No two pairs of compression socks are the same; when it comes to materials, colors, patterns, and pressure. There's a large variety of compression wear that you can buy. One factor that doesn't get talked about a lot, though, is the difference between lengths.
Most compression socks are "knee-length," meaning that they cover the calf completely but stop just below the knee. However, other compression socks rise above the knee, referred to as "thigh-high" or "over the knee" compression socks. Besides the obvious difference in length, are there any other differences between the two? When should you choose one over the other?
Let's break down the benefits of each length and then compare them.
Compression socks that stop just below the knee are the most popular style, making them the easiest compression sock to find. They're popular because they cover the parts of the leg where most people experience swelling, including the ankles and calves, but they're not as difficult to put on as their longer counterparts. By definition, compression socks are made of a tighter, more stretch-resistant material than regular socks and stockings. To put them on correctly, you have to fold them almost completely inside out, put your foot inside, and then unfold the fabric gradually up your leg. Knee-high compression socks aren't nearly as long as over-the-knee compression socks, so, naturally, it doesn't take as much time or effort to put them on.
Not only are knee-high socks easier to put on, but they're a lot more comfortable. Thigh-high socks have been reported to feel tighter than knee-high socks, sometimes even sliding down the leg and causing more skin irritation and chafing. For reasons related to both comfort and convenience, knee-high compression socks are the crowd-pleasing option.
Because knee-high socks are more popular and accessible to the general public than thigh-high compression socks, they also tend to be less expensive and available in a wider variety of styles. That doesn't take away from their effectiveness, though. Doctors often recommend knee-high compression socks to treat varicose veins, and they're ideal for treating peripheral edema, which is the swelling of your lower legs. In other words, in the world of compression, less material doesn't mean fewer results. The lower price and wider range of options are great news since they are typically worn by those who have serious medical conditions or are recovering from surgeries.
Over the Knee Socks
Like we mentioned above, over-the-knee and thigh-high compression socks are often prescribed to people with serious medical conditions; this is especially true of people with limited mobility. Blood clots form in the leg due to lack of blood flow, which is prevented by moving around and getting some exercise. Even though regular compression socks boost and improve blood circulation, they might not be enough to prevent blood clots in people who cannot get an adequate amount of exercise. Over-the-knee socks cover a larger portion of the leg than knee-high socks do; that means they also reduce the risk of blood clots in more parts of the leg, which is important for patients recovering from surgery and immobile people who need the extra help.
Knee-high socks are reported to be more comfortable for the general population, but people with large calves may benefit more from wearing thigh-high compression socks. The reason for this comes down to the tightness of the fabric, as the pressure in a pair of compression socks gradually becomes less as it goes higher up the leg, people with particularly large calves may experience tightness and discomfort that other people don't. Having socks that come over the knee, which gives the wearer an extra few inches of material, may provide relief in these instances as well as keep the compression socks from moving or sliding against the wearer's skin.
Another consideration to think about is the fact that compression wear benefits the body parts that it covers. Knee-high socks benefit your feet, ankles, and calves, but thigh-high socks add your knees, quads, and hamstrings to that list. That means less swelling, aches, and tingling throughout the WHOLE leg instead of the bottom half. Peripheral edema is the most common type of leg swelling, but people who suffer swelling in their legs above their knees should talk to their doctor about switching to over-the-knee and thigh-high compression socks. As far as varicose veins go, thigh-high compression socks not only help treat varicose veins that go above the knee but also hide them for people who feel self-conscious.
Some studies have shown that compression socks that come over the knee do a better job at preventing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in patients, but the difference in numbers wasn't significant enough to make the results conclusive. In other words, over-the-knee compression socks and knee-high compression socks offer about the same amount of protection against blood clots in patients.
At the end of the day, the difference between over-the-knee and knee-length compression socks comes down to personal preference and doctor recommendation. Both options improve blood circulation, reduce swelling, and offer relief for sore and achy legs. You should wear whichever length is most comfortable and convenient for you. If you aren't sure which length you should try, consult your doctor for a little bit of guidance.
No matter which length you choose, one of the most important things to remember is to make sure the material lies smoothly against your skin, without any wrinkles or bunching. You also don't want them to be TOO long, but make sure that you don't try to roll down a pair of compression socks to make them the right length, as doing so will cause them to be too tight. If your compression socks fit too tightly, they could do the opposite of what they were designed to do and cut off your blood circulation like a tourniquet.