The Ultimate Guide to Compression Socks for Flying

Compression socks for flying

If you’re tired of achy feet, swollen ankles, and cramped calves after a long flight or want to start your vacation on the right note with no leg discomfort, you'll want to read this article on the benefits of compression socks for flying.

Here, we will explain what compression socks are, the health risks of air travel, and how a pair of compression socks can help mitigate these risks. Plus, we'll teach you how to choose the best compression socks for flying so you can start shopping for your perfect pair.

What Are Compression Socks?

Simply put, compression socks apply pressure to your legs and ankles. But let’s take a look at how this benefits you.

Thanks to gravity, blood tends to accumulate in your lower extremities, which leads to poor blood circulation when you sit or stand for long periods.

This is where compression socks can save your legs from pain and swelling. Graduated compression socks reduce the diameter of veins in your legs, thereby increasing blood flow towards your heart. This lowers the likelihood of fluid retention and blood clots in your lower legs. The results? Less swelling, pain, cramping, and overall leg discomfort.

Before you write off compression socks, know that countless athletes, pregnant women, and individuals who remain on their feet for extended periods swear by these amazing socks. Plus, a pair of high-quality compression socks can make the difference between a good or bad air travel experience.

Why Should You Wear Compression Socks During Air Travel?

If you're a frequent flyer or recently embarked on your first international trip, you're probably no stranger to long flights. Being in the air for long periods doesn't just make your skin turn into the Sahara Desert — it gives rise to swollen, painful feet.

Below, we'll examine the common causes of leg discomfort that are caused by air travel. At the same time, we will show you how wearing a pair of compression socks on your flight can help with each problem.

1. Poor Blood Circulation

Sitting for extended periods with little mobility (sans the occasional trip to the restroom) is guaranteed to cause poor blood circulation in your lower legs. Add gravity to the equation, and you have fluid retention as well. It's no wonder most airline passengers complain of cramping, swelling, and/or pain in their lower legs after a long flight.

Benefit: Compression Socks Improve Blood Circulation

Using compression therapy, travel compression socks increase blood flow from your lower legs to your heart. The improved blood circulation minimizes general leg discomfort, like swollen ankles and leg fatigue.

2. Increased Risk of Blood Clots

Woman wearing compression socks with heels

Did you know poor blood circulation in your legs is more likely to cause blockage in veins, resulting in the formation of blood clots? These blood clots, also known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), are a common health risk among international flyers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Blood clots can form in the deep veins (veins below the surface that are not visible through the skin) of your legs during travel because you are sitting still in a confined space for long periods of time."

In other words, the risk of DVT is higher for those on long-haul flights. DVT is potentially life-threatening since these blood clots can break off and travel to your lungs, resulting in a serious medical condition called pulmonary embolism.

Benefit: Compression Socks May Reduce Blood Clots

Since compression socks help increase blood flow, this prevents blood from accumulating in your lower legs and forming blood clots. In other words, a pair of travel compression socks may lower your risk of pulmonary embolism.

3. Leg Pain and Swelling

If you’ve ever disembarked from the plane and felt like the toe area in your shoe is too tight, you can chalk that up to being immobilized in a sitting position for long periods. The lack of activity coupled with bending your knees at a right angle leads to fluid retention in your lower legs. It seems almost inevitable that swollen feet and cramping would ensure.

It's also worth noting that leg discomfort such as tenderness, swelling, pain, or cramping could be due to the formation of blood clots in your legs. As such, look out for these warning signs that may indicate a potential case of DVT.

Benefit: Compression Socks May Prevent Swollen, Painful Legs

Remember when we said compression socks help with blood circulation? Another benefit of increased blood flow means less fluid retention and blood clots. As such, wear compression socks on a long flight to ward off leg pain and swelling. Plus, they make sure your legs can take on the rest of the journey when you step off the plane.

4. Worsen Varicose Veins

Veins work by transporting blood back to the heart through a one-way valve. In varicose vein individuals, these valves are often weakened or faulty, making it easier for blood to accumulate specifically in your legs rather than be transported back to your heart.

With air travel, the issue of poor blood circulation further worsens the symptoms of varicose veins. In turn, this heightens the risk of blood clot formation. In fact, a 2018 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted the link between varicose veins and the occurrence of DVT.

Benefit: Compression Socks May Help With Varicose Veins

One of the benefits of compression socks is they can help alleviate symptoms of varicose veins. According to a 2008 meta-analysis featured in The European Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery, compression stockings improved the symptoms of patients diagnosed with varicose veins. The analysis also pointed out that a compression level of 10-15 mmHg was the most effective in managing chronic venous disorders.

5. Foot Odor

Compression socks for flying can prevent foot odor

As your feet have approximately 250,000 sweat glands, it makes sense your feet may smell funky after being cooped up in the same pair of shoes for extended periods. Individuals with hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) may also be more prone to stinky feet than others.

Benefit: Compression Socks May Prevent and Minimize Foot Odor

Avoid foot odor with a pair of high-quality travel compression socks. Some compression socks are made with moisture-wicking material that absorbs sweat efficiently while others use anti-odor technology. When you wear compression socks on a long flight, there's less chance of you knocking out your seat neighbor with foot odor.

6. Cold Feet

The sub-zero temperatures in airplanes will probably give you literal cold feet (and legs). Shivering in your seat for seven hours or more (on long-haul flights) doesn’t exactly make for a pleasant flight journey. Plus, the last thing you’d want is to start your long-awaited vacation with a cold.

Benefit: Compression Socks Keep You Warm

A thick pair of travel compression socks will keep the chills away on your next long-haul flight. Plus, it beats having to ask the flight attendant for an extra blanket.

How to Choose the Best Compression Socks for Flying

To choose the best compression socks for travel, there are a few factors to look out for. Let’s take each in turn.

1. Type

Compression socks are categorized into three types:

  • Non-medical support hosiery is also known as flight socks and support hosiery that provides uniform compression. They have a lower compression level than medical-grade compression socks.
  • Anti-embolism stockings also use uniform compression to help prevent DVT in patients post-surgery. This type of compression stockings is usually used by non-mobile and bed-bound patients since they don't provide walking support.
  • Graduated compression socks are designed for mobile individuals. These socks offer the greatest pressure at the ankles, which slowly decreases up the garment. They are primarily used to improve blood circulation and are ideal for those sitting or standing for long periods. In other words, air travel. Pregnant women, athletes, and individuals with certain medical conditions (like varicose veins) may also benefit from wearing graduated compression socks.

Many women's compression stockings are thigh-high to flatter your body's silhouette. But, knee-length compression socks are available too. If you often wear flip flops or peep-toe heels, choose open-toe compression stockings which keep your toe area free.

2. Compression Level

Graduated compression socks and stockings have different compression levels that target individual needs:

  • Mild: 8-15 mmHg
  • Moderate: 15-20 mmHg
  • Firm: 20-30 mmHg
  • Extra firm: 30-40 mmHg

Mild and moderate compression levels are classified as non-medical grade compression socks, meaning that you can purchase them without a doctor's prescription. They are often used for air travel, sports, work, or during pregnancy.

Conversely, firm to extra firm compression levels is labeled as medical-grade compression socks. These are usually used by individuals who have chronic medical conditions or had just undergone surgery.

3. Material

Compression socks for flying: Woman wearing grey socks

For high-quality compression socks, choose one made with an elastic yet strong material. This helps to retain the shape and function of your travel compression socks even after multiple washes.

Compression socks often use a blend of materials like lycra, nylon, cotton, spandex, and/or polyester. These fabrics provide stretch, breathability, and moisture-wicking properties, allowing the socks to wrap around your legs comfortably while keeping your skin sweat-free. Some compression socks also come with arch support for better cushioning. This translates into less leg fatigue and more sightseeing.

4. Size

To get the most out of your travel compression socks, it's important to choose the right fit. Your pair of compression socks should feel snug but not overly constricting.

For a precise fit, check out the manufacturer's size guide. Measure your shoe size and the diameter of your ankles and calves. (Tip: Do these measurements in the morning when your legs are not swollen.) If you need more help on sizing, email the customer service team — they’ll probably be more than happy to guide you on your purchase.

Can I Wear My Compression Socks for an Entire Long-Haul Flight?

Typically, any flight that's longer than seven hours constitutes a long-haul flight, i.e. sleeping overnight in the airplane.

While doctors usually don't recommend wearing compression socks while sleeping, it's a different case for long-haul flights. If you're flying economy class, you'll likely sit upright for most of the flight journey. As such, keeping your compression socks on is recommended. This way, you'll arrive at your destination well-energized and ready to start your vacation on the right foot (pun intended).

That said, if you're one of the lucky few flying business class or first class, chances are your flight seat can fully recline into a bed. When lying down, your legs will be completely level with the rest of your body, making it less likely for blood to pool in your lower legs. This eliminates the possibility of swelling and blood clots. In that case, skip the compression socks.

Compression Socks: The Ideal Flying Companion

A pair of compression socks are the ideal flying companion — they improve blood circulation, relieve leg discomfort, minimize symptoms of varicose veins, prevent foot odor, and warm your legs. Talk about a multi-tasker. The next time you're hit by wanderlust, remember to bring a pair of high-quality Cuvu compression socks for your long flights.