If you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), socks can be an especially important part of your wardrobe. Beyond keeping your feet warm and clean, they can provide pain relief, support, and cushioning for your feet, ankles, and legs. But sometimes, finding good socks is easier said than done.
“I have been having problems with my feet,” shared one myRAteam member. “My feet were so swollen and red-hot, I could not put shoes or socks on. The socks felt like a vice around my feet.”
More than 3,800 members of myRAteam report having foot arthritis, and more than 3,300 say they experience ankle arthritis. Another member said, “I can’t wear socks or shoes for more than an hour. Then my toes feel like they’re broken, along with numbness and tingling.”
From compression socks to heated socks, there are hundreds if not thousands of sock choices on the market that can help with arthritis symptoms.
Compression socks are tight-fitting stockings that apply pressure to your lower legs and feet. Their goal is to promote proper circulation, increasing blood flow upward toward the heart. This increase in blood flow can help decrease swelling and joint pain. Compression socks can also relieve numbness in the feet that comes with stiff and swollen joints, which in turn can help with balance and difficulties walking.
There’s little to no clinical research that looks specifically at the effectiveness of compression socks in helping with RA symptoms. However, health experts still recommend them, and people living with RA, including members of myRAteam, report benefitting from compression socks.
One member of myRAteam shared, “I wear Dr. Motion compression socks every day and love them.”
“Other than diuretics, elevation, or maybe adjusting any other contributing medication, compression socks are the only thing that there is to address leg swelling,” another member added.
Compression socks come in a variety of lengths, sizes, designs, and compression strengths. Compression strengths generally range from less than 20 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) (low compression) to greater than 30 mm Hg (high compression). Your health care provider can prescribe compression stockings based on your specific needs, such as how much swelling you experience and where.
“My doctor ordered me prescription-strength compression socks. Well, finally! :)” wrote one member.
Mild compression varieties are available without a prescription, but speak with your doctor before trying them. Compression socks may be unsafe for people with certain conditions, such as diabetes or circulation issues.
It’s important to wear your compression socks as prescribed. You may need to wear them only while you’re awake, or you may be recommended to wear them 24/7. If you don’t wear them as directed, your legs may swell, which can make it difficult to put the socks back on.
Check your legs regularly for skin changes, such as irritation or discoloration. These changes could indicate your socks don’t fit properly and are cutting off circulation and could also point to an infection.
Some compression socks on the market are made with a copper weaving that’s supposed to provide additional health benefits, such as easing arthritis pain or reducing fatigue. One myRAteam member recommended them: “Copper socks and compression socks can help with ankle pain,” they shared. “I have different items with copper in them that help!”
However, studies have shown that wearing copper in and of itself doesn’t provide relief for arthritis pain or stiffness. Researchers have, however, determined that copper has antimicrobial properties, meaning solid metal copper surfaces can destroy bacteria, yeast, and viruses. If there’s any added benefit to getting compression socks made with copper weaving, it’s that they may help reduce odors resulting from foot sweat.
Up to 85 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis have peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage in the extremities. Symptoms of neuropathy that can affect the feet in people with RA include heightened sensitivity, pins-and-needles sensations, and a variety of painful sensations, such as throbbing, burning, or freezing.
These symptoms can make regular socks feel especially uncomfortable. “I have peripheral neuropathy, and I am having difficulty finding socks that are comfortable wearing with sneakers,” someone posted in myRAteam.
Neuropathy socks are designed to help ease the discomfort associated with neuropathy. There are various types of neuropathy socks on the market, including diabetic socks. (Neuropathy, along with other foot-related symptoms, is common in people living with diabetes.)
Neuropathy socks may include features such as:
Some neuropathy socks provide varying levels of compression. As noted above, speak with your doctor before trying socks that compress your feet or legs, and make sure to monitor your legs and feet for any worrisome changes.
Cushioned, or padded, socks have extra thickness to provide added support for your feet. As with the other socks mentioned above, there are various types of cushioned socks to choose from. Some offer gel cushioning and others are lined with memory foam. Some provide extra support for specific parts of your foot, such as the arches, heels, or soles. Additionally, some cushioned socks offer compression as well as features to help with neuropathy, such as smooth seams.
“Anyone experience cold feet even after wearing socks? Side effect? In my head? Need help!” somebody posted in myRAteam. Another member responded, “I always have cold feet — frequently painful feet. I buy overpriced socks. You are not alone on this one with feet.”
Your cold feet aren’t just in your imagination. Many people who live with rheumatoid arthritis have a decreased blood supply to their feet and legs. In some cases, this condition leads to Raynaud’s disease, a circulation disorder that affects the blood vessels in your hands and feet. Raynaud’s can cause numbness and cold. In more severe cases, Raynaud’s can lead to ulcerations at the tips of your fingers or toes.
Once again, you have many options to choose from when shopping for warm socks. For socks made from natural materials, Raynaud’s Association recommends alpaca fiber because it’s “warmer than wool, but as soft as cashmere, and not itchy or bulky like some wool fabrics.” Cashmere socks are both soft and warm. Finally, although natural wool can be itchy — and thus not ideal if you have neuropathy — it offers good insulation. Merino wool is particularly soft.
Thermal socks made from a blend of fibers can also effectively keep your feet warm. Raynaud’s Association specifically mentions the brand Heat Holders Thermal socks, which are made from a blend of acrylic, nylon, polyester, and elastane.
Some people with RA often feel cold, and electric heated socks offer an alternative way of keeping your tootsies toasty. According to Dr. Cary M. Zinkin — a podiatrist at Amicus Medical Centers in Sunrise, Florida — these types of socks can function as heating pads and temporarily boost blood flow.
These heated socks either run on removable, rechargeable batteries or can be plugged directly into an outlet for charging. They can have one or more heat settings. The types of materials they’re made from vary: They can be made entirely of cotton, a cotton-polyester blend, or other fibers.
Dr. Zinkin recommends choosing heated socks with light padding, rechargeable batteries, and multiple heat settings. For people with circulation issues, Dr. Zinkin recommends speaking with their doctor before using heated socks.
There’s an abundance of socks available in stores and online to help with RA foot issues. Depending on your particular symptoms, however, you may benefit from talking with your doctor or a podiatrist about prescription socks customized to your specific needs. These socks may include stronger compression than you may find in over-the-counter compression socks. “Sometimes, you have to get a custom sock if the over-the-counter ones don’t fit due to swelling,” said one member of myRAteam.
This option can be pricier, but it might be worth it if you’re struggling to find socks that work for you.
Socks aren’t the only factor you need to consider. Many members of myRAteam also point out that it’s difficult to put on their socks because of pain or stiffness in their hands.
“I’m having a pretty good day, but was frustrated that I couldn’t get socks on my feet,” one person recently shared. “My wrists are so weak from several flare-ups in the past two months that I just can’t pull socks on.”
That’s why another member recommended a gadget called a stocking butler. “It’s bulky, but can help get them on,” they shared.
A stocking butler is a device that makes it easier to pull long socks or stockings up over your legs. You can purchase one, like the Medi Butler, from a medical supply store or online.
There are some important considerations to keep in mind when shopping for socks to help with RA-related foot pain and other issues.
First, bear in mind that some of these socks are bulkier than normal socks, which means you may need larger shoes to accommodate them.
Second, consider speaking with your doctor before trying compression socks, as they can affect your circulation. Be sure to monitor your legs, feet, and toes for any changes, and keep note of any other changes to your health.
Finally, let your doctor know if your foot pain worsens. Although socks can provide some comfort, they can’t stop the progression of foot problems related to RA. Think of them as a complement to your RA treatment.
On myRAteam, the social network for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their loved ones, more than 200,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with RA.
Are you trying to find the best socks for RA? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.