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    Compression Socks vs Stockings: Which Is Right For You?

    Compression Socks vs Stockings

    Learn the differences of compression socks vs stockings and which might be the best fit for you.

    June 30, 2023   |    3 Mins Read


    Compression socks and stockings might seem similar at first glance, but they serve distinct purposes and offer varied benefits. Both are essential tools in promoting healthy blood circulation and minimizing swelling, but the choice between them often depends on individual needs and preferences. As we dive deeper, we'll explore the specific differences between these two supportive wearables and help you determine which might be the best fit for you.

    How Does Compression Therapy Work?

    Numerous medical conditions and medications lead to edema (swelling) in the legs. Injuries, surgeries, or extended inactivity can also cause your legs to swell. When you sustain an injury or remain inactive, blood pools in your legs and feet. Weak vessels hinder the blood from pumping back through your body, leading to swelling. This swelling can cause pain and delay wound healing. 

    In the same way during post-workout recovery, lactic acid builds up in your muscles and causes soreness. The mechanism of graduated compression works by exerting pressure on the leg to help improve circulation. This is done by squeezing the veins and arteries in the lower extremities, forcing blood upwards towards the heart instead of pooling in the feet and ankles.

    The amount of compression is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury) and increases from the ankle up towards the calf or thigh area. Below is a detailed explanation of how compression therapy work:

    1. Pressure Distribution: Compression garments apply graduated pressure, meaning they are tightest at the extremities (like the ankle) and gradually become less constrictive as they move up the limb. This promotes upward blood flow.
    2. Improving Venous Return: By squeezing the leg tissues and the walls of the veins, compression therapy helps the one-way valves in veins function properly, ensuring blood flows back to the heart efficiently.
    3. Reduction of Edema: Compression limits the excess buildup of fluid in the tissues, thus preventing or reducing swelling.
    4. Support to Surrounding Tissues: By offering structural support to muscles and soft tissues, compression therapy can reduce vibrations and micro-tears, especially during physical activity, reducing fatigue and soreness.
    5. Enhanced Oxygen Delivery: Improved circulation ensures that more oxygen-rich blood reaches muscles and other tissues, aiding recovery and function.

    Below are the following conditions that can benefit from compression therapy:

    • Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI): This is a condition in which the valves and walls of leg veins are weakened or damaged, causing blood to pool in the legs. Symptoms include swelling, pain, and ulceration.
    • Varicose Veins: Swollen and twisted superficial veins usually caused by weak vein valves failing to push blood back to the heart.
    • Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT): Blood clots in deep veins that can be life-threatening if they dislodge and travel to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.
    • Lymphedema: A condition in which lymph fluid accumulates in tissues due to damage or blockage of the lymphatic system, leading to swelling in the arms or legs.
    • Edema during Pregnancy: Pregnant women can experience swelling and discomfort due to increased pressure on leg veins from the growing uterus.
    • Sports Injuries: Compression therapy can help reduce muscle soreness, fatigue, and improve performance in athletes by promoting blood flow and supporting muscles.

    What are Compression Socks and How Do They Work?

    Compression socks operate based on a simple yet effective principle: applying graduated pressure to the leg to promote better blood flow. Veins, which carry deoxygenated blood back to the heart, have one-way valves to prevent backward blood flow. When these valves weaken from factors like prolonged standing, blood can pool in the legs. Compression socks apply external pressure that supports these veins, narrows their diameter, and speeds up blood flow, thereby reducing the risk of clotting and swelling from fluid buildup in the tissues.

    They come with different compression levels, with the most common being 15-20 mmHg and 20-30 mmHg. The higher number represents the pressure rating at the ankle, while the lower number indicates the pressure on the calf. For example, a 15-20 mmHg rating indicates that the sock provides 15 mmHg of pressure at the ankle and 20 mmHg of pressure at the calf.

    Unlike compression stockings, socks typically only reach up to the calf or just below the knee. You can easily find compression socks in athletic stores, pharmacies, and online. While both can be used medically, compression socks are often chosen by athletes, travelers, and workers who stand for long periods. They aim to reduce fatigue and minor swelling. Compression stockings are more medically oriented, frequently prescribed for conditions like varicose veins, edema, and post-surgical recovery.

    How Do Compression Stockings Work?

    Compression stockings exert steady pressure on the legs, supporting and squeezing the veins and muscles. This pressure promotes the upward flow of blood back towards the heart, preventing it from pooling in the legs and feet. By enhancing circulation, the stockings reduce swelling and help prevent conditions like deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, and leg fatigue. The specific design of graduated compression stockings, which are tighter at the ankle and looser as they move up the leg, further assists in pushing the blood upwards, countering the pull of gravity.

    There are different kinds of stockings manufactured on a gradient compression scale, providing different levels of pressure, such as:

    1. Over-the-counter support hose: Lighter compression levels ranging from 10 - 15mmHg or 15 - 20mmHg, typically found in drug stores. They help provide relief from mild swelling and discomfort.
    2. Medium-grade compression stockings: These require prescriptions from a doctor, and their compression levels range from 20 - 30mmHg, 30 - 40mmHg, 40 - 50mmHg and above, depending on the condition being addressed.
    3. High-stockings: These are often custom-made to fit specific measurements, with compression levels ranging from 50 - 60mmHg, for severe medical conditions like lymphedema.

    Types of Compression Stockings

    Compression stockings are medical devices designed to improve blood flow and reduce swelling in the legs. Here are the types of compression stockings:

    1. Graduated Compression Stockings: These stockings exert the most pressure at the ankle and gradually decrease pressure up the leg. They're commonly used to treat conditions like varicose veins and edema.
    2. Anti-embolism Stockings: Doctors often recommend these for post-surgical patients or those who are bedridden. They reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in patients with limited mobility.
    3. Maternity Compression Stockings: Pregnant women wear these to prevent or reduce swelling in the ankles and feet. They can also help manage varicose veins that develop during pregnancy.
    4. Thigh-high and Knee-high Stockings: As the names suggest, thigh-high stockings extend up to the thigh, while knee-high stockings stop just below the knee. The type chosen often depends on the area of concern and personal preference.
    5. Pantyhose-style Stockings: These are full-length compression stockings that cover the entire leg and the lower torso. They're beneficial for those who have swelling in both legs or need support in the upper thigh and hip area.
    6. Open-toe and Closed-toe Stockings: Open-toe stockings leave the toes exposed, making them more breathable. Closed-toe stockings cover the entire foot, providing full compression.

    Are Stockings the Same as Socks?

    Both compression garments work on the same principle, but their design and purpose differ.

    compression socks vs stockings

    Choosing the Right Compression Garment

    While the pressure rating is crucial, there are several other factors to consider when selecting the right compression garment. These include:

    1. Size and Fit: Compression stockings should fit snugly but not be too tight or constricting. They should provide support without causing discomfort or leaving marks.
    2. Fabric and Material: Look for materials that are breathable, moisture-wicking, and hypoallergenic. Materials like nylon and spandex for compression socks are lightweight and provide the breathability needed for optimal leg support.
    3. Purpose: The type of compression garment you choose will depend on your specific medical condition or purpose. Consult with your doctor to determine the right level of compression and style for your needs.
    4. Graduated Compression: The level of compression required for a given condition may vary, depending on the severity. Generally speaking, graduated compression socks and stockings are designed to provide more pressure at the ankle and gradually reduce in pressure as they move up the leg. This helps promote blood flow by pushing deoxygenated blood from the extremities back towards the heart.
    5. Anti-slip: Look for compression garments with anti-slip features like silicone bands or ribbed patterns. These help keep the socks or stockings in place and prevent them from sliding down during wear.

    Should I Wear Compression Socks or Stockings?

    Ask yourself the following questions before choosing between compression socks or stockings:

    • Do you have a mild condition like mild swelling or muscle fatigue?
    • Are you experiencing discomfort in your lower extremities such as the feet, legs and ankles?
    • Do you have varicose or spider veins, DVT, or post-thrombotic syndrome?
    • Are you looking to relieve tired, achy legs or mild swelling?
    • Are you looking for full-leg coverage or just calf and foot support?
    • Are you using it for everyday wear or for travelling, hiking, workout, or other activities?

    If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then compression socks are the best choice for you. Otherwise, if you have more severe conditions like lymphedema or severe swelling in both legs, thigh-high or pantyhose-style stockings may be recommended.

    With the prices ranging from $50 to $100, your initial response might be a stickler shock, but keep in mind that the quality is only as good as the material and the amount of pressure it provides, so make sure to invest in a high-quality compression garment for optimal results. Lighter compression socks with less compression levels are typically cheaper. But those stockings or compression socks in the 8 - 15mmHg range only offer very mild compression and are not suitable for treating medical conditions. Using these lighter stockings when facing serious vein problems can put you at risk of worsened symptoms.

    At Koprez, we offer a premium-grade compression sock that falls between over-the-counter and medical-grade compression at 15-25 mmHg. We refer to this sock as “medical lite,” which is perfect for anyone looking for a moderate amount of support. Our compression socks are designed with an advanced compression technology feature and anti-odor, anti-microbial, and wicking properties. They also feature a wide range of styles, designed to fit any body size or shape. Find a quality compression sock with the right size, compression level and material that suits your needs and preferences for a more comfortable, healthier life.


     • Mia, E. (2022). The Compression Stocking Guide Book: What You Need To Know About Compression Socks Before You Buy


    Claire Evans worked as the content marketing manager at Koprez. Claire combined a background of writing and editing, marketing, and patient education to best serve consumers, fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and anyone who relies on the Koprez brand for helpful information.

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