Which Level of Compression is Best for Me?

Finding the right size compression socks is tricky, but trying to decide what level of pressure you need is even trickier. There are five levels of pressure to choose from, but the higher pressures usually require a prescription. To figure out the best option for you, the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to take a look at your medical history and familiarize themselves with any medical conditions that either require a higher level of pressure or put you at a higher risk for restricted blood flow by wearing compression socks at all. When it comes to compression, it's always better to consult your physician before making a decision or purchasing a product.

Let's take a look at each level of compression and what the benefits of each one are. In this article, the levels are listed from the least amount of pressure to the most. The units of measurement are called millimeters of mercury, and the higher the numbers are, the more pressure they provide.

Light Compression: 8-15 mmHg

The lowest level of compression available is between 8 and 15 mmHg. It's gentle enough that almost anyone can wear it, and the people who choose to wear it mostly use it to prevent sore and achy legs after a long period of sitting at work or while traveling. People who suffer from occasional swelling or other edema symptoms may find relief from these compression socks, like women who are in the early stages of pregnancy as well as people with diabetes.

Mild Compression: 15-20 mmHg

Providing a bit more pressure than light compression socks but still being mild enough to be sold over the counter, compression socks that offer between 15 and 20 mmHg are often used by people who travel, sit, or stand for long periods during the day. People who have moderate cases of varicose veins, or who are just prone to varicose veins, like pregnant women, might find a lot of relief from mild compression socks.

Doctors may recommend mild compression for people who suffer from some kind of venous insufficiency or who have a higher risk for developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), also referred to as a blood clot. Mild compression is also favored by athletes, since it helps reduce muscle soreness and aid post-workout recovery processes.

Moderate Compression: 20-30 mmHg (Medical Grade Class I)

Even though the level of pressure between 20 and 30 mmHg is the first level of compression to be described as "Medical Grade," it's the most common level of compression that people buy. Moderate compression can be bought over the counter, but doctors also write prescriptions for it. It's used to treat a variety of medical conditions, especially varicose veins and post-injury/surgery recovery, but it's also a popular option for doctors and nurses who work shifts that last around 16 hours.

High Compression: 30-40 mmHg (Medical Grade Class II)

This is the first level of compression that needs to be prescribed by a doctor before you use it. High compression treats moderate to severe leg health symptoms, blood clots, lymphedema, chronic orthostatic hypotension, and ulcer prevention. High compression is also referred to as firm compression by some doctors and clinics.

Very High Compression: 40-50 mmHg

This is the highest level of compression available, and it's only used to treat severe symptoms and injuries. You should only wear very high compression under the direct instruction of your doctor, since it can potentially be severely detrimental to the wearer's health. Very high compression isn't prescribed very often, due to the severe and uncommon symptoms it's used to treat.

Putting It All Together

For most people, wearing either light or mild compression socks will sufficiently treat symptoms, especially if you only plan on wearing them during a long flight, car ride, train ride, or day of working at a desk. Light and mild compression will prevent a good deal of swelling and achiness; if you're looking to prevent muscle soreness during or after a workout, you can consider buying either mild or moderate compression socks.

If you suspect that you need a higher level of compression than moderate, you must talk to your doctor. Not only will your doctor be able to listen to your symptoms and walk you through your options, but they may also be able to take your exact measurements while you're in the office so that you don't have to do a lot of guesswork. Once you finally have a pair, make sure they don't fit too tightly. You want your compression socks to feel like they're giving you a gentle hug, not squeezing the life out of you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no matter which level of pressure you choose, you'll probably need to replace your compression socks every five to six months, especially if you wear them regularly. Over time, wearing your compression socks will stretch them out and reduce the amount of compression that they give. To get the most out of your compression socks, make sure you invest in socks made from durable materials so that they can last for as long as possible, but when they get a little too stretchy or start looking worn down, you should probably go ahead and buy a new pair.

Remember that compression socks are made to work against gravity, circulating blood from your legs and feet back up to your heart to promote healthy blood flow. Every person's situation is unique, which means that everyone needs a different level of compression. It's good to listen to your body, but if you've never worn compression socks before and you're trying to decide on a pressure, it's better to trust the instincts of a trusted medical professional than your own. If it takes a bit of time to find the exact right pair for you, don't be discouraged. Once you find your perfect pair, you may never want to go back to wearing regular socks again!


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