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How Do Compression Socks Work?

author image Melissa Sabo
Melissa Sabo is an occupational therapist who started writing professional guidebooks for all Flagship Rehabilitation employees in 2009. Specializing in applied therapy and exercise for non-medical readers, she also coauthored a manual on wheelchair positioning. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy.
How Do Compression Socks Work?
Compression socks on athlete Photo Credit: Maridav/iStock/Getty Images

Compression stockings are used for a variety of benefits, including reduced swelling of your legs when sitting for an extended period of time, such as a long flight or car trip. Surgeons often use them during and after surgery to reduce your risk for developing a potentially life-threatening blood clot. Runners sometimes use them to increase blood flow during exercise, which some think may reduce soreness, although the research is not conclusive on this stance.

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Purpose of Compression

The compression of the stockings is used to mimic the pumping action of your muscles as you walk. Normally, when you walk, your muscles contract around and near the veins in your legs, helping to force the blood upward against gravity and back toward your heart. However, if you have edema, lymphedema, poor circulation or varicose veins, just to name a few conditions, your body isn't able to effectively push the fluid up out of your legs, causing chronic swelling and pain.

Graduated Compressions

Compression stockings effectively push fluid upward by using graduated compression. There are several different types of stockings, from "diabetic socks" to knee high stockings and hip height stockings. Your doctor or therapist will determine the most appropriate height as well as tightness of the compression to meet your physical needs. Your compression stockings work from the foot up, tighter at the foot, with the compression easing higher up the leg.

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