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Do Compression Socks Really Help When Flying?

I Never Bothered With Compression Socks on Aeroplanes Until Recently, and Holy Crap, I'm Sold

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Woman in aeroplane looking through the window

Raise your hand if you know what I'm talking about — you're on a long flight, cramped in a tiny seat, and by the time the plane touches the ground, your ankles and calves feel like they've nearly doubled in size. And if you've eaten anything remotely salty (i.e. the complimentary bags of peanuts or pretzels), the swelling sensation is even worse. All hands in the air? OK, cool. Me too. As an avid flyer, I've tried all the nifty tricks to keep swelling at bay, from walking the aisles periodically to forgoing the salty snacks, but every time I attempt to put my shoes back on once we begin our final descent, I can barely get them on my swollen feet.

On a recent flight from New York to Seattle, I finally caved and decided to try compression socks. You know — the thick, beige knee-highs favourited by grandmothers everywhere, specifically designed to maintain blood flow and reduce swelling in the legs and ankles (and to look as unstylish as humanly possible, I thought). As it turns out, grandma might be onto something. These snug stockings are not only rock stars at preventing major swelling in flight, they also eased any tension or pain in my legs after being cramped in seat 13B for six hours.

Here's how they work. According to the American Vein and Vascular Institute, compression socks "use a specialised weave of strong elastic to create pressure on the muscles in the legs, ankles, and feet. This compression on surface veins forces blood out of the veins in the legs and back to the heart. This helps your legs feel lighter, and reduces pain and discomfort related to underlying vein disease." In other words, they apply pressure to your legs to promote blood flow. It's basically giving your legs a constant hug.

When researching the right pair for me, I was also delighted to discover that boring beige isn't the only colour option available. Because they have surged in popularity in recent years, there are entire marketplaces dedicated to effective and stylish compression socks. From colorblock and clean to bright and flashy, there are tons of options out there, like these CHARMKING Compression Socks ($16-$30).

It's important to ensure you find a pair that fits properly. The American Vein and Vascular Institute says that "proper customised fit of compression is critical — too tight and there is too much restriction of healthy blood flow; too loose and there is no pressure applied." While many brands offer a sizing chart and customer support to determine your perfect fit, simple ways to determine an improper fit is if the socks bunch, slide, or are painful.

If you've ever been curious about the benefits of compression socks, I recommend giving them a try on your next flight. They're now a permanent part of my travel routine, and I won't fly without them. I've also started wearing them on hikes — sometimes even with shorts! I'm making both a health and fashion statement. Sorry I ever judged you, grandma.

Image Source: Getty / martin-dm
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