thorne’s MediBolic® protein powder is formulated specifically for individuals interested in weight management or to address metabolic syndrome.* 

Regular exercise supports the elasticity of arteries and veins so they can maintain pressure and blood flow.

Exercise keeps the surrounding muscles strong and facilitates sweating to help remove toxins and maintain the right balance of fluids in your body compartments. Try Thorne’s Amino Complex, a comprehensive blend of essential amino acids that can be made into a drink after a workout to promote the growth of lean muscle mass and enhance muscle strength.*

Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol. Maintaining normal blood volume with adequate water and electrolytes more easily keeps blood flowing through the small capillaries. Drink enough water so that your urine is a light lemonade color, rather than dark like apple juice.

Try Thorne’s Catalyte, a powder blend of electrolytes, vitamin C, and B vitamins that mixes in water to support cellular hydration, while also helping to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.*

Include food sources of antioxidants like vitamins C and E in your diet.

Vitamin C helps maintain collagen and elastin, which also support healthy skin and blood vessels.* Vitamin E is necessary for blood vessel health because it helps prevent certain proteins from forming clots in the veins.*

If your diet falls short, then consider Thorne’s Ultimate-E and Thorne’s Ascorbic Acid, or for a more comprehensive approach – Extra Nutrients – a multi-vitamin formula for aging boomers, athletes, or anyone needing extra antioxidant support.*