Graduated compression is used in the design of common compression gear, such as full-length compression socks or calf compression sleeves. It is graduated in the sense that the level of compression is greater (tighter) at the bottom than at the top. This means that the compression socks put pressure on the leg more at the ankle and less at the thigh. This graduated pressure aids in the movement of the blood up the leg.
The veins have a system of valves that cause the blood to eventually flow back to the heart. Pressure helps these valves in their work, which also prevents blood from pooling or flowing backward. Overall, this allows faster venous return – that is, the blood is able to return back to the heart more quickly. This is important because it affects the entire cycle of the blood’s flow. One study on graduated compression socks showed an increase in blood flow up to 40% more during the time one is active. The same study found that graduated compression socks also made a difference of up to 30% more blood flow during the period after activity which is also known as recovery. This also means nutrients and oxygen are able to be sent out more quickly again if the blood is returning faster.
Graduated compression socks come in a variety of pressures. The compression usually recommended is between 20 and 30 mmHg for general purposes. This measurement (mmHg) is read millimeters of mercury. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe patients to wear extra heavy-duty compression sleeves (which may be 40 mmHg or greater) for certain conditions. These are usually not found except as a prescription, though, and through specialty providers, to ensure proper usage.
As for the design, it should be noted that calf compression sleeves allow for you to wear regular socks with them, as opposed to full-length compression socks which cover your foot and act as both a comfortable sock and calf compression sleeve.
Also, compression socks come in several sizes – small/medium, large/xl, and XXL are common. In order to find the proper size, one must measure the largest part of their calf; sizes are based on the circumference of the calf. The sock may also vary in length to ensure a good fit, which is important for receiving the most benefits from wearing the calf compression socks.
Graduated compression as found in compression socks is used to treat the symptoms of many conditions, usually relating to swelling and pain in the legs. Perhaps you have had a blood clot in your leg (otherwise known as deep vein thrombosis), and your doctor has recommended the wearing of a graduated compression sock to prevent future issues. Or perhaps you have pain and swelling from varicose veins or diabetes, or even pregnancy. If you’ve had leg surgery, you may also benefit from using graduated compression stockings. One study showed symptoms of pain and swelling improving in just one week of wearing 18 to 21 mmHg compression socks. Another study showed that wearing 22 mmHg compression socks for 6 months was shown to control leg swelling and pressure in pregnant patients.
Other groups who may also use graduated compression socks are:
- Long-distance drivers
- Those in professions that stand all-day
- Those who are bedridden
Graduated compression socks last just as long as a normal sock, if washed properly, unaltered, not rolled down or folded up when not in use, and generally cared for properly. They are made to be worn every day, all day, and removed at night when the leg is elevated. If there is resistance with putting a graduated compression sock on, especially if you have waited until after you have been awake a while to do so, elevate the leg until any swelling has gone down a bit and try again.
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