Compression Sleeves vs Compression Socks

Because there are so many different types of compression wear, it can be a little confusing to figure out which type would be most beneficial for you. This is especially true when trying to decide between compression socks and compression sleeves--after all, compression sleeves look like compression socks, just without the foot. So, what's the difference between the two in terms of function? Does each type offer certain benefits? Is each better for certain activities? We've got all the answers for you here.

The Differences between Compression Socks and Compression Sleeves

Like we mentioned above, the most noticeable difference between a compression sock and a compression sleeve is the foot or lack thereof. Compression socks cover your entire foot, ankle, and most of your calf; compression sleeves cover only the calf, stopping just above the ankle and just below the knee. The different compression placements affect how they help or hinder your blood flow. Compression socks will send blood from your feet to your heart, but compression sleeves will focus more on sending blood up from your ankles. Does that mean compression socks are better than compression sleeves? And do compression socks offer more benefits than compression sleeves? Let's take a second to remind ourselves of some of the benefits compression wear offers.

The Benefits of Compression Socks and Compression Sleeves

Two of the most important benefits that compression wear offers are (1) reduced swelling and (2) reduced soreness after a workout/long shift at a job that keeps you on your feet. Since compression socks cover your feet, they're better at preventing foot swelling than compression sleeves are; compression sleeves can reduce swelling in your calves, but not anywhere else. On the other hand, since many compression socks don't quite reach the knee, they can only prevent soreness in certain parts of the leg, while compression sleeves prevent soreness throughout the entire calf and shin. For athletes, that can make a world of difference in how long it takes them to recover.

Now that we know the differences in benefits between compression socks and compression sleeves, we can look at which kind would be best for certain activities.

Compression Socks: Travel, Desk Work, Recovery

When you have a long plane, train, or car ride, keeping your feet on the floor in front of you for five or more hours can cause swelling because there isn't enough blood making it back to your heart. The blood that stays in your legs pools, and before you know it, your feet and ankles have almost doubled in size. If you have a trip coming up that will take five or more hours, we recommend wearing compression socks over compression sleeves. Because compression socks cover your entire foot and ankle, they're more effective at preventing foot and ankle swelling than compression sleeves are.

The time you spend at a desk adds up over time, and even though you have more room to move around and the freedom to stretch your legs than you do when you're traveling, the reality is that you still spend hours of your life sitting down. For a similar reason, we recommend compression socks to people who work sedentary jobs. Along with remembering to stand up and walk around every hour, flex your ankles and calves every 30 minutes, and stay hydrated, wearing compression socks can prevent foot and ankle swelling after a long day of just sitting.

Even though compression sleeves are best to wear during high-intensity workouts (see below), compression socks are better during the recovery process. Compression socks promote better blood flow throughout the entire body than compression sleeves do. Proper blood circulation enables you to recover faster and not become as sore after a workout.

Compression Sleeves: High-Intensity Workouts, Running, Shin Splint Prevention

When it comes to high-intensity workouts, compression sleeves are the way to go. They compress the muscles to make sure that your blood circulates everywhere it needs to go when you need your muscles to work the hardest. Even though compression sleeves don't necessarily prevent swelling and inflammation in the feet the same way that compression socks do, they prevent muscle soreness by keeping your muscles oxygenated with proper blood flow.

Because compression sleeves are made to focus on a single part of your leg, they're better for intense athletes who use their legs often, like marathon runners. Not all runners or athletes are very concerned about swollen feet or ankles; in fact, they might not experience those health issues at all. Compression sleeves allow runners to provide help for the muscles that need it most, but then those runners also get to wear whatever shoes and socks they want while they exercise.

People who are new to running or any other rigorous sport might be familiar with the term "shin splint." A shin splint involves pain on the inner side of your shin, and it's caused by overworking yourself with repetitive activities. Compression sleeves prevent shin splints because they help keep your muscles warm, and properly warming up your muscles before a workout is one of the most effective ways to prevent shin splints. Make sure that you don't wear compression sleeves to avoid warming up; always warm up your muscles before a workout, even if it doesn't feel necessary. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Bottom Line: It Comes Down to Personal Preferences

Compression socks aren't better than compression sleeves, and compression sleeves aren't better than compression socks. It's all about the types of activities you do as well as knowing the benefits and pitfalls of each product before you buy one. Now that you've been properly informed about the benefits of each, as well as what activities compression socks and sleeves are better suited for, you can make the best decision for you and your lifestyle. Remember: compression socks are better for preventing swelling, and compression sleeves are better for intense and strenuous workouts.

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