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Compression Socks: What do they do, how do they work, and what are their benefits?

Man in fitted blue jeans walking down dark hallway. Only his legs are shown.

Compression socks (also called compression stockings or support hose) are long socks that apply graded pressure to the legs. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, pressures, styles, and patterns—and here at Cutieful, there’s a pair for everyone. We get a lot of questions from people who have heard about compression socks but aren’t quite sure what they do. We wrote this blog with hope that we could answer a few of the world’s compression sock questions.

How do Compression Socks Work?

The workings of compression socks are a little complicated. People who stand all day—or people like runners, who put a lot of stress on their legs—often have enlarged or weakened veins in their legs. These damaged veins are responsible for most of the problems that compression socks correct.

It’s time for a little biology lesson: have you ever wondered how your body keeps blood from flowing backwards? After all, veins in the legs move blood upwards towards your heart, fighting against gravity the whole time. Fortunately, veins have structures in them that keep blood from flowing backwards. These are called valves:

Diagram of the way valves keep blood flowing in one direction.

When the heart beats, veins expand a little as the blood gets pushed through them, and the valves open up to let blood flow forward. After the heartbeat, veins return to their original size, the valves close, and blood is kept from flowing backwards. However, veins exposed to the constant stress of standing all day or frequent running often stretch or otherwise weaken. The end result is valves that can no longer regulate blood flow, and this causes blood to begin pooling in the veins. This failure of valves is called venous insufficiency.

While venous insufficiency is often simply uncomfortable, it has the potential to be much more dangerous. The milder side effects of venous insufficiency are soreness, spider veins, varicose veins, and skin ulcers. The more serious side effects all involve blood clots. Sometimes, a blood clot can form in the legs and get stuck, and when this happens it is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT causes a sudden but extreme soreness in the legs, usually accompanied by swelling. Blood clots often dissolve on their own, but they also have the potential to dislodge and block blood flow elsewhere in the body. When this happens, it is called an embolism, and when it blocks blood flow to the lungs it is called a pulmonary embolism, which is often deadly. There are many types of embolisms, including brain and retinal (eye) embolisms. They are all deadly as well.

Compression socks correct all of these problems by squeezing the legs. Increased pressure helps leg veins contract to their original size and gets blood flowing like it should. This, in turn, helps to fix the problems associated with venous insufficiency, and prevent associated issues.

What are the benefits of Compression Socks?

Compression socks basically reverse the effects of venous insufficiency. They keep blood flowing the way it should and prevent it from pooling in the legs, reducing the likelihood of future varicose veins, spider veins, deep vein thrombosis, and embolisms. We would be remiss not to mention that compression will not cure existing varicose or spider veins. Unfortunately, those can only be fixed through surgery.

People who stand all day, such as nurses, cashiers, waiters/waitresses and cooks, will find that compression socks soothe the soreness they feel after a long day’s work. Runners also wear compression socks because they help them to recover faster and reduce soreness after exercise. Pregnant women, truckers, pilots, and flight attendants wear them because they reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the legs, spurred on by long periods of inactivity.

Compression is the leading therapy for venous insufficiency and all its associated symptoms. It’s worth noting that compression doesn’t cure venous insufficiency, it just fixes the symptoms associated with it. As of July 2017, there is no cure for venous insufficiency, though lifestyle changes such as the cessation of smoking or increased exercise are effective treatments alongside compression.

Stay Cute

We hope this article answered all of your compression questions. If there’s anything you aren’t clear about, drop us a line at tyler@routetocute.com. Compression socks are a great way to soothe leg soreness or prevent problems associated with blood flow issues. But here at Cutieful, we’re not in the socks business—we’re in the healthier life business. Also, if you’re so inclined, head on over to our catalog to see what we offer. You’ll probably find something that suits you!