Anti-embolism socks place pressure on the legs to increase circulation. In doing so, they reduce a person’s risk of blood clots. A doctor may recommend them for someone who is unable to leave their bed.

Anti-embolism socks are made of stretchy material that slightly compresses the legs. The pressure is graduated, with each sock being tightest at the bottom by the foot and loosest at the top.

When a person must remain in bed following surgery, a doctor may prescribe the socks to prevent the formation of a blood clot. Research indicates that this item of clothing significantly reduces the risk of a blood clot in a deep vein in the leg, also called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The socks can cover just the calf or also the thigh, and a doctor will recommend the appropriate sock for an individual. It is important that people wear their socks correctly to avoid complications, such as pressure sores.

Read more to learn about what anti-embolism socks are, how they work, and more.

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Anti-embolism socks apply graduated pressure to the legs. Manufacturers list the pressure of the socks in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), which is a unit of pressure.

Standard anti-embolism socks apply 18 mm Hg of pressure at the ankle, and this reduces to 8 mm Hg just below the knee.

Most socks are made with latex-free material comprising 82% polyamide and 18% elastane. This makes them both stretchy and secure.

They are available in a range of sizes and lengths. The fitting process involves measuring the circumference of the ankle, calf, or both. Thigh-length socks necessitate an additional measurement at the thigh.

Doctors often prescribe anti-embolism socks for people who have had surgery. They help prevent DVT, which is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein in the leg. DVT is more common in people who are immobile.

Sometimes, practitioners use the socks as a preventive measure in people who have an increased blood clot risk.

DVT is serious because although it is a clot in the leg, it can affect the rest of the body. In some cases, part of the clot may break off and travel to the lungs, where it can block blood flow. This obstruction can cause serious complications and may be fatal.

However, although DVT is dangerous, it is also preventable. According to a 2016 study, experts believe that anti-embolism socks reduce the risk by 40%.

A 2014 scientific article explains that because the pressure in anti-embolism socks is highest at the bottom and lowest at the top, these items help the blood flow toward the heart. In doing so, they prevent blood from pooling at the feet or seeping sideways into superficial veins — those near the surface — in the leg.

The squeezing action of the socks can also make the veins a bit narrower, increasing the speed of blood flow.

There are two lengths of anti-embolism socks: calf length and thigh length.

People sometimes use the terms anti-embolism socks and compression stockings interchangeably, but these are actually different products with different uses. Anti-embolism socks are suitable for individuals who must remain in bed, while compression stockings are best for people who have more mobility.

Compression stockings exert stronger pressure on the legs, so people should not use them in place of anti-embolism socks. Instead, they are an appropriate choice for individuals with varicose veins or lymphedema.

Some compression products are available over the counter. These include flight socks, elastic support stockings, and athletic compression socks. These items usually provide less compression than anti-embolism socks, and the pressure is typically uniform rather than graduated.

It is important to follow the doctor’s instructions regarding how many hours of the day to wear anti-embolism socks and when to put them on.

People can put them on by:

  • reaching inside the sock and grabbing the heel
  • turning the sock inside out
  • placing the foot in the sock, making sure that the heel is in the correct position
  • pulling the sock up the leg
  • smoothing out any wrinkles

The socks’ compression effect can make putting them on difficult. In some cases, a healthcare professional may put them on for an individual.

Anti-embolism socks are safe with correct use, but if a person uses them incorrectly, they can cause problems.

According to one 2014 study, improperly worn socks can cause excessive pressure in some areas. This can lead to skin breakage, especially in older adults.

Sometimes, socks can become bunched, rolled, or folded when a person puts them on incorrectly. Research states that this restricts circulation and acts like a tourniquet, which reverses the graduated pressure. As a result, the socks no longer work properly and can cause blood to pool in the ankles and lower legs.

Anti-embolism socks are also not safe for everyone. They are not appropriate for people with certain conditions, such as:

  • congestive heart failure
  • excess fluid in the lungs
  • inflammatory skin disease
  • nerve damage
  • congenital limb abnormalities
  • extreme swelling of the lower leg
  • severe obesity, when expert fitting is not possible

Anti-embolism socks apply compression to the legs and can prevent blood clots in a person unable to leave their bed. Standard anti-embolism socks apply graduated pressure ranging from 18 mm Hg to 8 mm Hg.

Doctors often prescribe the socks for people who must remain in bed after surgery. They may reduce a person’s risk of DVT by 40%.

Wearing anti-embolism socks incorrectly can hinder their function. In addition, possible complications of the socks include skin breakage that can lead to pressure sores. People should always follow the advice of a doctor when using these socks.