Everything You Need to Know About Compression Socks for Sports Athletes
Blood flow is vital to the health and function of your inner body. Without proper circulation, your organs and muscles will not have the right amount of oxygen and other nutrients they need to perform at their best. This can cause a great deal of harm and danger if not treated correctly.
While this might sound like bad news to anyone with poor blood circulation, you're not alone, and there are plenty of ways to treat it. In fact, millions of people all around the world are in the same shoes. Luckily for you, compression garments could be the answer you're looking for.
So, what are compression garments?
Compression garments, such as compression socks, are unique articles of clothing that fit tight and snug around specific body parts. They ensure a consistent amount of pressure around the treatment area, which helps improve blood circulation, recovery, performance, and function.
Believe it or not, compression garments are nothing new to the science and sports communities. They've been around for thousands of years and have been utilized by a world of different cultures and civilizations. Of course, they've evolved and improved greatly throughout history.
With that said, no compression garment is created equal. There are various types of compression garments, levels of compression, benefits, and uses for them. Don't worry; we're going to break down everything you need to know about them below.
Different Types of Compression Garments
When most people think of compression garments, they immediately think of compression socks and compression sleeves -- but those aren’t the only options available to those with poor blood circulation. They’re available for virtually every part of the body you can possibly think of.
Here are some of the most prominent types of compression garments available today:
- Compression Bandages -an elastic strip of woven fabric that helps create localized pressure wherever it’s needed. They’re often used for muscle sprains and strains.
- Compression Socks -designed to help relieve pain and improve circulation to and from the foot. They apply graduated compression and are available for both men and women.
- Compression Stockings - similar to compression socks, but designed for the entire leg and foot. They’re generally tighter in the foot and get looser as they run up the leg.
- Compression Sleeves - also known as compression braces, provide compression around an entire joint or limb. They're generally used for knees, elbows, and calves.
- Compression Gloves - designed to be worn over your hands, just like normal gloves. They’re generally used to treat arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and Raynaud’s.
- Compression Tops -designed to be worn like a shirt, compression tops improve upper body circulation and blood flow. They’re available in a long-sleeve and short-sleeve.
- Compression Pants - also known as compression leggings, they’re designed to provide circulation support for the lower body. Many people wear them under their shorts.
As you can see, there's a compression garment designed exclusively for each area of the body, and choosing the right one is crucial. Once you determine which type of compression garment you need, you must consider the different compression levels available for that area of the body.
Different Levels of Compression Garments
The compression level, which is measured in mmHg (millimeters of mercury), determines how tight the compression garment is. The higher the number, the tighter it is. Each person is going to require a different level of compression, which is why it’s important to know the differences.
Let’s take a look at the five different categories of compression levels available in compression garments today:
- Light Compression - ranges from 8-15 mmHg. It can be worn by anyone but is best suited for those that aren't injured yet experience minor swelling, soreness, pain, or discomfort.
- Mild Compression -ranges from 15-20 mmHg. They are suited for those with minor varicose veins, those at risk of DVT, moderate swelling, or long-distance travelers (by air or road).
- Medical Grade Class I - ranges from 20-30 mmHg. Despite holding a medical-grade class, they don't require a prescription. It's the most commonly used compression level.
- Medical Grade Class II - ranges from 30-40 mmHg. They are generally reserved for severe cases of edema, varicose veins, DVT, orthostatic hypotension, and blood clots.
- Medical Grade Class III - ranges from 40-50 mmHg. Anything in this range requires a doctor’s prescription. They can easily damage your body if not utilized properly.
Any compression garment lower than 40 mmHg can be found over-the-counter, such as in a department store or pharmacy. Anything higher than 40 mmHg requires a doctor's prescription and shouldn't be utilized without a healthcare professional's direction or direct supervision.
Benefits of Compression Socks
There's a reason compression socks are being utilized by just about everyone -- especially athletes. Whether you're running, cycling, hiking, lifting weights, or playing the sport, compression socks can help you get the most out of your workout -- while also reducing chances of injury.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent benefits of wearing compression socks:
- Increases blood flow and circulation in your legs and feet.
- Prevents blood from pooling in your veins.
- Decreases orthostatic hypotension when standing up.
- Prevents deep vein thrombosis, blood clots, and venous ulcers.
- Enhances lymph drainage in the legs and feet.
- Reduces pain caused by varicose veins.
- Decreases swelling and support vein health.
- Reverses venous hypertension.
- Reduces muscle fatigue, increases power, and improves jumping ability.
- Enhances the recovery process and risk of injury.
Since compression socks come in various compression levels, as discussed above, they're designed to be used by anyone. In fact, everyone can benefit from wearing compression socks in one way or another -- that's what makes them so popular today!
How to Choose the Right Compression Socks
To get the most out of your compression socks, it's imperative that you find the right one from a quality, trustworthy, and reliable brand. That means finding the right type of compression sock -- knee-high, thigh-high, or ankle-high -- as well as the right compression level (in mmHg).
As a general rule of thumb, you should consider above-knee socks if you have thicker calf muscles. If you don't plan on wearing the compression socks for a long period, you might be better off with a compression sleeve that covers just your calf -- not your feet.
It would be best if you also decided between graduated and anti-embolism compression socks. Graduated compression socks are tighter around the ankle and looser the higher up they go. Anti-embolism compression socks are designed for those confined to a bed or those that are immobile.