Neuropathy can cause a number of different symptoms in the extremities, especially the feet.
Although there is currently no cure for the condition, researchers are still looking into methods that can help relieve the symptoms.
Individuals with neuropathy are likely to have a pair of compression socks at home. Do compression socks help neuropathy?
Research is still underway to answer this question definitively. But here’s what we know about the condition and how compression socks may be able to ease your symptoms.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy—often called Peripheral Neuropathy—is when the nerves of the peripheral nervous system are damaged. This interrupts the way in which the neurons communicate with the brain and each other. This condition can affect the feet, legs, and hands.
The peripheral nervous system is made up of three different types of nerves and each plays a vital role in bodily functions and health. The symptoms felt will be dependent on which nerve type has been damaged.
The three nerve types are:
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating body processes that we’re not consciously controlling, such as the heartbeat, blood flow, digestion, and breathing.
Our sensory nervous system is responsible for the signals that let us know about changes to our external environment and our bodies. As an example, when the temperature in the room drops, it’s these nerves that tell us we’re getting cold, or when we’ve skinned our knees.
The motor neurons are responsible for controlling all movement. Every time we stand up, bend or lift our arm, the muscles send electrical impulses to our spine and brain and the motor neurons then control our movements.
Neuropathy can affect nerves that are limited to one part of the body—multifocal neuropathy—or it can affect multiple nerves throughout your body—polyneuropathy—or it may affect only one nerve—mononeuropathy.
The symptoms of neuropathy can vary depending on the location and type of nerves that are involved.
But the most common symptoms are sensory loss—like your sense of hot or cold or sensing pain—tingling or numbness, a burning sensation, or severe, sharp pain in the feet and toes.
You may find that your legs feel heavy or tired or that there’s muscle weakness in the feet. You may find it difficult to maintain your balance or have restricted mobility, making walking or running difficult.
Some people may feel as though their feet are freezing or as if they’re wearing socks when they aren’t. The reason why neuropathy is common in the feet is due to the fact that the longer nerves are the first to be affected.
Due to the loss of peripheral sensation, individuals suffering from neuropathy are at a higher risk of developing foot ulcers, especially over the pressure points of the foot.
Individuals who have neuropathy are also at risk for developing foot deformities such as Charcot foot, which causes the bones in the foot to weaken. If left untreated, the joints in the foot collapse – this can lead to the foot becoming deformed.
What Are The Causes?
There are a number of causes of neuropathy, but one of the most common causes in America is diabetes. Research has shown that between 60% and 70% of people who have diabetes will experience neuropathy.
The risk of nerve damage in diabetics can increase if your blood sugar levels are managed poorly. It also depends on how long you’ve had diabetes and the age of the person.
Fortunately, if you have diabetes you can delay or prevent diabetic neuropathy by closely monitoring and managing your blood sugar, as well as taking good care of your feet.
You may develop neuropathy due to a lack of Vitamin B12—a vitamin deficiency which can be caused by an underlying condition like anemia.
Without Vitamin B12, the myelin sheath becomes damaged and is unable to effectively surround and protect the nerves. Even if the Vitamin B12 deficiency is mild, it will still affect how the brain and nervous system function.
But some people may even experience nerve damage from bacteria or viruses that can directly attack the nerve tissue. People with autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can be at risk for developing neuropathy, as these are able to affect the peripheral nervous system.
Do Compression Socks Help With Neuropathic Pain?
Compression socks are an effective tool to help manage the pain and discomfort—pins and needles—that’s associated with neuropathy.
Socks for neuropathy can provide padding for the forefoot, which can reduce pain in this area. They can also protect your foot from possible cuts and bruising.
Most compression socks are made from synthetic materials, which help to draw moisture away from the skin. This keeps the feet dry, reduces the risk of foot ulcers, and prevents infections.
What Are Compression Socks?
Compression socks are socks that come in various lengths and are specifically designed with graduated compression. The socks gently apply even pressure to the foot, ankle, and legs to encourage better blood circulation, reduce pain and prevent blood clots from forming.
The continuous and gentle pressure that’s applied helps to prevent blood from pooling in the feet and legs, as it helps to direct the blood back up to the heart.
Compression socks help to reduce swelling, as they reduce excess fluid from the capillaries. This also encourages the lymphatic system and capillaries to absorb the tissue fluid, which also prevents swelling.
What Are The Different Compression Levels?
The amount of compression—pressure—that’s applied is measured in millimeters of mercury—this is the same measurement as your blood pressure—and there are 4 levels of compression.
Each compression level has a different compression range that is used for a variety of conditions.
The compression levels are as follows:
This level provides the lightest amount of compression, which is often used to reduce minor swelling and encourage blood circulation in the legs. This level of compression will provide relief from achy and tired legs.
With this compression level, you’ll get moderate compression and you’ll often find people on a flight wearing socks with this level of compression.
Compression of this level will provide you with relief from moderate swelling and achy legs. It will also reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and can provide pain relief from conditions like varicose veins.
This level provides firm compression—also known as Class 1 Compression—and is often used to treat a number of mild to moderate conditions.
This level can provide pain relief and reduce swelling from conditions such as edema, post-sclerotherapy, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis.
Compression socks of this level provide extra firm compression—also known as Class II Compression—and are often prescribed by a doctor as they’re used to treat moderate to severe conditions.
This level of compression can be used to heal active stasis—venous stasis ulcers—and post-sclerotherapy.
Finding the Right Pair
Currently, there’s no cure for neuropathy but wearing compression socks may help with relief from the symptoms of neuropathy.
But before you grab a pair of compression socks and put them on, speak to your doctor as they may choose to provide a different level of compression to the one you had in mind.
If you want to try compression socks before speaking to your doctor, then it would be advisable to choose the 20-30 mmHg level of compression. Compression socks of this level can be worn daily and they’ve been recommended for post-surgery recovery, reducing swelling, and mild symptom management.
Compression socks also come in different heights, just like regular socks. Depending on your symptoms, you may choose crew socks, knee-length socks, or compression socks that come up to your thighs.
If you experience muscle cramps as part of your neuropathy symptoms, then the “over the calf”—knee-high—compression socks may be better suited to your needs, as they can prevent or reduce cramps in the legs. Pairing these with massage can also help neuropathy.
You might also find it beneficial to try your socks on with your neuropathy shoes. This way, you’ll know they fit well when you leave the house. Indoors, they will be most comfortable paired with a pair of neuropathy slippers.