Dr. Michael Mazer, a podiatrist and associate of the American College of Foot & Ankle Surgeons, told HuffPost that these particular benefits include increased stamina and less lower extremity discomfort post-exercise. He even mentioned studies that show a growing correlation between compression therapy and the world of professional sports.
“After a strenuous workout, high levels of waste products such as lactic acid can build up in the blood causing discomfort and diminished performance. Additionally the body, and muscles specifically, require oxygen-rich blood to circulate through the arteries and veins to help maintain peak performance,” Mazer said.
He explained that compression socks and stockings, which gently squeeze the legs and feet, help improve blood flow through the veins and reduce swelling. This is particularly beneficial during exercise because that pressure can “help clear waste products of exercise and assist your muscles’ natural ability to help pump blood through and back up against gravity to the heart.”
According to Dr. Holly Spohn-Gross, podiatrist and president of the California Podiatric Medical Association, compression can also play a central role in improving oxygen delivery to the muscles and reducing pain.
“Runners wear them for these reasons [as well as] weightlifters as they participate in short-burst exercises which also require better blood flow and oxygen delivery,” she said.
Mazer said that although we tend to develop various health conditions that can contribute to leg swelling as we age, older demographics are certainly not the only age group that can benefit from compression therapy.
“People who are constantly standing or walking on their feet for long hours for work or leisure can develop leg swelling from the rigors of their activities or even from gravity alone, regardless of age or health status,” he said.
Mazer also mentioned that aside from leg swelling, compression socks or stockings can be useful in treating a wide range of conditions including varicose veins and lymphedema and in preventing blood clots.
Spohn-Gross said that, when shopping around for socks, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
“The brand is not as important to me as the pressure,” she said. “Compression stockings range from 8 mmHg to 50 mmHg, with medical levels usually starting at 30 mmHg or greater.” (MmHg stands for millimeters of mercury, and is a unit of measure for pressure.)
Mazer said socks with increased levels of pressure tend to be used for more severe symptoms and, though your instinct might be to grab the strongest compression level possible, you should also take into consideration how comfortable and freely you’re able to move while wearing the socks.
If you’re interested in making compression socks your secret exercise weapon, don’t miss the below list of options that include pairs at different compression levels, lengths, sizes and fabrics.
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A pair of no-show and seam-free running socks
Balega’s no-show running socks are stitched with knit patterns of varying tension to provide compression and support without constricting movement and are constructed to mimic a running shoe design. The fibers themselves feature encapsulated silver ions to promote an antibacterial environment for the foot and are available in four different sizes.
A pair of merino wool ankle compression socks
These merino wool ankle socks are great for hiking or camping. (The fine fiber is beloved for its temperature-regulating and odor-fighting abilities.) In addition to providing a comfortable level of compression, these socks have added toe and heel padding as well as cuffs that won’t slide down as you wear them.
A pair of knee-high socks with medical-level compression
The recipient of over 52,000 five-star Amazon ratings, these knee-high socks are made with an athletic knit fabric and have targeted compressive support on the heel, foot and calf to avoid squeezing your joints. Their compression level is 20-30 mmHg, and you can get them in three different sizes.
Graduated strong-support stockings for wider calves
Available in sizes up to 7XL, these knee-high stockings, which use physician-prescribed elastic, have a reinforced heel and toe and a compression level of 20-30 mmHg. They are also constructed of moisture wicking material and use graduated compression therapy, which means stronger pressure is applied to the ankles, with less pressure application in the stocking higher up.
A pair of zippered high-level compression stockings
Spohn-Gross mentioned one of the biggest factors that deters people from being consistent with their compression sock use is that socks with higher levels of pressure tend to be much more difficult to put on and off. These high-strength (20-30 mmHg) closed-toe stockings can help thanks to their no-skin-pulling zippered design. Made with a reinforced heel and medical-grade materials, you can grab these stockings in sizes up to 7XL and in different lengths.
Two pairs of progressive pressure socks with ankle support
These low-cut socks intended for everyday activity use a circular progressive pressure design to provide the perfect amount of support that’s targeted around the ankle, with varying levels of pressure through the rest of the sock. They have a 15-20 mmHg level of compression and are made with a breathable and moisture-wicking fabric.
Thin no-toe compression foot sleeves
For targeted ankle and foot compression, this pair of no-slip activity sleeves, which comes in three sizes, offers tight-fitting comfort support around the tendons and muscles and a pressure level of 20-30 mmHg. The ultra-thin and lightweight fabric is breathable, moisture-wicking and available in eight colors.
A five-pack of copper-infused low-level compression socks
Made using a breathable mesh and infused with copper fibers meant to promote blood circulation, these above-the-ankle socks provide 8-15 mmHg compression targeted around the arch and strategically placed cushioning on the toe, around the ankle cuff and on the heel for added comfort.