People wear compression socks for a variety of reasons. Patients diagnosed with the irreversible condition known as lymphedema, for instance, will almost invariably be prescribed compression wear to help control swelling in an affected limb or body part. Because lymphedema is incurable, it’s important for patients to follow the advice of their healthcare professionals and wear their item(s) as directed. This includes wearing items for as long as instructed, every single day.
Compression Socks: Not Just for Lymphedema Patients
There are other situations in which wearing compression socks or stockings may make sense. Working on one’s feet all day, for example, can take a toll on the lower legs, especially among people who may be older, or who may be carrying excess body weight. And then there is travel. Extended travel can take a toll on one’s ankles and calves. Fortunately, wearing appropriate compression socks can help alleviate potential problems, such as swelling, or even the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
DVT is a potentially dangerous condition that most often afflicts older individuals when they travel, especially by air. Low cabin pressure, dehydration, lack of activity, and extended sitting can all encourage the formation of clots in the lower extremities. These clots, or deep vein thromboses, can cause severe pain in the leg. Or, worse, they may break free, travel throughout the body, and cause another serious event, such as a pulmonary embolism. The latter can be fatal if not treated rapidly.
One way to avoid the formation of these clots is to encourage better circulation in the legs. Compression hose accomplishes this by squeezing the limb most firmly at the point farthest from the heart, and somewhat less firmly nearer to the heart. This encourages the return of blood and lymph out of the tissues of the legs and feet and back towards the heart for recirculation.
Are There Any Side Effects from Wearing Compression Stockings?
Many people want to know how long to wear compression socks, and whether there are any side effects of wearing them. The simple answer is: no. There are no negative side effects of wearing compression stockings. They should be worn throughout your travel until you have reached your destination. They can safely, and comfortably, be worn for overnight international travel, for example. So feel free to sleep with compression socks. Wait to remove them when you have reached your final destination.
Compression socks can also be worn to help prevent swelling after surgery, or while engaging in sports activities. Compression sock use has been linked to relief from conditions other than simple swelling (edema), or chronic lymph buildup (lymphedema). They’re also useful for preventing the development — or worsening — of varicose veins and spider veins.
Of course, it’s important to wear socks that fit properly. While they are designed to hug your feet, ankles, and calves more tightly than ordinary socks, they should never be so tight as to cut off circulation. In fact, when properly sized and worn appropriately, they will actually improve circulation in your lower limbs, by encouraging the flow of fluids back up the legs, towards the trunk.
Note, too, that properly fitted medical-grade compression hose should not slide down your leg. If yours do, they are probably worn out, or they are simply too big for you. In order to work as designed, these specially designed items must hug your feet and legs firmly, from ankle to calf. And, finally, if your compression socks are difficult to don, they are probably too small for your feet and legs. Consider going up one size.
There is no reason you cannot sleep with compression socks. In fact, this is recommended for airline travel, given that you will almost certainly remain seated, with your legs lower than your heart. But for ordinary sleep in a prone position (in bed, for example), it’s probably unnecessary to wear compression socks, unless you enjoy how snug and warm they make you feel, or if you have been directed by your doctor or healthcare professional to sleep in your hosiery.
A Word About Caring for Your Socks
It may be helpful to purchase two or more pairs of stockings, so you can gently wash and rinse out one pair, while still wearing the other. Hand wash with the gentlest of detergents (hosiery care solutions are available commercially) and hang to dry. You may also machine wash your items, but be sure to use the gentle cycle, and hang to dry afterward. Drying in a heated dryer could take a toll on the elastic materials that provide compression, so it should be avoided.
You should also be aware that most items will lose elasticity, even with gentle care, after about 30 washings. If your compression stockings begin to sag, feel loose, or fall down, it is probably time to buy a fresh, new pair.