While even the best compression socks have a reputation for being uncool—lending a vibe that’s more grandma than glamorous—there may come a point in your life when you actually do need to stock up on the famously snug socks.
For some of us, that time is pregnancy, during which time your blood volume doubles (for real) and increases pressure on the veins, which can contribute to an increase in blood pressure as well as swelling, varicose veins, and even a higher risk of blood clots like deep vein thrombosis, especially on long flights. (Peep our roundup of the best shoes for pregnancy while you’re at it.) The same goes for anyone who spends long periods of time standing, such as nurses—since the lower legs and feet can get tired, sore, and swollen (which is why the best shoes for nurses are such a big deal, too). They’re also used post-workout to help reduce soreness among athletes, although the evidence there is more scarce.
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The way compression socks work is pretty simple: By literally squeezing your veins, they can help increase your body’s usual blood flow, sending nutrient-depleted blood back up to your heart and the good stuff down to your legs and feet. (In other words, they help boost your blood circulation and reduce fluid build-up.) And the best part? You’re no longer stuck with the uninspired compression stockings of decades past. These days, the best compression socks for women now come in a variety of styles, like knee-high and thigh-high versions; with stripes or cute color combos, as well as more inclusive sizes and breathable fabrics. Some even offer arch support and considerations for issues like plantar fasciitis.
Finding the right size is a matter of pairing your shoe size with your approximate calf size. Then, if you’re not sure what level of compression to start with, no sweat. Compression levels are measured in millimeters of mercury, or mmHg, and the right amount of compression will depend on why you need to wear compression socks in the first place. Light compression, which is ideal for sitting and standing for long periods of time, usually falls between 10-15 mmHg compression. Meanwhile, medium or moderate compression, which is popular during pregnancy and for travel, falls between 15-20 mmHg. Firm compression, which delivers 20-30 mmHg, is often used for certain medical conditions, like edema. Most newbies can get away with moderate compression.
Whether you’ve got long days of traveling ahead or are expecting, consider these the best compression socks for women.