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What’s the Squeeze?

What’s the Squeeze?

You’ve probably heard that as a nurse, you should be wearing compression socks. We know they help our patients prevent blood clots, but since you are up and moving all day, is it really worth it?
What do compression socks do?
Essentially, the socks are meant to help with blood flow. That may seem counter-intuitive since you are up on your feet all day but think of it as a way to contain swelling. Just like the ace wrap you use on your patients, the compression socks provide a little extra support to help keep blood from pooling in your feet.
Those 12-hour shifts can do a number on your tired, achy feet. Even worse, the pooling of blood in your veins can result in varicose veins or blood clots. Since nurses are in constant movement, blood clots are less likely, but varicose veins aren’t pretty, and they aren’t pleasant. The risks for these problems increase as you age, but prevention starts now.

How to choose compression socks.

The type of sock changes based on what you need. The most common sock (think the non-patient variety) is graduated with the tightest part around the ankle. These aren’t anti-embolism socks and usually don’t take a whole crew to put them on. (Shout out to that magical person on your unit who can slide those bad-boys on any patient in 5 minutes)
The next thing to consider is gauge. This is measured in mmHg, just like a blood pressure cuff. In fact, the pressure is similar. Think of a cuff when you are first inflating it; the higher you go, the more pressure there is.
Pressures usually come in several gauges, including:
  • 8-15, which young, healthy people usually use for work or sports. These are more like stiff socks but can provide some relief to tired or achy legs.
  • 15-20 is the sweet spot for nurses who are just starting with compression. This rate of compression helps keep swelling to a minimum despite long hours standing. It’s tight, but not “can’t make it through a shift” tight. It’s enough to make a difference, but you may still find it takes a little getting used to.
  • 20-30 is usually for people who already have some swelling or capillary leakage. For some nurses, especially those who commonly have swollen feet at the end of the night, this may be the level of compression you require. Anything higher than 30 typically requires a prescription.

It’s not just compression that matters, though.

You also want to consider the type of fabric in your sock. Nylon and spandex are good choices for sweaty feet, while wool and bamboo blends tend to be softer. It sounds hot, but high-quality wool socks don’t necessarily make your feet any warmer. You won’t find full cotton compression socks because they don’t have the stretch it takes to get the job done. You need them to be smooth and not to rub because no one likes a blister mid-shift. The Physix Gear Sport socks ranked highly on several lists. Many compression sock options are found on amazon for relatively cheap.

Just like all our good advice, it only works if you use it.

Grab yourself a pair and see how you feel. Start with low levels of compression and work your way up. You may find knee-length to be a great starting style, but some nurses may prefer the enhanced compression of over-the-knee socks, especially if you have knee pain. Don’t forget to change one thing at a time, so you know what’s working for you. Try a pair with the same shoes you usually wear to see if it makes a difference.
Socks are great, but of course, we highly suggest you find someone to rub your feet! Self-care for the win!!! (socks for all those other days)
Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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