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Compression Socks Can Be a Lifesaver for Those Who Spend a Lot of Time Sitting

From ankle and quarter socks to wide calf knee-highs and sleeves, compression garments for all types of needs

spinner image Animated gif of a set of male legs and a set of female legs wearing long colorful compression socks
AARP (Source: Vim & Vigr)

Before my mother’s Parkinson’s disease advanced, she was a very active person. Even when she began requiring a walker and then a wheelchair, she loved going for exercise walks (while I held her gait belt) and doing chair-based aerobics classes.

After an extended hospitalization and transition to rehab, my family made the difficult decision to move our mom into a memory care facility, because a traditional nursing home wouldn’t have been equipped to handle her dementia. With a small, overworked and constantly rotating staff, my mother rarely received any exercise, and her ankles and lower legs quickly began swelling. I thought compression socks might help, and I was right, although I Iearned that my mom needed different ones from the kinds I wear.

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Betsy Grunch, M.D., a Georgia-based neurosurgeon, says that compression socks are “important for patients who have issues with poor circulation or swelling in their legs” because “weak circulation can lead to pooling of the blood in your legs, which could increase the chances of a blood clot.” Grunch adds that a backup of fluid into the soft tissues of the legs can also cause leg swelling, heaviness and fatigue. This is exactly what my mom was experiencing.

According to Grunch, you don’t need a prescription to buy socks with relatively low levels of compression, but socks with higher compression levels do require one, since certain contraindications may put a person at risk. A prescription can assist in finding the right type of sock for a specific need.

  • Put on the socks first thing in the morning, when legs are less swollen.
  • Pull the socks up the leg gently, smoothing the fabric as you go. Make sure the seams are straight and the heels are in the correct spot.
  • Use talcum powder on the legs to make the socks go on more smoothly. If you use lotion, be certain that it’s dry before putting the stockings on.
  • Make sure the socks are smooth, especially at the ankle and behind the knee. Don’t fold the stockings down if they seem too long.

As a frequent traveler, I own many pairs of compression socks, which I wear while flying. I took several pairs to my mom’s apartment, but I couldn’t fit any of them over her swollen feet. So I began trying different brands and styles from various local and online retailers to see what would work best for her. 

Medicare does not recognize compression socks as “durable medical equipment,” so it does not provide coverage across the board. However, as of Jan. 1, 2024, Medicare Part B began covering compression garments for people who have been diagnosed with lymphedema (a chronic condition that causes swelling in body tissue).

Additionally, some Medicare Advantage plans provide coverage for over-the-counter medical expenses, which could include compression socks. Contact your Advantage plan provider to confirm coverage, limits on the price or quantity of socks you purchase, and any terms for reimbursement.

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Here are some types of compression socks to consider.

Wide Calf Compression Socks

Wide Calf Compression Socks ($28+,

Vim & Vigr, a brand of compression socks popular with nurses, offers a wide variety of sock styles — wide calf, traditional, merino wool, cotton, solid, print and patterned — along with various levels of compression (moderate/everyday, 15-20 mmHg; moderate to firm, 20-30 mmHg; and firm/medical grade, 30-40 mmHg). My sister, who is a nurse, introduced me to wide calf compression socks, which is what she wears. I’ve found them to be a bit easier to get over my mom’s feet than traditional compression socks. By design, compression socks are tight and fitted, but the wider calf makes them easier to get on. Once on, they also provide a more comfortable fit for people with bigger ankles and calves. Vim & Vigr has a video that includes tips for putting on compression socks.

Compression Leg Sleeves and Open Toe Socks

Compression Leg Sleeves ($28+,

Leg compression sleeves are typically used by nurses and athletes or anyone looking to benefit from compression in their calves while still wearing their own socks (which may be better suited to particular activities). These compression leg sleeves from Vim & Vigr also work well for seniors or anyone who spends a lot of time sitting. Since my mom is prone to fungal infections on her toes, we’ve asked the care team at her memory facility to take her socks off before she goes to bed. But she could still benefit from compression overnight. These leg sleeves offer a solution by helping to reduce calf and ankle swelling while she sleeps without making her feet sweat. They also work well when she wears slippers or other slip-on footwear. A similar option are these open-toe compression socks, which cover the lower leg, heels and mid-foot yet leave the toes open for an overnight breather or while wearing sandals.

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Ankle and Quarter-High Socks

Comrad Ankle Compression Socks ($18,

Sheec Ankle and Quarter-High Socks ($16+,

While ankle and quarter-length socks aren’t as effective as knee-high socks at delivering compression through the entire lower leg, they may be sufficient if the swelling is limited to the feet. Compression quarter-length socks and ankle socks (like ones from Sheec or Comrad) deliver foot and arch support, and they are a lot easier to get on than knee-high socks. Because compression socks can be uncomfortable to wear for long periods, these shorter socks could also be alternated with full-length compression socks.

Menthol Compression Socks

Copper Fit Menthol-Infused Compression Socks ($8,

In addition to providing compression, these socks are infused with menthol, which is said to have a soothing aroma and an energizing effect. My mom and I haven’t noticed that aspect of the socks, but after buying several pairs in a local department store (and then several more online), I can verify that the socks are easy to get on, fit her well and are very affordable.

Low-Compression Grippy Socks

Comrad CozyGrip Compression Slipper Socks ($18,

For light compression and a bit of grip, these CozyGrip Compression Socks serve as a good around-the-house sock with a bit of support.

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