For many years I didn’t wear flight socks. Then, about 15 years ago I broke my arm and elbow badly, requiring 4 hours of surgery to repair it. My wife and I were booked to go on a Caribbean cruise for two weeks less than a month after my surgery, which meant an 8 hour flight each way. My surgeon recommended that I buy some flight compression socks to reduce the risk of DVT. So I did and have worn compression socks if flying over 4 hours ever since.
If you are at all concerned then you probably should wear compression socks for flying. The possible risk of contracting DVT is not worth taking the chance if you are at all at risk. They certainly will not do any harm so what do you have to lose?
The longer the flight, the more you are exposed to the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) so the more important it is to consider wearing a pair of compression socks to reduce this risk. They do this by helping to increase the blood flow in your legs giving clots less chance to form.
The ins and outs of compressions socks
What are flight socks?
When you sit in an aircraft seat for hours on end, with very little movement, and your legs below your waist, the blood flow around the legs can be restricted. This can then lead to swelling and DVT. Also as the aircraft cabin pressure is lower than at sea level this can also increase the risk of swelling.
Wearing flight compression socks applies compression to the ankles and legs effectively squeezing the blood out of the veins and uphill to the body.
What is deep vein thrombosis (DVT)?
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot (thrombosis) that can develop in a vein located deep in the body, often in a leg. This can cause pain and swelling in the leg but can also be very serious as the blood clot can move and become lodged in the lungs. This can then block blood flow causing a pulmonary embolism, which is potentially fatal in 25% of cases.
There has been much research on the link between long flights and DVT. If you wish to find out more this comprehensive article is available – The association between air travel and deep vein thrombosis: Systematic review & meta-analysis
Who should wear flight socks?
There are certain groups of people who should definitely wear flight compression socks as they have a higher risk of DVT or swelling. However, potentially anyone on a flight of 4 hours or over can benefit from wearing them. Wearing them has no adverse affects, apart from perhaps taking a little time to get used to the compression. So you have nothing to lose and possibly something to gain from wearing them.
Those particularly at risk are those who have had recent surgery, cancer, obesity, diabetes, vascular disease, smokers, pregnancy or post-pregnancy and those that suffer from swollen legs etc. Your doctor will give advice and may prescribe that you have tailored full leg compression stockings.
As well as wearing flight socks you should also not sit with your legs crossed, as this can restrict blood flow. You should try to do some simple exercises while seated by wiggling your toes and moving your ankles up and down and around in circles. Also get up whenever possible and stretch your legs and walk down the aisle. Using an inflatable leg rest to raise your legs can also help reduce the risk of DVT – see our best inflatable leg rests for flights review
Do flight socks work?
Frequent flyers have been using them for many years and find that not only do they reduce the risk of DVT and swollen ankles, feet and legs but also that their legs do not get as tired when wearing them.
That is why surgeons insist that patients wear surgical stockings for a while after major surgery.
They certainly do. There have been many studies carried out over the years which confirm this.
I can certainly confirm this as I used to end up with legs that felt like I had run a marathon, even though I had just been sitting for hours. Ever since wearing flight socks my legs definitely feel less fatigued when I arrive at my destination.
Here you can read some research from NCBI into compression socks use in flight related dvt
How long can you wear flight socks for?
Well there is no real limit since wearing them will do you no harm however long you wear them. So whether it is a 4 hour flight, or a 24 hour flight, wearing them for the duration is fine.
When to put on compression socks for flying?
I normally put them on before I board the aircraft, usually while sitting waiting for the flight to be called. It is easier to do this then as you will have more space available than you will have while seated in the limited space onboard.
When to take flight socks off?
Again, I normally remove them when I get to my destination, be that home or a hotel, as it is easier than doing it onboard. This is particularly true if you are just going to be sitting in a car, taxi or bus when you leave the airport as DVT could take place then too.
How to choose compression socks for flying?
The most popular compression socks for flying are those which come up to just below the knee but there are also thigh length which you should consider if you are in one of the higher risk categories. Most work pretty well but some have different features. I would certainly recommend ensuring that they are made from a breathable material. Otherwise you may end up with sweaty feet which won’t be pleasant on a long flight.
Obviously to some extent fashion comes in to it. They come in all sorts of colors and styles so you can choose some that you will feel happiest being seen in. Some are not particularly attractive it must be said.
Selecting the correct weight of compression stockings for long flights
Many flight compression socks for flying come in different levels of compression or weight. These range from light (5-15mmHg), medium (15-20mmHg), firm (20-30mmHg), extra-firm (30-40mmHg) and rx-firm (40-50mmHg). For most people who don’t fall into a high risk category then medium to firm is probably about right. If you fall into a higher risk group then a higher weight is probably more sensible.
Best compression socks for air travel – flight socks reviews
Obviously I haven’t tried every type on offer as there are many hundreds of different types and styles. However, the following I have either used successfully or they are rated the highest and have the most positive reviews on Amazon.
Physix Gear Compression Socks Men & Women (20-30 mmHg)
Not only are these the highest rated currently compression socks for flying on Amazon but also I have used them for the last few years.
I have always found them to be just the right level of comfort for me.
They provide variable compression, rather than being the same throughout their length, targeting the arch to calf area. As they are not too thick I find I can still wear them with my regular shoes.
They are washable, breathable and designed with quality Lycra fabric, which is built for durability.
The socks are available in a variety of colors, although they are generally black with a colored ankle area.
Check out the prices, colors and options for Physix Gear Compression Socks on Amazon.
Wanderlust Travel Compression Socks – Premium Graduated Support Socks For Men & Women
Another highly rated pair of flight compression socks which I haven’t used but my wife has (before she bought a much more colorful pair from another manufacturer).
They are a graduated compression style with 25-30mmHg at the foot & ankle, 15-20mmHg at the middle of the leg and calf, and 10-15mmHg under the knee.
The toe area is sewn by hand in a seamless way to prevent any annoying friction or blisters on your toes which can happen with some other socks.
They are only available in black or white, which doesn’t really bother me as I wear them under long pants anyway when traveling.
Check out the prices and options for the Wanderlust Travel Compression Socks on Amazon.
NEWZILL Compression Socks (20-30mmHg) for Men & Women
These are a really colorful range and are my wife’s current favorites.
She has a couple of pairs and uses them whenever we fly. She finds them very comfortable to wear and are breathable so her feet do not get hot or sweaty.
As well as being good flight socks they are also very popular among athletes.
Check out the prices and options for the NEWZILL Compression Socks on Amazon
These are a range of compression socks for flying in very striking designs.
They provide a graduated compression range from 20-30mmHg at the ankle to a lower compression towards the knee.
Supplied in a variety of sizes from extra small to extra-large.
They are very comfortable to wear for long periods on long haul flights. They are also for people who spend long periods at work on their feet, for example. nurses.
Check out the prices and options for the Designer Compression Socks Graduated by Acel on Amazon.
If none of these compression socks for flying appeal then check out these others available on Amazon
What else can you do to reduce the risk of DVT?
Since it is sitting still for so long with your legs below your body that can cause the reduced circulation, raising your feet can help immensely. You should consider buying an inflatable foot rest or a foot sling to do this. My article Best inflatable leg rest for flights gives advice on this.