Compression Socks vs. Sleeves: Which Product Is Right for You?

You know that you need compression for your lower body, but as you begin your shopping journey, you’re confronted with a dilemma: Should you choose compression socks or leg sleeves? While these two products are very similar, they’re not quite the same. Below, we explain the difference between compression socks and sleeves and describe five factors you should consider when choosing between them.

marathon runner compression socks

What’s the Difference Between Compression Socks and Sleeves?

Compression socks cover the foot as well as some portion of the leg. They are available in many lengths, including ankle, crew (mid-calf) and knee-high. Compression calf sleeves reach from the ankle to the bottom of the knee; they don’t cover the foot but do cover the whole calf. Both compression socks and leg sleeves are available in a variety of compression levels, colors and patterns to suit many different patients. Compression leg sleeves should not be confused with compression armsleeves, which are shaped similarly but intended for the upper body.

How to Choose Between Compression Socks and Sleeves

If you need compression for your lower body, you’ve probably narrowed it down to socks and leg sleeves. So, which should you pick? Here are five factors to consider when choosing between compression socks and sleeves:

female runner pulling up socks

1. What Activity You’re Doing

Socks and sleeves are best suited to different activities. For example, runners and other athletes really love calf sleeves for sports, while compression socks are more appropriate for travel or people who sit all day in an office. That’s because people with more sedentary lives are usually wearing compression socks to boost their circulation, so they want the benefits of circulation in their feet as well as their calves.

Since athletes are pumping blood through physical activity, they’re often wearing compression for other benefits—such as reducing muscle soreness—and, thus, might not need or want their feet to be covered.

2. What Symptoms You’re Trying to Manage

Where you’re experiencing your symptoms will also influence which type of compression garment you select. For example, if shin splints are your main problem, compression leg sleeves might be just the ticket. However, if you’re experiencing a lot of swelling in your feet, then you’ll want to wear compression socks instead of sleeves so you get the full benefits of compression. Generally speaking, a knee-high compression sock is going to offer the most coverage.

3. What Socks You Like to Wear

Wearing the wrong socks for the wrong activity can lead to chafing, blisters, open sores and all sorts of other foot problems. This is why athletes, especially distance runners, are exceptionally picky about their performance socks.

Choosing the wrong socks could mean the difference between getting an injury and losing or winning the race. Thus, many athletes like compression calf sleeves because they can wear whatever socks they want with them and still get the benefits of compression in their calves.

However, if you’re not moving around a lot, the type of socks you wear is probably less critical, in which case you might want to consider compression socks instead.

caregiver helping senior man compression socks

4. What Advice Your Doctor Has Given You

If your doctor has advised you to wear compression socks, then you should obviously defer to that advice when choosing a compression garment. This is true not just for the style of compression garment but also for the level of compression itself. You should always check in with your doctor before wearing any level of compression, from mild to severe compression socks and everything in between.

5. What Style You Like

If it truly doesn’t matter whether you choose compression socks or sleeves, you could do worse than deciding on appearances. Compression leg sleeves offer a very sporty look. On the other hand, compression socks come in many more colors and patterns, from a bright solid pink to a fun argyle print to classic neutrals like navy and black.

If you’re looking for variety and have a wide range of outfits you want to match, compression socks will offer the most options when it comes to colors and styles. While not technically socks, you can also get knee-high compression stockings in a design that combines a silhouette of a sock with the sheer material of pantyhose.

Keep these five factors in mind as you shop, and you’ll be sure to make the right decision between compression socks and sleeves.

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