How Long Should You Wear Compression Socks? Do’s and Don’ts

11 min read

You can wear doctor-prescribed compression socks (and stockings) all day long. Just watch out for pain, discomfort and other signs of excessive wear. 

Sports compression garments that help performance and recovery are different. You should only wear them up to several hours at a time.

Hi! I’m Dr. Karim Maghraby. I’m a medical doctor and physician scientist (M.D., M.Sc.).

As a rule, you can wear compression socks all day and all night. If you need to take them off, your body will give you signs – e.g. numbness or redness. Your doctor should explain these to you during fitting.

Long-term, it’s safe to wear the same medical compression socks 3-6 months. The socks will stretch out by this time and need replacement. They won’t offer as much relief for chronic conditions like spider veins, varicose veins, etc.

Below, I’ll answer “how long should you wear compression socks?” in more detail. I’ll go over compression sock types, signs you should remove yours, and more.

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Table of Contents

How long should you wear medical compression socks?

The basic answer is, “as long as you want” – or as long as your doctor says. A medical compression garment is meant to be worn all day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a compression stocking or pair of socks; both are safe to use for long periods of time.

Having said that, there are some caveats.

First, we’re only talking about medical compression here. High-pressure products, e.g. sports pressure garments, are not meant to be worn all day.

Second, a medical doctor should prescribe and fit your compression garment. Otherwise, you risk giving your leg too much (or too little) compression. This is dangerous – especially to diabetics with reduced skin sensitivity. Overcompression in particular can restrict blood flow, leading to venous insufficiency, lactic acid buildup, etc.

To summarize...

Medical-grade compression socks are safe to wear all day long. Some people even wear them overnight. But this only applies to medical-grade socks prescribed and fitted by a GP.

How long should you wear compression socks?

The basic answer is, “as long as your doctor says”. Generally, a medical compression garment is meant to be worn all day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a compression stocking or pair of socks; both are safe to use for long periods of time.

Having said that, there are some caveats.

First, we’re only talking about medical compression here. High-pressure products, e.g. sports pressure garments, are not meant to be worn all day.

Second, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Everything depends on your condition, your comfort level and your doctor’s orders. Even if most people can wear a compression sock all day, your situation may be different.

Third, you need a doctor to prescribe and fit your compression garment. They’ll also tell you how long you can wear it safely.

With an over-the-counter sock, you risk giving your leg too much (or too little) compression. This is dangerous – especially to diabetics with reduced skin sensitivity. Overcompression in particular can restrict blood flow, leading to venous insufficiency, lactic acid buildup, etc.

To summarize… compression socks are usually safe to wear all day long. Some people even wear them overnight. However, the only way to know for sure is to talk to your doctor. 

Can I wear my compression socks at night?

Compression socks are generally safe to wear to bed. They may not do much when you’re laying horizontally, but that’s okay. If your GP says it’s okay and you feel comfortable wearing them, wear them at night.

This especially true if you’re post-surgery or have a serious leg condition. Keeping the sock on at night will guarantee your skin and leg veins don’t distend while you’re sleeping. 

Can wearing compression stockings & socks too long hurt me?

If you size, fit, and wear compression socks the right way, they should be 100% safe. At the same time, wearing the wrong-size pair can cause pain and discomfort (7). In extreme cases, a sock that fits poorly can cause pain, poor circulation and muscle soreness. As a side note, a helpful way to alleviate the pain is by taking an Epsom salt bath. Nevertheless, if the pain is unbearable, make sure to consult with a healthcare professional.

The longer you wear the wrong pair of socks, the more pain and discomfort you get. To stop this from happening, use the following tips. They’ll help make sure your current pair of socks or stockings is safe to wear.

Compression Sock Tips

  • Make sure you’re not allergic to any of the materials in your compression garment. This will help you maintain your skin’s health and integrity. Allergic reactions can weaken the skin, which we don’t want.
  • Wash your socks often and always wear socks on dry feet. This will prevent infections, fungi, etc. We’ll explain how to wash your socks properly later in the article.
  • Regularly check your legs and feet for signs of irritation, bruising, or chafing. All three are a sign your socks aren’t the right size or shape.
  • Pay attention to the seams of your compression socks. Make sure they line up with your legs and feet.

How long can I wear different kinds of compression hosiery?

Medical compression garments vary by pressure applied. There are 4 general classes of compression. They are:

  • I: Mild compression (8-15 mmHg)
  • II: Moderate compression (15-20 mmHg)
  • III: Firm compression (20-30 mmHg)
  • IV: High compression (30-40 mmHg)

As a rule, mild and moderate-compression socks can be worn all day long and indefinitely. Firm and high-compression ones are often part of intense vein treatment for conditions like dvt. They are often prescribed for shorter periods of time, e.g. a few hours a day and a couple of months.

Next, we have graduated compression socks and stockings. These apply different pressure levels through the lower leg. These are generally safe to wear all day. Again, consult your GP to make sure you get the right compression level.

Last we have compression sports gear. This includes runners’ socks for shin splints or plantar fasciitis, compression tights for powerlifters, etc. These are used for performance and recovery rather than compression therapy.

This kind of hosiery applies a lot of pressure and should only be worn for up to a few hours at a time. If you don’t remove it after a workout, it can cause pain and discomfort.

Signs you've worn compression socks too long & should remove them

  • No blood flow to your legs – loss of blood circulation in legs can happen with socks that are too small. If your legs or feet become numb and/or pale, remove your socks and call a physician.
  • Discomfortcompression socks should be easy to wear. If they lead to discomfort, call a physician.
  • Red, irritated skin.
  • Joint pain – like discomfort, this likely means you need a new pair of compression socks.
  • Numbness, tingling, itching – if you feel any of these, call a physician.
  • Calluses or thickened skin – if you start seeing your skin thicken, call a physician.
  • Allergic reactions – these mean you need a sock made from different materials.

Additionally, patients with certain medical conditions may need to limit compression sock usage. These conditions include:

  • Skin infections and disorders
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral neuropathy

You should be especially mindful of the above signs if you have chronic medical conditions. For example, a diabetes patient may miss a symptom as a result of reduced leg sensitivity. A chronic venous insufficiency may not notice reduced blood flow due to overcompression.

This means that anyone with a long-term condition needs to be doubly careful. If you have a long-term condition, make sure to mention it to your GP when getting fitted. They’ll help you find out a safe protocol for wearing compression hose.

Signs a pair of compression socks is safe to wear all day

A pair of socks that’s both safe and effective should:

1. Be snug

Your leg and foot should feel some pressure, but not enough to cause discomfort. If the socks feel tight and uncomfortable, they’re the wrong size for you. Think “normal sock” that’s a little tight. This is the kind of pressure we need to stimulate blood flow, help treat a blood clot, etc.

The one thing we don’t want is too much pressure. If you experience numbness, swelling, lower leg pain, etc – take the socks off and consult a doctor.

2. Ride high on your leg and never slide down

If your socks slide down and/or bunch up, they’re either too big or worn out from continuous use. If this happens, get fitted for a new pair immediately (6).

3. Be easy to put on and take off

Your compression socks should be easy to put on. To make sure, turn them inside out then roll them upwards over your feet and legs. If you find it difficult to put them on this way, they may be too small.

How Do I Wash and Care for My Compression Socks? 

Compression socks that are dirty and poorly cared for can hurt your legs. It’s important to wash them regularly – I recommend at least once a week –

Hand wash your socks in warm water using a mild detergent and leave them to air dry without using direct heat. Some compression socks are machine washable. These, you can machine wash in a cold cycle.

Be careful not to tear or damage your compression socks. Wear regular socks or shoes over them if comfortable to stop toenail snags and tears. If you rip a compression sock, replace it as soon as possible.

With regular use, compression socks can last you around 3-6 months. Avoid folding the top part of the compression sock downwards along your leg. This may damage the socks and interfere with compression.

If possible, change your compression socks every six months for optimal compression (5).

How to Put Compression Socks On Safely

Putting your socks on the right way makes them safer to wear all day long. They have more resistance than regular socks, so you can’t put them the same way you do regular socks. Here are the instructions we at Shoethority use to put ours on:

1. Put your hand inside the sock.

2. Grab the heel pocket.

3. Pull the heel pocket towards yourself, turning the sock inside out up to the heel.

4. Put your foot into the part of the sock that wasn’t turned inside out.

5. Pull the heel pocket onto your heel.

6. Now that your heel is in the sock, start pulling the long part up and over your leg.

7. Massage the garment into place until it’s even on your leg with soft, fluid motions.

8. Make sure your foot feels comfortable in the garment..

WARNING: Stop putting your socks on if you feel pain, discomfort, or serious resistance. Instead, call your doctor.

Conclusion

Compression socks (and stockings) can treat sore and swollen feet. They’re especially helpful if you spend long periods of time sitting or standing.

They can also help with conditions that cause leg swelling and blood clots, e.g. Deep Vein Thrombosis. Depending on doctors’ instructions, you can wear them for as little as a few hours to all day long.

Make sure that you wear the right size socks and clean them often. Check your skin and veins for any signs of injury when applying and removing the socks. Replace your compression socks if they suffer any tears or every 3-6 months of use.

References

1. Siddique, H. F. et al. Development of V-Shaped Compression Socks on Conventional Socks Knitting Machine. Autex Res. J. 18, 377–384 (2018).

2. Clark, M. & Krimmel, G. Lymphoedema and the construction and classification of compression hosiery. Lymphoedema Fram. Template Pract. compression hosiery lymphoedema. London MEP Ltd 2–4 (2006).

3. Wu, S. C. et al. Safety and Efficacy of Mild Compression (18–25 mm Hg) Therapy in Patients with Diabetes and Lower Extremity Edema. J. Diabetes Sci. Technol. 6, 641–647 (2012).

4. Brophy-Williams, N., Driller, M. W., Kitic, C. M., Fell, J. W. & Halson, S. L. Wearing compression socks during exercise aids subsequent performance. J. Sci. Med. Sport 22, 123–127 (2019).

5. Gohar, E. S. & Mazari, A. EFFECT OF MULTIPLE USE ON THE DURABILITY OF COMPRESSION SOCKS. Fibres Text. 3, 6 (2020).

6. NHS. How long should I wear compression stockings to improve my circulation? (2018). Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/accidents-first-aid-and-treatments/how-long-should-i-wear-compression-stockings-to-improve-my-circulation/#:~:text=You should wear your compression,is being washed and dried.

7.  Robertson, B. F., Thomson, C. H. & Siddiqui, H. Side effects of compression stockings: a case report. Br. J. Gen. Pract. 64, 316–317 (2014).

Writer:

Dr. Karim Maghraby

Last Updated:

April 26, 2022

DR. KARIM MAGHRABY

Dr. Maghraby is a medical doctor and published physician scientist. He’s an avid runner and a user of sports compression gear.