Compression is My Fashion Now
So I've had a bulging vein in the back of my right leg for oh, I guess a few years now. Maybe as many as 12 years? It's hard to remember, because I mostly ignored it until maybe two years ago. I think this vein was around when I was pregnant; I certainly remember having a painful bulging vein in my inner thigh, just above the knee, when I was pregnant, but that went away afterward. In any case, that thigh vein re-emerged last year, around the same time that the one in the back of my leg—which either was joined by others or collapsed so spectacularly that it looks like more than one—went from annoyingly itchy to occasionally painful. (It's also ugly, but since I don't see it myself, and I'm not trying to attract anyone who doesn't already share a bed with me, I didn't really care what it looked like.)
I started talking about maybe getting it looked into around this time last year, but as I am lazy in general and particularly when it comes to addressing non-urgent medical and dental issues, I didn't follow up on referrals I'd gotten from several hockey teammates who'd had veins looked at/repaired/removed. This year, for some reason, I decided I would start tackling some of the nuisance health issues, including the itchy, painful veins (the thigh vein in particular was making it super uncomfortable to drive).
I think it was in July that I went for my first appointment at the practice recommended by one of my hockey teammates, where I met a nice doctor who explained The Compression Facts of Life to me:  no insurance company will pay for any vein repairs until compression has been tried for at least 6 to 8 weeks;  if I have any procedure to remove the offending veins, I'm going to need to wear compression hosiery not just for a couple months after but forever if I have any hope of preventing further vein collapse; and  pretty much everyone should be wearing compression socks all the time. He lifted his pant leg to show me his, and mentioned that his wife wears them also. Vein doctors, man: They've seen the consequences of gravity, and they take no chances.
Al has about 5 or 6 pairs of compression dress socks in his drawer, mainly for use on airplanes (where it's legitimate even for healthy people—actually especially for athletes—to worry about Deep Vein Thrombosis), and I will admit to having tried them to alleviate vein pain. I always gave up after a day of wearing them, though, because they were really hard to get on and because they didn't seem to help that much. It turns out that you have to wear them all the time to get any benefit, which means you have to put up with the struggles to get them on and off. Luckily the sporty ones my vascular doc recommended are a bit easier to manage than Al's dress socks (though not by a lot).
The doc prescribed 20-30 mmHg compression (the highest amount available without going to a specialty pharmacy or retailer with a prescription) and recommended several brands. I can't lay my hands on my paperwork just now, but I do remember that the first brand he recommended as being good but not too expensive did not come up in any Amazon searches, and two of the others were 2XU and CEP (which he said were great but two to five times more expensive than other brands).
I started out by buying three or four pairs of socks from different manufacturers via Amazon, and have since made another three or four orders of two or three pairs each. I also bought one pair from my local running store. I've got a nice array of brands (and colors) and a few weeks' of experience wearing (and washing) them, so I'm now ready to share my opinions on which ones I'd buy again. Also, since [a] it's been a very hot summer in Philadelphia, and [b] I now understand that compression is going to be part of my life perhaps for the rest of it, I am working hard to rock the socks as a deliberate fashion statement with shorts and skirts. I've drawn the line at dresses, tho, and skipped the socks on a day when I planned to go straight from work to a nice dinner with my husband.
One more note before I get into which sock features I liked and which ones bugged me: I have relatively small feet (7.5-8 US/38.5 EU) and relatively large calves (15"/38cm), and my lower leg measures 19"/48.2cm from where my heel meets the floor to the back of my knee. Your sizes and mileage may vary.
2XU Women's Compression Performance Run Socks
Color: Candy Pink/Nectarine
Price: $22.49 Compression: 20-30 mmHg
I go back and forth about whether these or the MoJos (see below) are my favorites. I like the overall quality of these ones the best, the compression feels significant (they're the hardest to get on and off), and they have specific left and right foot designs. They also leave plenty of room in the toe box, so the socks don't pull on your toes. They're usually quite expensive ($40-$60, though price varies by color and seller), which explains my initial color choice: I picked the one that was cheapest at the time. I liked them well enough to order three more pairs (one of which hasn't arrived yet); the Vibrant Blue/Canary Yellow ones cost more at $37.46 but are awesome under black skinny jeans that tend to ride up a bit, revealing the flash of bright blue underneath. The White/Vibrant Blue combo ($21.95) is boring, but the lower price was hard to pass up. The Fern Green/Lime Green ($20.99) is on its way, and I'm hoping it will be the same pleasant surprise the Vibrant Blue was. In summary, the great colors and construction make up for the fact that the slightly narrow band at the top comes too close to the back of my knee and always leaves a mark.
MoJo Recovery & Performance Sports Compression Socks
Price: $19.95 Compression: 20-30 mmHg
A bit thick, but overall my faves for their below (not behind) the knee rise and wide top band. The band leaves a mark around my leg that kind of stings when I finally take the socks off at night (probably from circulation returning), but it's not terrible. I ended up buying a second pair of these pink ones, as well as dark grey and hot pink Coolmax versions, tho I wear the gray ones less often.
A-Swift Performance Compression Socks
Color: Rainbow Stripes
Price: $18.99 Compression: 20-30 mmHg
The most fun to wear—I've gotten several compliments, and they make me feel happy—but they seem to be unisex-sized, which means the foot is too big and the leg is too long. The band hits me behind the knee, which is uncomfortable. They're still my go-to weekend sock because they make the biggest statement. I tried ordering another "fun" pattern from this manufacturer—polka dots—but the pattern makes my legs look diseased, they have the same sizing issues as the rainbow ones, and the seams around the dots leave imprints on my skin at the end of the day. I only wear them under pants, and only when all my other socks are in the wash. I might try ordering another pair of the rainbow ones in size small, though.
A-Swift Performance Compression Socks
Color: Black & Gray Argyle
Price: $19.99 Compression: Didn't say, but guessing a bit less than 20-30 mmHg
I don't wear these very often because they're thick (too warm for summer, really), the argyle pattern imprints on my legs, and they come up to the back of my knee (uncomfortable), but they do look nice with my gray golf skort.
CEP Ultralight Compression Socks
Price: $59.95 Compression: 20-30 mmHg
Size: Women's 3 (III)
CEP is one of the expensive brands my doctor mentioned. I couldn't find these on Amazon, and I wasn't that bummed about it, knowing that they'd cost more anyway. But I happened to be walking past my local running store one day and decided to pop in and see if I could get more socks without the 2-10 day Amazon wait. CEP is the only brand they carry currently (they used to have 2XU, the guy said, but settled on CEP as the better product), so it came down to finding my size and then seeing what colors were available. White/Green was it. (There was a really nice Pink/Black, but it was a size smaller.) Where CEP really wins is the calf fit: it was excellent. Super comfortable with a great wide band at the top that didn't hit behind my knee. Where CEP fails is in the footbed: the heel seam is very rough and rubs against the arch of my foot. I felt it as soon as I put these on and with every footfall of my run. Because these are so lightweight, they're also more transparent than other compression socks—so you can see the ugly veins through the thin white fabric. I don't care so much about how the veins look when I go sockless with dresses, but I consider hiding ability to be one of the nice side benefits of wearing the socks. If they don't hide the veins, and they're not comfortable on your feet, what's the point? I'm not sure I'd buy another pair of these, especially at this price.
AbcoSport Compression Socks
Color: Blue and Black Stripes
Price: $16.99 Compression: Box says 20-25 mmHg in one spot, and 12-20 mmHG in another
These were my first experiment in ordering a size small in what appeared to be a unisex-sized product, and it paid off in foot fit without making the calf too tight. This pair comes least far up my leg, stopping a couple inches below my knee (and right on one of the bulging veins). I thought this would be an issue, but after wearing all day under pants the socks didn't fall down, didn't cause any more pain to that vein, and didn't leave too bad a mark thanks to the fairly wide back (and, I suspect, thanks to the slightly lower compression). The stripes are nice, but they don't carry all the way down to the foot (which is black with a gray heel and toe), so they don't provide any fun flashes of pattern/color under pants. Trying to figure out whether they'll go with any of my shorts or golf attire.
Danish Endurance Graduated Compression Socks
Price: $17.99 Compression: Listing didn't say; Danish Endurance website says 16-24 mmHg
Size: US 7.5-9.5
When I first put these on I knew the compression couldn't be right—way too easy, and too comfortable once on—and I remembered why I'd rejected this brand when I placed my first compression sock order. This suspicion was confirmed by the Danish Endurance website, which listed the socks as offering 16-24 mmHg compression. They were by far the most comfortable socks to wear all day, tho in this size they come up too high and hit behind my knee, and the narrow top band rolled. My veins also hurt at the end of the day, which made me realize that the 20-30 mmHg socks had been making a difference in pain level after all (as the doc said they would). I'd wear these for running, because  the stronger compression actually feels not so great to me when running,  these are lighter weight and thus likely not to be as sweat-inducing, and  it saves a more fashionable pair for day wear instead of sending them to the wash right away.
That's the roundup for now; more on the perils of wearing compression gear in a future post.