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Published Aug. 10, 2021

Compression socks, also known as compression stockings or support stockings, gently squeeze and apply pressure to the legs. The pressure improves circulation while preventing and reducing swelling. These socks are a common part of post-injury or surgery recovery, but they’ve gained popularity among long-distance travelers and athletes for their recovery benefits, too. 

Whether you’re an athlete, recovering from an injury, or in an occupation that keeps you on your feet all day, pressure socks encourage blood flow and help you stay comfortable. However, compression socks come in different pressures, lengths, and sizes that make a difference in how well they’ll work for your particular issues. We’ve rounded up some of the best compression socks for swelling, athletics, and general use to get your feet back in working order. 

What to look for when shopping for compression socks

Let’s start with the most basic question—how do compression socks work? Compression socks apply gentle pressure to the tissues beneath the skin of the legs. That extra pressure prevents fluid leakage and promotes fluid absorption. That generally means less swelling, as well as swelling prevention. 

Weakening veins and valves get a boost from pressure socks by supporting vein and capillary walls. Even if your veins are perfectly healthy, blood can pool in the legs after long periods of sitting or time on your feet. Consequently, people who work while standing, those who are walking all day, and those who travel for several hours at a time find relief from swelling with the added pressure of compression socks. 

These socks come in different types and designs. For example, gradient or graduated compression socks apply higher pressure toward the toes, feet, and ankles, with less pressure through the calf. Ankle compression socks only apply pressure to the foot and ankle. Toeless designs make it easier to wear regular socks over for greater cushioning and comfort. 

Compression socks also come in different pressure levels, with socks available to the average consumer having a light to medium compression. Pressure is measured in millimeters of Mercury (mmHg). People with certain health issues may require a specific sock pressure level recommended by a doctor, while others can just choose a level that feels comfortable.

  • 15-20 mmHg (light compression): Daily wear, general sports, and travel.
  • 20-30 mmHg (medium compression): Daily wear (especially for varicose veins and swelling), mild symptoms of discomfort, sports recovery.
  • 30-40 mmHg (strong compression): Often recommended for blood clot prevention, medical recovery, or post-surgery.

Pressure socks should not cause pain or uncomfortably pinch the skin. A sock that causes numbness, tingling, or discoloration is too tight.

Related: Are you an athlete looking for workout gear? These are the best running socks for all weather and terrain.

Can compression socks improve your running performance?

Here’s the deal: The jury is still out on the benefits of compression socks for running performance. Some studies have found a correlation between pressure socks and improved running performance and muscle fatigue, while others have found no difference

It comes down to what you need and want the compression socks to do. If you have swelling when you run, which is pretty normal, pressure socks can definitely reduce fluid buildup in your feet and legs. That may or may not benefit your running time and recovery. Runners who travel long distances to get to their events, such as marathons or triathlons,  may also reap the benefits of compression socks because they can reduce swelling due to prolonged periods of sitting or standing.

However, a fairly universal finding is that if the wearer believes the socks help, they report less fatigue, better circulation, and quicker recovery. For runners, the mental “race” can be just as difficult as the actual race. If the socks work for you and help with recovery, you may want to consider a purchase. 

Best compression socks for men: Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks

Durable, Breathable Construction

The Physix socks come in three sizes, many colors, and provide comfortable compression with durable fabric and finishings. Physix Gear Sport

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The Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks provide 20-30 mmHg of pressure, which is adequate for running and other sports, as well as post-workout recovery. Their graduated pressure provides higher pressure through the feet and ankles and gradually decreases toward the top of the calf. These socks come in three sizes and include “stay put” cuffs to keep the sock in place. They also come in 12 color options.

How can they help alleviate ankle swelling?

Pregnancy, poor circulation, temperature fluctuations, and fatigue are only a few of the reasons your feet and ankles may swell. Capillaries, which are very small blood vessels, help carry blood to the arteries and veins and back again. Their thin walls are easily damaged, which can lead to fluid buildup and poor circulation. 

Pressure socks gently squeeze the legs, helping fluids to reabsorb and blood to flow more easily. These pressure socks also decrease the diameter of veins, increasing the velocity of blood flow and volume. In short, they keep the blood moving and fluid from pooling. If swelling plagues you during and after a long airplane, car ride, or a long shift on the job, these socks may help. 

Best compression socks for women: Hi Clasmix Graduated Medical Compression Socks

Great Compression, Fun Colors

These graduated compression socks offer 20-30 mmHg of pressure, two size options, and breathable fabric that keeps feet and calves comfortable. Hi Clasmix

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The Hi Clasmix Graduated Medical Socks fit women’s shoe sizes 6 to 15.5. They feature graduated compression that stays between 20-30 mmHg, enough for daily wear, athletics, or recovery. A copper-infused fabric helps prevent odors and wicks moisture for more comfortable wear.

What style sock are you looking for?

Something that goes to your knees or beyond is too much sock for the occasion. In other cases, you may only need compression and extra support in the arch, heel, or low ankle. Ankle-compression socks may offer a solution to any of the aforementioned issues. 

These socks sometimes rise above the ankle bone, but many stay below this visible landmark. They have similar pressure levels as taller socks. Some of these designs feature targeted pressure through the arches or heels to relieve plantar fasciitis or support foot injuries. These socks also cover less surface area, making them a cooler option when temperatures rise.

Best ankle-compression socks: PAPLUS Ankle Compression Socks

Light Compression, Cool Design

These ankle socks provide 15-20 mmHg compression that helps circulation and offers extra foot and ankle stability. PAPLUS

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The PAPLUS Ankle Compression Socks feature light, 15-20 mmHg compression in a side-specific design. Each is labeled R or L, which helps the compression fit and target the foot’s arch better. This compression provides progressive pressure throughout the foot and ankle. They’re made of a moisture-wicking fabric that improves breathability for more comfortable wear.

How easy is it to take the compression sock on and off?

Compression socks aren’t always the easiest to get on. Easy-on compression socks include ankle and toeless designs. They function under the philosophy that it’s easier to pull on a sock when there’s less sock to pull. Although these designs have less material, they can still get the job done well. 

Ankle socks often feature targeted support with side-specific designs for the arches and ankles. Toeless designs provide more ways to access and adjust the socks when pulling them on and taking them off. Some have more of a toe than others, and these designs may be ankle, knee, or thigh-high. Toeless compression socks may specifically target plantar fasciitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament or Achilles injuries. 

A thin, toeless design can also make it easier to wear your own well-cushioned socks within the shoe. There are times, like when you have an injury, when you may even want to wear these socks while wearing flip flops or sandals.

Best toeless compression socks: SB SOX Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks

Gentle Arch Support

These socks’ targeted compression and ribbing relieve plantar fasciitis pain while supporting the foot. SB SOX

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The SB SOX Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks feature compression and ribbing designed to follow the arch of the foot. The ribbing through the arch mimics the natural movement of the foot’s ligaments to provide better support. A thin heel lets you fit it under your regular socks without changing the fit of your shoes. Moisture-wicking fabric keeps the SB SOX cool even under another pair of socks. They come in four sizes and nine colors.

What to expect from budget socks

A single pair of socks that cost $15 or more can quickly get expensive. However, you can get comfortable compression for much less, but you do have to let go of a few things. First, budget compression socks usually have less pressure. They’re more likely to fall in the 15-20 mmHg range. The quality of the fabric may be lower compared to higher-priced socks. For example, you won’t find moisture-wicking fabric among the less expensive designs. The seams may come apart quicker, too. That said, you can buy several cheap pairs for the price of a single pair of pricier designs.

Best budget pressure socks: ACTINPUT Compression Socks for Men and Women

Light Compression in Bulk

Light compression in an affordable eight-pack of socks provides a great bang for your buck. ACTINPUT

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The ACTINPUT Socks for Men and Women are made with  15-20 mmHG compression and come in packs of eight. These knee-high compression socks provide uniform pressure from toe to knee in two sizes. You get lots of options, from a pack of all black to nude, white, gray, and colorful patterned designs.

FAQs

Q: What does 15-20 mmHg mean for compression socks?

The 15-20 mmHg means that the socks provide 15-20 millimeters of mercury in pressure. It’s a measure of the sock’s tightness. Socks range from 15-40 mmHg, with 15 being the lowest pressure offered. 

Q: Can compression socks lower your blood pressure?

Unfortunately, no, compression socks cannot lower or raise your blood pressure. They increase the velocity at which the blood moves in the lower limbs, but not enough to change your blood pressure measurements.

Q: What level of compression socks do I need?

The compression level needed varies by your activities, comfort level, and the socks’ purpose. To improve general circulation throughout daily activities, 15-20 mmHg socks usually do the trick. At 20-30 mmHg, athletes and those with medical issues like poor circulation or injury get more support. Socks at the 30-40 mmHg level are typically reserved for injury recovery. It’s important that no matter the pressure level, the socks are comfortable for you. They shouldn’t cut off circulation, cut into your skin, or cause skin discoloration. 

The final word on shopping for the best compression socks

Keeping your tootsies happy can help you stay on the move when your feet start to get tired. The best compression socks allow your blood to flow and reduce swelling without pinching or cutting off circulation. You may need a sock without toes or an ankle compression sock to support your arch. If you have a medical condition that requires a compression sock, talk to your doctor to determine the right pressure and sock style. These socks can express your personality with bright colors and patterns, or they may blend in with your natural skin tone. If you need a pair, there’s a design out there that will work for you.

Related: Got cold feet? These are the absolute warmest socks for cold conditions.

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