They might not be the most exciting item to add to your packing list, but a good pair of compression socks is a must for anyone who finds themselves boarding flights on a regular basis.
Compression socks have a number of benefits for frequent travelers ranging from serious medical prevention to cosmetic and comfort factors. Although doctors and orthopedic specialists agree that they are not completely vital For people without any pre-existing conditions, compression socks are still considered a valuable travel tool for anyone looking to make long flights a more comfortable experience.
We spoke to a handful of pros to get their thoughts on the benefits of wearing compression socks while flying, as well as some of the best compression socks on the market to look for based on your particular needs.
One of the best-known benefits of compression socks is how they can help prevent blood clots, a concern for many when traveling by plane. They work to stimulate circulation in the lower half, which is especially helpful on long flights when you’re sitting for extended periods.
“Compression stockings and socks can promote comfort while traveling and be one of the easiest ways to prevent blood clots associated with deep vein thrombosis (DVT),” says Dr. Bob Bacheler, CEO and Flying Angels flight nurse. “Compression stockings/socks are elastic and as such help prevent blood pooling in the lower extremities and prevent clots from forming.”
After a long flight, it’s normal for your legs to take some time to get used to the activity. In addition to promoting circulation in the legs, compression socks also work to help combat the feeling of fatigue in the legs.
“To help with leg fatigue, it’s a good idea to start with non-medical compression socks, which you can buy online,” says Kyle Kroeger, founder of ViaTravelers. “Non-medical support socks promote circulation and can be worn on and off the plane. A key benefit is that you can stay more active as a tourist when you arrive at your destination.”
Sitting for extended periods is common on flights, which due to gravity causes fluid retention in the legs below the knee. According to Derek Roach, owner of Flow Feet Orthopedics, this is also known as gravitational edema (colloquially called swelling) and can be easily prevented with the right compression socks.
“Elevation during flight has no effect on swelling; however, it’s your body position and gravity that forces fluids down into your lower half,” says Roach.
Being able to stand up and walk or lie down is limited on an airplane; therefore, it is necessary to promote blood circulation. “Compression socks help increase circulation, thus preventing swelling in the legs and feet,” she explains.
Some surgeons and doctors believe that wearing compression stockings on a regular basis, and especially if you travel frequently, will help prevent the restoration of blood flow that can lead to the appearance of varicose veins in your legs.
The benefits of wearing compression socks while flying usually outweigh any inconvenience or mild discomfort that stockings can sometimes cause.
The best socks and compression stockings to consider
With all the benefits of wearing compression socks on flights, you might want to buy a pair. But as with most things we can buy, some are better than others.
“As a flight nurse, I’m often on extended flights of 12 hours to 24 hours, and I always wear compression socks,” says Dr. Bacheler. “The most important thing to look for is a compression sock that fits well. If a sock is too tight and uncomfortable, it’s probably too small.
“Compression socks must be of high quality; comfortable to wear; it does not pool, which can lead to a restriction of blood flow; or slide down, indicating they are too loose.”
You want to make sure you read the fine print when shopping for the right compression socks for your specific needs. The main difference between compression stockings, anti-embolism stockings and non-medical compression stockings is their height. Non-medical compression socks usually come below the knee, while compression stockings traditionally come up to mid-thigh.
Both usually provide the same compression, measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). A good compression stocking will provide 15 to 25 mmHg, and good compression stockings and socks promote blood return but do not interfere with blood flow to the limb.
Here are some expert-recommended compression socks you should consider before you head out on your next long-haul flight.
$17.99 $13.99 on Amazon
This set of three compression socks from Charmking not only provides ample leg support; they don’t sacrifice on the style side of things either. You can get the set in 35 different color combinations, so you can have a pair of compression socks to match your favorite pair of travel shoes. They offer a good amount of compression (15 to 20 mmHg) and are made from a lightweight, breathable fabric that will hold its shape regardless of the setting.
From $9.98 on Amazon
These machine washable socks have copper, which is a great conductor of electricity and helps circulate blood in your legs. They provide 20-30 mmHG of compression, but are made from a breathable fabric to wick moisture away from the skin. Nearly 29,000 five-star reviewers on Amazon agree that these socks work wonders.
From $8.99 on Amazon
With over 50,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, these compression socks from Physix have a loyal following, and for good reason. The 20-30 mmHg of compression and support of the socks is in the heel and calves. In addition, they wash well without losing their compression and provide moisture-wicking properties to keep feet cool and dry. The socks come in 11 different color options to best suit your style.
From $16.99 on Amazon
This pair of compression socks offers more compression than some others on this list (20-30 mmHg), but still retains its comfort. The socks are made of a soft, breathable and lightweight fabric composed of nylon and spandex. An anti-slip cuff on the calf ensures that the socks do not slide down the legs during the journey.
$11.97 on Amazon
The Pure Compression Store compression socks are a well-loved and inexpensive choice popular with frequent travelers and those with leg fatigue and tendinitis. Graduated cotton socks are not as tight as comparable options, making them much more comfortable to slip on and off on the go. They are also breathable, made of cotton and copper.
$59.90 at Nordstrom
This two-pack of compression socks is made from a blend of polyester, nylon, spandex and cotton. They are knee-length and offer casual compression that will help maximize circulation and reduce swelling. These can be a great addition to your packing list.
$18.94 on Amazon
This pair of graduated socks will help prevent circulation issues. They’re made from a stretchy Coolmax, spandex and elastic material that works to support your legs from foot to calf. This pair fits men’s shoe sizes 9 to 11.5.
“A graduated compression sock (gradual reduction of pressure as the leg moves) can do wonders for those who experience swelling on flights or while sitting for long periods of time,” says Roach. “Not everyone experiences bloating during flights, but those with less active lifestyles or who already have poor circulation can benefit from these sock features.”
From $19.99 on Amazon
Thigh-high compression stockings aren’t for everyone, but if you tend to get swelling or painful discomfort in your legs and thighs while flying, this may be an option worth considering. The nylon-spandex blend and silicone lining help ensure the stockings stay in place without rolling around the thighs or rolling down mid-flight.
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