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Can Compression Socks Reduce Lower Leg Swelling and Pains?

Posted Jun 13 2009 12:26am
Compression socks were used only by those were post-leg surgery, had varicose veins, were diabetic, or who took long airplane trips. Very recently, athletes began using compression socks during competitions. They are particularly popular among long distance runners. Searching on websites using terms like compression sock produces very variable results. In my opinion, there is minimal objective data available on the efficacy, optimal use, and safety. 99% of the information I read was anecdotal stories.

Why did I even get interested in compression socks? Here's my experience. I had a little bit of exposure from internal medicine residency training, during 1988-91, which was based in a hospital. There were lots of patients recuperating in beds and chairs from illness, accidents, and surgery. We prescribed only one kind of compression socks, called TED hose, which are still used, for some patients. Fast forward to 2008. Three things happened. First, my father had just had emergency heart bypass surgery. After the operation, he wore TED hose. I thought it would be good idea to get some more. My mom already had some because she had leg vein stripping, for varicose veins, a number of years before. She has lymph edema, meaning swollen ankles because of poor return of body fluid due to the surgery. The compression socks take care of everything, Unfortunately, hers did not fit him, so we had to look into getting more. Second, around the same time, a friend of mine discussed going hiking. He had a lot of varicose leg veins which became painfully swollen afterwards. We discussed using compression socks for both his veins and for better performance. Finally, on Thursdays, I work from 8:15 am until 7 p.m. I noticed my feet and calves were getting tired, not swollen. So I considered what I could do and one solution was to try compression socks.

Here are the variables I considered, and that other people may want to consider, when I buy compression socks. What is the purpose? Exercise, recovery, or daily wear. Consider the length of time each day you will wear the sock. Consider the amount of active stretching, meaning wear and tear, on the material. There two groups of major manufacturers: athletic or medical supply. I was unable to find any comparisons between the two types of manufacturers. There's the constant problem with any article of clothing that everyone has differently shaped feet and legs. Remember of consider the thickness of the sock and the sole padding and the height of the sock. The higher the sock, the higher the cost. People should consider at least covering the calf. Compressing the foot alone will not increase venous return very much. Another variable is the degree of compression. Most manufacturers do not list the amount of amount. Some do and they measure the compression in pressure units of mmHg. The stated range is from 8 mmHg up to 40 mmHg. There is no data I can find that correlates the amount of compression with optimal athletic performance. Again, one is left with trial and error plus anecdotes. Hopefully, all manufacturers will start to list this important information on the packages. Finally, there's the issue of cost. Be prepared to drop between $25-$60 per pair of socks. In fact it took me a week of mulling the decision to buy my first pair of compression socks. This was the most expensive pair of sock I have ever bought. It was also also about three times what I spent on socks annually. My conclusion was different socks will appeal to different people.

My first pair was Sugoi R+R knee high compression socks. The designs are fairly loud, but no one noticed them under my business pants. I'd prefer wear solid black or grey socks for work. This aside, I think they really help. I am considering buying more, but I am wonder about other brands. I'd like to try other brands, however, in Greenville/Spartanburg, SC, I could not find any stores that sell athletic compression socks. This was disappointing. A lot of Internet stores for triathletes and runners don't even carry them. Buying them online, without a trial fitting, is problematic for me with regards to time and money. Here is a quick sampling of some medical supply brands (Activa, Futuro, Jobst, Kendall (which makes T.E.D. socks (with 18 mmHg only of compression)) and athletic brands (Sugoi $30, Swift Wick, CEP O2max $60, SL3S $57.95, 2XU $49, Zoot $60, Ironman Rocket Pro $18, CW-X $35, Oxysox $24). There are other brands. I'll keep you up-to-date with my results.

Compression socks are a product that I am going to recommend to more people in the future, when the reasons are right, because I think they can help reduce lower leg swelling and pain. What you may rightly ask does this have to do with allergies and asthma. Nothing directly. However my website is devoted to having healthy lives and compression socks fall into the category of being a simple, non-medicinal treatment. I have also devoted a fair amount of time investigating this. I wanted to share this information with others. If you have questions, do your own research...
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