How Do Compression Socks Work?

How Do Compression Socks Work?

Posted by Richard Miller on May 5th 2022

Compression socks are an increasingly popular option for athletes, exercise enthusiasts, and patients suffering from circulatory conditions. Unlike regular socks or stockings that simply absorb sweat and help cushion the feet, ankles, and legs, compression socks actually apply pressure to the lower third of the body. There are various reasons that you might want or need compression socks, ranging from personal lifestyle goals to health-related issues.

In any case, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding how compression socks actually work. Fortunately, they are actually quite straightforward. Even if you need compression socks for a health condition, they function in the same way as all types of compression socks and stockings. So, in today’s guide, we will take a closer look at the functionality and science underlying compression socks.

How Compression Socks Work

To keep it short and sweet, compression socks work by using synthetic materials like nylon, polyester, or spandex to apply increased pressure to the feet, ankles, and legs. You might think that you could get the same results from wearing a smaller size of regular socks, but unfortunately, this would not work very well. Most “standard” socks use a combination of natural materials like cotton or wool, as well as synthetic materials to allow for stretching. However, cotton and wool socks can only be stretched so far. If you tried to use them to apply the same degree of pressure as compression socks, they would quickly fray or rip entirely.

Therefore, compression socks help by applying increased pressure and elasticity to the feet and legs with virtually no risk of tearing. The materials used for compression socks ensure that they can conform to the size and shape of legs, while also applying specific degrees of pressure based on the strength of the socks. In short, compression socks work much like any strong piece of clothing that has the capacity to stretch and apply pressure.

However, this still does not explain the purpose of compression socks. Why would you want or need to apply pressure to your legs and feet? The reasons vary from one person to another, but generally speaking, applying specific degrees of pressure to the legs can help improve circulation. When you improve blood flow, you ensure that your limbs are getting sufficient oxygen, reducing the size of enlarged veins while simultaneously increasing the efficiency and speed of blood flow in the lower third of the body. They also help reduce pain and inflammation.

How Long Does It Take For Compression Socks To Work?

Compression socks begin applying pressure to your feet and legs as soon as you put them on. However, to determine how long it will take to get the desired results, you will need to define your reason(s) for wearing compression socks in the first place. If your doctor has recommended or prescribed compression socks to you, then it will likely be part of a treatment or prevention plan for varicose veins, thrombosis, swelling, or poor circulation.

For medical conditions like those listed above, you will likely need to wear your compression socks for a few days or weeks before noticing significant results. That said, the exact timeline can vary widely based on your particular condition. For example, you could feel reduced swelling in just a few hours, while you would need to wait upwards of six weeks to see a reduction in varicose veins. So, make sure to talk with your doctor to understand when you can expect to see results.

However, compression socks are not just for patients. You may also wear compression socks to help improve circulation for exercise or sports. In this case, you should anticipate wearing your socks at least one hour before physical exertion. Then, you will be far more likely to feel the full effects (improved circulation, reduced swelling, less pain in the joints, etc) while you're exercising or playing sports.

The truth is that the amount of time you wear compression socks is not as important as the strength of the socks you wear. For example, if you use medical-grade compression socks (which tend to apply greater pressure), you will likely see and feel the effects much sooner. Alternatively, if you are just using compression socks for recreational use, they will not need to apply as much pressure. In either case, the level of compression is far more important than the total number of hours (or days) that you wear your compression socks.

What Level Compression Socks Do You Need?

As previously mentioned, compression socks vary in the degree of pressure they apply. As a result, you are likely asking yourself: how tight should the compression socks be? Fortunately, if you are getting medical-grade socks, your doctor will likely have a recommendation based on the type and severity of your condition. The strength of compression socks is measured in mmHg, with higher mmHg meaning stronger, more constricting socks. To learn more about the functionality of different compression levels, be sure to check out our compression guide!

Alternatively, if you prefer a quick breakdown of the different strengths of compression socks, here is a more general outline of the different compression levels and what they can do:

8-15 mmHg

These are the lowest-strength compression socks. Stockings or socks with 8-15 mmHg of pressure work best for people with mild circulation or swelling issues, as well as people who need to sit or stand for long periods of time and need a little extra support for their legs.

15-20 mmHg

15-20 mmHg provides a step up in the level of pressure. Athletes frequently use this strength level to help promote better circulation and reduce inflammation and joint pain. Additionally, some patients with mild to moderate circulatory issues can benefit from this compression level. Since the pressure levels are quite low, it is safe for almost anyone to wear 15-20 mmHg compression socks while standing, seated, or during physical exertion.

20-30 mmHg

Typically, anything above 20 mmHg is reserved for moderate to severe medical conditions. This compression level is frequently used to prevent issues like thrombosis. It can also help treat patients who suffer from persistent pain or swelling in the legs. That said, some athletes may choose levels on the lower end of the spectrum (20-22 mmHg) in certain situations. However, for non-medical use, you have to be careful not to apply too much pressure, as this could actually restrict circulation.

30-40 mmHg

30-40 mmHg compression stockings and socks apply even more pressure, making them a common choice for chronic medical conditions. That said, they are also used for post-procedure treatments. This compression level can also treat many cases of Lymphedema and Chronic Venous Insufficiency (CVI).


Finally, 40-50mmHg is the highest compression level. This range is only reserved for the most severe medical conditions affecting the legs, including Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Post Thrombotic Syndrome (PTS). Needless to say, this range of compression puts a lot of pressure on your legs, so these should only be worn under the care and treatment of a medical professional.

We hope you found this guide on how compression socks work both useful and informative! Are you currently in the market for compression socks or other compression wear? If so, be sure to reach out to Compression Health today!