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    How Tight Should Compression Socks Be For Therapeutic Purposes?


    december 30, 2023   |    3 Mins Read


    Compression socks are a type of compression garments whose ultimate goal is to improve blood circulation in the legs. They should feel tight around your legs. You will feel the most pressure around your ankles with less pressure further up the leg.

    To answer the question "how tight are compression socks supposed to be?", the bottom-line answer is - just tight enough. No skin irritation. No constrictive swelling. Just the right amount of compression to promote healthy blood flow, reduce fatigue and strain, and alleviate pain.

    The Koprez compression socks are designed with medical-grade compression, backed with evidence-based therapeutic benefits, and engineered for maximum comfort.

    Are Compression Socks Supposed to be Tight?

    Absolutely, compression socks are meant to be snug or tight to some degree. The whole principle behind compression socks is the application of compression therapy - graduated pressure to the legs, ankles, and feet.

    Think about it like a gentle, supportive hug for your legs. This pressure is strongest at the ankle and gradually lessens as it goes up the leg, helping to guide the flow of blood back towards the heart.

    But here's the thing: while compression socks are meant to be tight, they shouldn't be painfully or uncomfortably so. It's a delicate balance. If they're causing discomfort, digging into your skin, or leaving deep indentations, they're probably too tight and you might need a different size or compression level.

    In short, yes, compression socks are supposed to be tight—but in a supportive, beneficial way, not in a painfully tight way.

    Understanding Compression Levels

    Before you purchase compression socks, it’s important to know the compression level.

    MmHg, or millimeters of mercury, is the measurement used to determine compression rating. This rating indicates how much pressure is applied by the sock when worn (rated from 8-50 mmHg).

    A higher number indicates more pressure, while a lower number indicates less pressure and a looser fit. Compression ratings should always be considered in conjunction with your activity level or the condition you have.

    8-15 mmHg

    The most common compression level for everyday activities and light sports. 8-15 mmHg is considered a light compression and also the cheapest variety you can find in a medical supply store. Physicians recommend this type of compression level for people with minor circulatory or vein issues, or those who spend most of their day sitting or standing.

    15-20 mmHg

    We consider this the therapeutic level of compression. In fact, many physicians recommend the medium compression level for those with spider veins, varicose veins, mild to moderate edema (swelling), and circulatory problems. This type of compression is also commonly used by athletes to improve athletic performance during light training sessions or low-intensity activities such as walking, jogging, or biking.

    20-30 mmHg

    Firm compression is recommended for treating swelling in the legs, severe varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, and preventing orthostatic hypotension (when the blood pressure drops when you stand up from a sitting or lying down position) and blood clots post-surgery.

    Those undergoing physical therapy often use this compression sock level to reduce inflammation, improve blood circulation, and speed up the recovery process.

    30-40 mmHg

    Extra firm compression for severe swelling, chronic venous insufficiency, pregnant women with phlebitis (vein inflammation), dermatitis sufferers, and managing more advanced venous disorders.

    40-50 mmHg

    Very high compression is reserved for severe lymphatic or venous insufficiency, typically recommended by healthcare professionals. This high level of compression is normally used for very short periods to prevent worsening of symptoms, and should not be worn continuously.

    Determining the Appropriate Compression Level for Your Needs

    Accurate measurement and the activity you will be engaging in are the two important considerations when determining the appropriate compression level.

    With the right compression level, you can garner all the benefits that compression socks have to offer.

    For Travel and Long Flights

    When you're traveling, especially during long flights, your legs can often feel tired and may tingle due to restricted movement and limited circulation. To combat these issues, it's essential to wear compression socks for flying or compression stockings specifically designed for flying. These socks should provide a compression level of 15-20 mmHg. This level is optimal because it's strong enough to support circulation and reduce discomfort, yet comfortable enough for prolonged wear during travel.

    For Pregnancy

    Pregnancy can often lead to issues like varicose veins or edema (swelling), particularly in the legs. To help manage these conditions, wearing compression socks for pregnancy is highly recommended. For pregnant individuals, a compression level of 30-40 mmHg is often suggested. This higher compression level provides significant support to the legs, helps in reducing swelling, and mitigates the discomfort associated with these common pregnancy-related vascular issues.

    After Surgery

    Post-surgical care often includes measures to prevent complications like blood clots or poor circulation. One such measure is the use of compression socks. After surgery, a compression level of 30-40 mmHg is commonly recommended. This level of compression is significant enough to promote healthy blood flow, reduce the risk of clot formation, and support the healing process, while still being safe and comfortable for most post-operative patients.

    For Nurses and Other Occupations

    Nurses, factory workers, and others in occupations that require prolonged standing or walking can benefit greatly from compression socks. For these individuals, it's advisable to wear compression socks with a moderate level of 15-20 mmHg or a firmer level between 20-30 mmHg. These compression levels help reduce leg fatigue, prevent varicose veins, and improve overall leg comfort during long shifts.

    For Plantar Fasciitis

    Plantar fasciitis, a common cause of heel pain, can be alleviated with the use of compression socks. For those suffering from this condition, compression levels between 15-20 mmHg or 20-30 mmHg are beneficial. These levels provide enough support to relieve tension in the plantar fascia, reduce inflammation, and help in managing the discomfort associated with plantar fasciitis.

    For Running

    Runners often experience muscle fatigue and soreness, which can be mitigated through the use of compression socks. For running, compression socks with a moderate level of compression, typically between 15-20 mmHg or 20-30 mmHg, are recommended. These levels are effective in reducing muscle fatigue, enhancing blood circulation, and minimizing soreness post-exercise.

    For Edema

    Edema, characterized by fluid accumulation in the legs and feet, can cause significant discomfort. Compression socks are a non-invasive way to manage this condition. A moderate compression level between 15-20 mmHg or 20-30 mmHg is usually sufficient to provide support, reduce swelling, and alleviate the discomfort associated with edema.

    How Should Compression Socks Feel When They Are Worn Correctly?

    When wearing compression socks correctly, you should notice a distinct yet comfortable sensation. Here's what to look for:

    1. Snug and Comfortable Fit: The socks should fit snugly around your legs without causing discomfort. This snugness is crucial as it applies the necessary pressure to promote blood flow. However, the socks shouldn't be so tight that they cause pain or discomfort.
    2. Unrestricted Movement: Despite the snug fit, you should be able to move freely. The compression socks should not restrict your range of motion. You should be able to walk, sit, and perform daily activities comfortably without feeling constricted by the socks.
    3. No Adverse Skin Reactions: Pay attention to how your skin reacts. Properly fitting compression socks won't cause swelling, itching, or redness. If you notice any of these symptoms, it may indicate that the socks are too tight or you might be allergic to the material.
    4. Breathable Fabric Comfort: The material of the compression socks should feel cool and breathable against your skin. Good quality compression socks are designed to wick away moisture and provide ventilation, keeping your skin dry and comfortable.
    5. Stays in Place: A correctly fitting compression sock will stay in place throughout the day. It shouldn’t roll down or bunch up whether you're active, sitting, or standing. Socks that roll or slide down are either too big or have lost their elasticity and need replacement.

    Ensuring these factors can help you confirm that your compression socks are fitting correctly and providing the intended benefits without any discomfort or adverse effects.

    Read this guide to learn how to put on compression socks to maximize their therapeutic benefits.

    When Are Compression Socks Too Tight?

    Identifying when compression socks are too tight is crucial for their effective and safe use. Here are some clear indicators:

    1. Numbness or Tingling: If you experience numbness or a tingling sensation in your feet or legs while wearing compression socks, it's a sign that they may be too tight. This sensation often indicates that the socks are constricting blood flow or nerve function.
    2. Deep Red Marks on Skin: It's normal for compression socks to leave mild indentations on your skin, but if you notice deep, red marks that persist for a long time after removing the socks, they are likely too tight. Such marks suggest that the socks are excessively constricting your skin and underlying tissues.
    3. Pain or Discomfort: While compression socks should feel snug, they shouldn't cause pain or significant discomfort. If wearing your socks results in pain or you can't wait to take them off, this is a clear indication that they're too tight.
    4. Difficulty in Donning or Doffing: If putting on or taking off your compression socks is a struggle, they might be too small or tight for you. Properly fitting compression socks should be snug but not so tight that they are challenging to wear or remove.
    5. Skin Changes at the Sock Line: Observe any skin changes such as sores or discoloration at the point where the sock ends. These changes can indicate that the socks are too tight and are causing undue pressure or friction against the skin.
    6. Swelling Above the Sock Line: If you notice swelling in areas just above where the sock ends, this could mean that the compression sock is too tight and is impeding normal blood flow or lymphatic drainage, causing fluid to accumulate above the sock line.

    While compression socks are designed to provide support and improve circulation, it's vital to ensure they fit well without being too tight. Recognizing these signs can help you choose the right fit for your needs and avoid potential complications.

    How Soon Will I See Results After Wearing Compression Socks?

    The time it takes to see results from wearing compression socks can vary greatly depending on the reason for use.

    If you're using compression socks to reduce leg swelling, you might notice an improvement in a few days. If you're using them for a condition like chronic venous insufficiency or lymphedema, it might take a few weeks to see significant changes.

    Individuals who use compression socks for recovery after a long run or rigorous workout, often experience immediate relief from muscle soreness.

    If you're wearing them for preventative measures while traveling or to reduce the risk of blood clots, the "results" are more the absence of symptoms or issues, which wouldn't necessarily be noticed. It's important to remember that compression socks are a treatment, not a cure. They can help manage symptoms, but they're often part of a larger treatment plan.

    Other Treatment Plan to Combine with Compression Socks

    While compression socks are a vital component in managing circulatory issues and swelling, their effectiveness increases significantly when paired with other treatment strategies. Here are specific additional treatments to integrate into your routine for enhanced benefits:

    • Elevating Your Legs: Regularly elevate your legs above your heart level. This simple practice can significantly improve blood circulation and reduce swelling in your legs. It's particularly effective after long periods of standing or sitting. Elevating your legs for just a few minutes several times a day can make a noticeable difference in reducing discomfort and promoting better venous return.
    • Engaging in Regular Exercise: Incorporate physical activities into your daily routine. Exercise plays a crucial role in stimulating blood flow, strengthening your leg muscles, and improving overall cardiovascular health. Activities like walking, swimming, or cycling are especially beneficial as they are low-impact yet effective in enhancing circulation.
    • Maintaining a Healthy Diet: Focus on a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients. A healthy diet is key in managing conditions like diabetes, which can significantly impact circulatory health. Incorporate foods high in antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fats, while limiting salt and processed sugars. This dietary approach helps in maintaining optimal blood vessel function and overall health.
    • Following Medication Regimens: If you have an underlying condition that affects circulation, your healthcare provider may prescribe specific medications. These could be blood thinners, diuretics, or medication for conditions like diabetes or hypertension. Adhering to your prescribed medication regimen is crucial for controlling symptoms and enhancing the effectiveness of compression therapy.
    • Utilizing Massage Therapy: Consider incorporating gentle massage techniques. Massage can aid in improving blood circulation and lymphatic drainage, thereby reducing swelling and discomfort in the legs. It's a therapeutic addition that complements the benefits provided by compression socks.

    Combining these additional treatment methods with the use of compression socks can significantly boost their effectiveness. This integrated approach helps in managing your condition more comprehensively and effectively.


    Compression socks are an effective tool for managing various conditions and promoting overall leg health. When worn correctly, they can provide numerous benefits such as reducing swelling, improving circulation, and alleviating discomfort. By ensuring a proper fit and recognizing signs of tightness, individuals can use compression socks safely and effectively to improve their daily lives. With that said, if you're experiencing persistent symptoms or discomfort, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Compression socks are just one aspect of leg health, and maintaining an active lifestyle, proper nutrition, and regular check-ups are also crucial for overall well-being.

    FAQs on Wearing Compression Socks

    Do compression socks and compression stockings provide the same benefits?

    Yes, both compression socks and graduated compression stockings (also known as pressure stockings or anti-embolism stockings) are designed to provide similar benefits, though they might be used for slightly different purposes or target different areas of the legs.

    Both compression stockings and compression socks work by applying pressure to your legs and feet to improve blood flow. This can help prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT), reduce swelling in the leg veins, and relieve pain or discomfort related to various vascular conditions.

    Read this guide on the extensive difference between compression socks and stockings.

    What do you do if you know you have the right size, but the garments still feel too tight?

    If you're certain you have the right size but the compression socks still feel too tight, it could be due to the level of compression. If the socks feel too tight, you may need a lower compression level. If adjusting the compression level doesn't help, it could be a sign that the socks are not being worn correctly. Make sure they are evenly pulled up and not bunched or wrinkled.

    Before anything else, make sure to read our comprehensive guide on how to measure for compression socks properly and accurately.

    Should compression socks be tighter at the bottom or the top?

    Compression socks should be tighter at the bottom and gradually decrease in compression as they move up the leg. This graduated compression helps push blood up from your ankles and legs back towards your heart. It's important that the socks are not too tight at the top, as this can cut off circulation.

    Can I wear compression socks all day?

    Yes, you can wear compression socks all day. They are designed to provide sustained pressure on your legs to help improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and alleviate pain. Many people wear compression socks throughout their day-to-day activities, including during work and exercise.

    However, it's generally recommended to remove them before going to bed, unless specifically advised otherwise by your healthcare provider. This is because the pressure exerted by the socks is not necessary when you're lying down.

    Is it better to size up or down in compression socks?

    If you're between sizes, it's generally better to size up rather than down. Compression socks that are too small can cause discomfort, restrict blood flow, and even lead to skin irritations.

    Read this guide to learn how to measure for compression socks.

    Is it normal for compression socks to leave indentations?

    It's common for compression socks to leave temporary indentations on your legs, especially if you've been wearing them for an extended period. However, if the indentations are deep, painful, or persist for an unusually long time after removing the socks, it may be a sign that the socks are too tight and you should consider a different size or compression level.

    Is it normal to have skin discoloration after wearing compression socks?

    It's normal to experience temporary discoloration after wearing compression socks, especially if the socks are too tight. Discoloration usually fades shortly after removing the socks and isn't a cause for concern. However, if you have persistent discoloration or any other concerning symptoms, consult with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.


    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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