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Varicose veins—enlarged bulging veins, bluish in color, that can be seen on the surface of the skin, usually on the legs—can happen to anyone. However, some groups of people, like those who are pregnant or have a family history of varicose veins, are more prone to them than others.
Enter compression socks or stocking: fitted socks that come in varying lengths, usually below the knee or thigh-high. While compression socks cannot treat varicose veins that have already formed, they can help with the prevention of new ones, says Bauer Sumpio, MD, a Yale Medicine vein surgeon. This has to do with the underlying cause of the varicose veins—the incompetency or defective valves in the vein, which promotes swelling.
“The stockings themselves do not treat the varicose veins. Once the veins are enlarged, they’re there,” he explains. What the compression stockings do is prevent them from getting worse and prevent new ones from developing.
“We commonly prescribe below-the-knee compression stockings,” says Dr. Sumpio. “These are medical-grade stockings because they have to be woven with consideration of the location of tension in the leg, specifically the tension in the stocking at the ankle is much higher than that at the thigh.” The reason for this is to be able to promote a continuous flow of the venous blood draining the leg. If the pressure of the stockings were the same throughout, it could impede the flow and cause more swelling in the leg.
“Normally, we will prescribe 10 to 15 millimeters of mercury gradient (mmHg) compression stockings,” he adds. “This means there’s 15 millimeters of mercury pressure at the ankle and 10 at the knee.”
Dr. Sumpio suggests wearing compression stockings during the daytime, usually instructing his patients to put them on first thing in the morning and remove them prior to bedtime. “The reason for this is that when you are laying down in bed, the effect of gravity is negated with your supine position,” he says.
Because these stockings will lose some of their spring and elasticity due to the frequent wear, he suggests purchasing two pairs every four to six months and switching them out when needed.
Due to the fact that compression socks are intricately designed and woven and have to undergo a special manufacturing process to enable the different gradients of pressure that is being transmitted by the stockings, they are much more expensive than your average pair of socks—often costing more than $50 a pair, Dr. Sumpio points out.
However, you don’t need a prescription to buy compression socks. Here are some of our top compression sock picks to help prevent varicose veins.Our Top PicksBest Overall: Bluemaple Copper Compression Socks at AmazonThese socks offer copper infusion and 360 stretch in addition to their graduated compression, circulating blood up from your legs.Best Budget: CHARMKING Compression Socks at AmazonComfortable, budget-friendly, easy to put on, with just the right amount of compression in a breathable high-nylon blend.Best Stockings: PPXGOGO Thigh High Compression Socks at AmazonDesigned to stay in place all day with a nylon-spandex blend and a thinner material that makes them easy to wear under clothing.Best Thigh-High: Mojo Compression Stockings at AmazonGreat for those with large varicose veins, these stockings help to prevent overheating with a footless style and high compression.Best Open-Toed: Truform 20-30 mmHg Compression Stocking at AmazonMore focused compression without unnecessary extra coverage for people with milder symptoms.Best Footless: BLITZU Calf Compression Sleeves at AmazonOffers a non-slip cuff and a unique knitted design that mimics kinesiology tape to help with old injuries.Best Athletic: Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks at AmazonMade with a moisture-wicking fabric and shock absorption and ankle stability to support athletes and people on the move.Best Cotton: SocksLane Cotton Compression Socks at AmazonUse a unique blend of materials, including cotton, nylon, and spandex, to give the feel of cotton with the stretch of synthetics.
Best Overall: Bluemaple Copper Compression Socks
View On AmazonPros
- Pack of six socks
- Made with copper for extra compression
- Graduated compression to circulate blood flow upward
- Patterned varieties may be harder to put on
- Only two size options
These breathable compression socks by Bluemaple snagged the top spot in this list for being the best of many different worlds, scoring high marks for compression, comfort, variability, and bonus features such as copper infusion and 360 degree stretch. Plus you get six pairs (yes, six!), meaning you can get through your work week and then some when you choose these instead of other similar brands.
There are several color and pattern options to choose from, along with basic small/medium or large/extra large sizing. The socks are knee-high and made with a microfiber blend that’s durable, washable, and moisture-wicking to reduce odors. While we admit that the jury is still out on whether copper fabrics actually provide a significant benefit when it comes to improving circulation and reducing pain, they certainly don’t hurt your chances of getting more relief.
What we really love about these socks, though, is the graduated compression. Starting with higher levels of compression at the bottom and working up to a milder—but still effective—level towards the upper calf, these socks are designed to circulate your blood up and away from your legs and redirect it back to your heart (just like any good compression sock should!).
Material: 85% Nylon, 15% Polyester | Fit: Knee-high | Sizes Available: S/M and L/XL
Best Budget: CHARMKING Compression Socks
- Pack of three socks
- 360 degree stretch
- Comfortable but firm
- Sizing may run small
- May stretch out too much over time
The compression socks by CHARMKING are a user-favorite, having been positively reviewed by more than 30,000 customers online. You don’t get that kind of fanfare for nothing: these socks are well-loved because they’re comfortable, budget-friendly, easy to put on, and provide just the right amount of compression.
Available in more than two dozen sets of three, you can go with an ultra-conservative nude, white, or black, or opt for a cheerfully eye-catching seasonal pattern. They offer two different sizes, a compression measurement of 15 to 20 mmHg, and are made with a breathable, high-nylon blend. These socks are equally great at being worn all day for vein support or slipped on and off for a workout; either way, they’ll keep you cool, dry, and comfortable. If you wear through all three pairs quickly, we won’t blame you—but their affordable price means you can just go back for more.
Material: 85% Nylon, 15% Polyester | Fit: Knee-high | Sizes Available: S/M and L/XLThe 9 Best Diabetic Socks of 2021
Best Stockings: PPXGOGO Thigh High Compression Socks
View On AmazonPros
- Footless for maximum comfort
- 20 to 30 mmHg compression rating
- Expanded sizing
- May be too tight or loose around thighs
- Delicate; could snag or tear
While they’re slightly more delicate than compression socks—think pantyhose consistency—that also makes them easy to wear underneath your clothes for a seamless and comfortable look.
Even though they’re medical-grade stockings supplying you with 20 to 30 mmHgs of compression, NuVein has added in a few details that make them easy to wear.
Made from a nylon spandex blend that makes them stretchy but firm, these stockings lie flat and stay in place with secure banding around the thigh. Speaking of your thigh, that’s how high these stockings go—but they’re also open-toed, which we think helps them go on and stay on more easily (after all, it’s often the pressure and tension from your toes that pulls stockings down around your ankles as you move).
Material: 77% Nylon, 23% Spandex | Fit: Thigh-high, open-toed | Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL, XXL
Best Thigh-High: Mojo Compression Stockings
- Full leg coverage
- Expanded sizing
- Unisex opaque fabric
- May be too long for shorter users
- Ankle and thigh bands may be too tight
Thigh-high compression socks may not be everyone’s first choice, but if you have severe varicose veins, Allan W. Tulloch, M.D., vascular surgeon at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California says you would benefit from socks that cover as much of your leg as possible.
“Patients with large varicose veins who just want compression [without aesthetics] would ideally wear thigh-high stockings,” he explains.
If that’s you, you may want to opt for a style of sock that’s thigh-high but also footless; after all, your toes don’t need extra compression, and traditional sock styles can easily cause overheating (or simply be tough to wear with summery shoes!).
We like Mojo’s compression stockings for serving this exact purpose: they cover your legs but not your feet, offering a compression of 20 to 30 mmHg from your ankles to your upper thighs. They’re made from a blend of three different stretchy fabrics and come in a whopping 11 sizes, making it super simple to find a pair that fits you like a literal glove.
Material: 72% Nylon, 24 % Lycra, 4% Silicone | Fit: Thigh-high, footless | Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL, 2XL – 7XLThe 7 Best Socks for Sweaty Feet of 2021
Best Open-Toed: Truform 20-30 mmHg Compression Stocking
- Soft top banding
- Comprehensive measuring/size guide
- Reinforced heel
- Delicate; could snag or tear
- Design may make them difficult to put on
If you like the idea of compression stockings but have only mild symptoms, Truform offers a knee-high, open-toed pair that provides strong compression and more focused coverage than traditional full-length stockings. Made with nylon and spandex and a 20 to 30 mmHg compression measurement, these partial stockings are the perfect fit for someone who doesn’t want or need compression for their entire legs.
“Below-the-knee stockings are good for [milder] symptoms,” says Dr. Tulloch, “so calf-high stockings are a good first place to start.”
These stockings are available in a handful of neutral colors, making them easy to size and slip on under your clothes unnoticed—especially with their open-toed design. They also feature a reinforced heel and seven different sizes, along with comprehensive sizing and measuring guide, so you can get a perfect fit—and rest assured, it’ll last you for a long time.
Material: 80% Nylon, 20% Spandex | Fit: Knee-high, open-toed | Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL, 2XL, 3XLThe 8 Best Hammer Toe Straighteners of 2021
Best Footless: BLITZU Calf Compression Sleeves
- Minimal coverage for athletics
- Built-in UV protection
- Focused calf and shin support
- Breathable knit fabric advertised, but no specific info
- Stitching may not be durable over time
If you do a lot of walking, cycling, or jogging, or suffer from stiff, sore calf muscles (which can be caused by everything from overuse to injury to poor choice of shoes!), then these footless calf sleeves by BLITZU are a minimalist way to get some much-needed support for your lower legs.
With 20 to 30 mmHg of compression, these socks slide on and relieve muscle cramps, shin splints, swelling, and—of course—varicose veins, improving your circulation with a few nifty extra features. The knitted fabric is comfortable on the inside and outside of your legs, the non-slip cuff ensures the sleeves will stay in place once they’re put on, and their unique design mimics the benefits of kinesiology tape, which is especially beneficial to people struggling with old injuries or trying to maintain an active lifestyle.
Material: knit blend, unspecified | Fit: Knee-high, footless | Sizes Available: S/M, L/XL, XXL
Best Athletic: Physix Gear Sport Compression Socks
- Durable and easy-to-wash
- Comfortable for all-day wear
- Non-elastic top band may be too tight for some users
- Some users report size discrepancies
You can exercise in most of the compression socks on this list, but if you’re shopping for a pair to wear only when you’re exercising, you’ll have some unique concerns in mind—namely comfort, moisture-wicking capabilities, and focused compression. Thankfully, you can find all three of those things in these compression socks by Physix Gear, which have been designed with athletes in mind.
The socks are made with a moisture-wicking fabric blend that dries out quickly, so whether you’re sweating or just getting dirty, you won’t end up with blisters from damp socks. The stitches and seams of the socks are crafted not to dig into skin or irritate people who stay on the move all day, and a combination of shock absorption and ankle stability ensures you’ll have a comfortable workout every time. Plus, you get 20 to 30 mmHg of compression, but primarily in the target areas of your heels and calves (not your toes, where you don’t really need it).
Material: 70% Nylon, 30% Spandex | Fit: Knee-high | Sizes Available: S/M, L/XL, XXLThe 7 Best Knee Braces for Arthritis of 2021
Best Cotton: SocksLane Cotton Compression Socks
View On AmazonPros
- Higher-than-average cotton percentage
- Moderate 15 to 20 mmHg compression
- Simple unisex design
- Some users dislike inner fabric
- May be too long for shorter users
The majority of compression socks are made with synthetic fiber blends that bounce back after being stretched out, but that means people who are sensitive to synthetic fibers or who simply don’t like the feel of them on their skin can have a hard time finding a pair that’s comfortable for them.
What we love about the compression socks by SocksLane is that they’ve found a way to blend soft, cozy combed cotton with lower amounts of nylon, elastic, and spandex, basically giving you the comfort of cotton with the stretchability of synthetic. Keep in mind that this means your compression level will be a bit lower, but the amount offered here (15 to 20 mmHg) is still perfectly suitable for someone with mild varicose veins or an asymptomatic-but-unsightly case.
These cotton compression socks are available in four different sizes, including extra-wide, feature a thick stay-in-place band, and are easier than higher-compression socks to put on, making them a great choice for people who need mild compression or sensitive skin folks who only require occasional use.
Material: 65% Combed Cotton, 15% Stretch Nylon, 10% Elastex, 10% Spandex | Fit: Knee-high | Sizes Available: S/M, L/XL, XXL, X-Wide
For a nylon/polyester sock that’s infused with copper for an extra boost of compression, Bluemaple’s Copper Compression Socks (view at Amazon) come in a variety of colors and patterns (and offer graduated compression from 10 mmHg up to 30 mmHg). The compression socks by CHARMKING (view at Amazon) are a well-reviewed fan favorite and make an excellent budget pick, but for anyone wanting more cotton than synthetic fibers in a compression sock, SocksLane (view at Amazon) offers a pair with 65 percent cotton.
What to Look for in Compression Socks for Varicose Veins
Amount of Compression
Compression socks are measured not only by standard sock sizes but also by the amount of pressure they exert, also known as mmHg. How high of a measurement you need in a pair of compression socks depends on what you’re using them for, says Dr. Tulloch.
“If you have symptomatic varicose veins, you want the pressure to be high enough to collapse the veins and relieve your symptoms,” he explains, noting that this would mean finding socks that have at least 20 to 30 mmHg.
If you have mild varicose veins or you’re mainly trying to improve the cosmetic appearance of your veins, Dr. Tulloch says you can opt for lower compression, like 10 to 15 mmHg. Choosing the right mmHg measurement depends on how severe your symptoms are. Symptoms can include aching, itchiness, or tenderness.
Hands-down, the most important thing to look for in compression socks is a pair you will actually wear.
“They will only work as long as you wear them, and symptoms will return after you take the socks off,” warns Dr. Tulloch. “If you find one you like, use it.”
If you’re stressing about mmHg measurements or how high or low your compression socks will be, those are legitimate concerns—but if the socks you ultimately choose are too hot, itchy, loose, or uncomfortable you won’t wear them (and that defeats the purpose!).
Speaking of socks that are too hot and itchy, it’s important to think about what material you personally prefer. None of the doctors we spoke to had any specific material recommendations—less important than the material your socks are made from is how comfortable that material is for doing whatever it is you’ll be doing with them on.
“Different patients may find that different materials work best for them,” says Dr. Geoffrey Barnes, a vascular cardiologist at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center. “I encourage all of my patients to try different types of compression socks to find the ones that are most comfortable and effective for them.”
Depending on the brand you’re buying, your socks may come in only two sizes (small/medium and large/extra-large) or four or more sizes (small, medium, large, extra-large, and so on). In most cases, the manufacturer will list instructions for measuring your legs to make ordering the right size easy for you, but don’t give up if you can’t find a good enough fit.
“The problem is everyone’s legs are different lengths and circumferences,” says Dr. Tulloch, “and OTC socks have a lot of variability.”
If finding a perfect fit proves difficult, Dr. Tulloch suggests talking to your doctor about a prescription for compression socks: “We’ll send you to a pharmacy for leg measurements and give you a compression sock that’s not one-size-fits-all.”
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- How do compression socks for varicose veins work?
- How long should you wear compression socks for varicose veins?
- Can you sleep in compression socks for varicose veins?
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