Benefits Of Compression Socks For Nurses
You’ve heard of nurses wearing compression stockings, but you are wondering why. What’s so special about compression socks? You may have heard of compression socks and stockings being worn to prevent DVT, or perhaps by diabetics. But why do nurses wear compression stockings? Compression wear has many useful applications, and in fact there are some massive benefits of compression socks for nurses.
What Are Compression Socks?
Compression socks have seen an explosion in popularity in recent history. They have evolved and seen huge technological advancements. While in the past they were something you would wear after surgery to prevent developing DVT, they now come in a large variety of types and have massively broad applications. A large driver of this technological advancement has been the athletics and performance wear industry, who recognized the potential for compression socks to drive increased levels of athletic performance. You can now find compression garments for just about every limb and body part.
For the purposes of this post, we are only interested in compression socks. So what are they?
Often referred to by a variety of terms including compression stockings, support socks and pressure socks; compression socks come in two primary forms: graduated compression socks and anti-embolism socks.
Anti-embolism socks are those used in hospitals for patients who spend the majority of their time in bed. These people have an increased risk of developing DVT due to their very low levels of activity. By not being mobile, the circulation of blood in the legs decreases. This can be very harmful and can lead to clots forming. These kind of compression stockings are not suitable for nurses, or anyone who is active.
Graduated compression socks are the more common type and are used for a large variety of purposes. They have graduated compression, which means their compressive strength varies along the length of the sock. They are usually tightest around the foot or ankle, and have decreasing strength up towards the top of the sock. This graduated compression causes large increases in the circulation of blood.
What Are The Benefits Of Compression Socks For Nurses?
Nurses spend a lot of time on their feet. The majority of a shift is spent moving from one patient to another with few breaks in between. Not only is this exhausting, it can be quite detrimental to your leg health.
Three very common conditions developed by nurses as a result of this time spent on the feet are:
- Fatigued and heavy feeling legs
- Development of edema, or swelling of the feet and lower legs
- The development of bulging veins known a varicose veins
The increased blood circulation that graduated compression socks cause has a huge effect on these conditions.
How Do Compression Socks Help Circulation?
Graduated compression socks in particular help to boost the circulation of blood in two primary ways:
The compression of the legs has a direct effect on the velocity (or speed) of blood flow. By squeezing on the legs, the veins carrying blood to the heart are compressed. In the same way that squeezing on a hose will speed up the flow of water, for example when watering the garden, this compression decreases the cross-sectional area of the veins. As the actual volume of blood does not change, the blood now has less area in which to move. The effect is that it must increase its velocity.
The second way compression socks boost circulation is by being graduated. By having the tightest pressure around the ankle, and decreasing this pressure upwards, the blood is effectively guided back towards the heart. It is essentially forced upwards. In this way, graduated compression socks fight against one of the primary causes of poor blood circulation in the legs, which is the force of gravity. The blood in the legs has more work to do to get back to the heart. Unlike in the body parts which are closer in height to the heart, the blood in the lower parts of the body must push up against gravity. Graduated compression socks help by aiding the blood to fight its way upwards.
Compression socks can help to reduce the fatigue and leg heaviness experienced by nurses. The increase in blood flow brings with it increased levels of oxygen and other important nutrients. This essentially provides the leg muscles with more fuel. Compression socks are not only advisable to wear during a shift, but also afterwards. Wearing them while you relax at home can reduce the recovery time of your muscles.
Foot And Leg Swelling
Being on your feet all day often leads to the pooling of blood or the swelling of the feet and lower legs. This is also known as edema. By forcing the blood to flow upwards and by increasing the flow of blood, wearing compression socks can reduce the likelihood of this swelling occurring. In addition, the compression can prevent any already existing swelling from worsening, as the legs have less space to expand into.
Varicose veins are largely caused by low levels of blood circulation, the effect of gravity and venous insufficiency. Under normal healthy conditions, blood flows upwards to the heart. To prevent the blood from coming back down the veins due the force of gravity, there are valves in the veins which act as stoppers. They allow blood to flow upwards but prevent it from flowing downwards. These valves can weaken which allows some blood to pool in the veins. When this happens, the veins start to bulge and form what are commonly referred to as varicose veins or spider veins. Increasing the blood circulation and also forcing the blood to flow upwards by wearing graduated compression socks can both prevent and treat this.
Types Of Compression Socks For Nurses
Compression socks for nursing must be graduated compression socks. The other type, anti-embolism stockings (also known as TED hose), are only suitable for bedridden patients.
As far as graduated compression socks go, they vary by length and compression strength. The most common lengths are knee length and thigh length. They also come as ankle length and full length panty hose. One consideration to make is that they can be tedious to put on. This together with the fact that most negative effects of being on your feet all day are seen in the lower legs, makes knee length the most popular type.
There are four main strengths of compression socks. Strength is expressed as millimeters of mercury (or mmHg) and is always a range due to the graduated compression. For example, 20-30mmHg socks have compression of 30mmHg around the ankles and 20mmHg around the top of the sock.
For nursing, the most appropriate strength of compression is 15-20mmHg and 20-30mmHg. 8-15mmHg is a little weak to work against gravity, although would make a suitable strength for recovery at home if you have your feet raised. The other strength of compression is 30-40mmHg which is strong and requires a prescription from a doctor.
If you are unsure which compression strength is best for you, start with 15-20mmHg before working your way to 20-30mmHg. Remember that they should feel snug, but not too tight. It is common to find them slightly uncomfortable at first, as you are not used to the feeling of compression socks.
Benefits Of Compression Socks For Nurses: The Final Word
If you are unsure about compression socks and have never worn them, the best course of action is to try them out for yourself. They are inexpensive and easily available online or from any major store or drugstore. You will quickly see for yourself how great they are. If you have any further questions or comments about the benefits of compression socks for nurses, please leave them below.