Beyond Compression Socks: A Nurse's Guide to Leg and Foot Self-Care

A Nurse's Guide to Leg and Foot Self-Care

Woman's wearing stylish printed compression socks

tudies show that those in the medical field are more likely to develop work-related musculoskeletal disorders, and we’re not surprised. As nurses, we spend long, arduous shifts on our feet, and often don’t get a chance to let them rest until after a marathon of standing and walking. That’s why it’s so important to develop a plan to ensure that our dogs are well-taken care of, on and off /sthe job.

Why does self-care for our legs and feet matter, anyway? Finding supportive, properly fitting footwear and accessories can prevent your feet from developing frustrating (and unsightly) sores, bunions and calluses. But more importantly, good foot and leg care can avert serious issues, like blood clotting and chronic back pain. In other words, when you make your feet and legs a priority, you’re supporting the rest of your body, too.

We all know the importance of compression socks for nurses, but there are all sorts of ways that you can boost your self-care regimen in the foot and leg department. We’ll cover all the ways you can equip your paws with supportive, self-care staples so that you feel like your best self when you’re at work and at home.

Compression Socks: The Unsung Hero of Your Uniform

Rule No. 1 for any on-their-toes nurses: start with some comfortable compression socks for women or men. These socks are worn by a wide range of professionals who must stand and walk for long periods of time, including athletes, flight attendants and, of course, nurses. Compression garments for your legs and feet are designed to provide graduated compression, meaning that they are tight at the feet and gradually loosen as they travel up the leg. You might not even notice them, but they’re doing plenty of work.

Their most important benefit is that they help improve blood flow, which lowers your risk for blood clotting. As you know, when you stand for long periods of time, blood flow can be compromised, and blood may pool within the legs and feet, which leads to the risk for clotting and pain. Let’s take a look at all the ways the right compression socks can help improve your health and well-being while you’re on the job.

  • They Prevent Blood Clotting - Athletes love knee-high compression socks almost as much as nurses do, and that’s no surprise, since they can help reduce swelling. They’re also ideal for helping to mitigate symptoms caused by varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis and skin ulcers. What’s more, compression garments can prevent varicose veins, which are caused by weakened valves and veins that compromise blood flow.ll day.
  • They Improve Circulation - We know that compression sleeves, socks and stockings are key to good blood flow, but why does this matter? Good circulation prevents your legs from feeling pain, tingling, numbness, throbbing and cramps. Preventing slowed circulation on the job can help keep you comfortable while you work.
Diagram illustrating how wearing compression socks can improve blood flow
Illustration showing leg compression garment types

Types of Compression Garments for Your Legs

Compression socks aren’t the only option available for nurses who want to prevent clotting and improve blood flow throughout long shifts. There are a wide range of different styles available, some of which may be better for your particular needs, dress code and personal preferences than others. Let’s take a look at some of the best kinds of compression stockings for nurses, including socks, sleeves and hose.

  • Compression Socks — Compression socks are some of the most basic types of compression garments for the legs and feet. Unlike sleeves, socks cover your feet too, which helps improve circulation and adds protection to the tops and soles of your feet. However, if you have a particular type of sock you like to wear, then compression sleeves are a better choice. You’ll find tons of different styles in this category, from basic to cute compression socks.
  • Compression Sleeves — If you love to wear fun or particular socks during your shift, a calf compression sleeve is probably the best choice for you. These garments cover the majority of the calf and stop just above the ankle, leaving the foot exposed. Compression sleeves and socks don’t provide coverage on the thighs like compression hose or stockings do.
  • Compression Hose — If your dress code dictates that you must wear hose or if you’re in a role where you need to be a bit dressier, compression hose are a good choice. They come in all the most basic hose colors, so they work with a wide range of uniforms and dress codes. What’s more, compression tights provide extra coverage through the thigh, and can help prevent varicose veins in that area.

Dogs Barking? Get the Right Nurses’ Shoes

No doubt about it: a comfortable and supportive pair of nursing shoes is vital to your overall health and well-being. There are a number of different styles available, but the most popular has to be the nursing clog. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular nursing shoe styles and how they differ in terms of comfort, support and protection.

  • Nursing Clogs - Brands like Klogs, Sanita Clogs and Dansko make professional nursing clogs that are beloved by medical professionals around the world. The nursing clog is specifically designed to minimize pain at the foot and ankle, which is crucial when your feet get little rest. They also provide extra protection against dropped items and impact, and easily slip onto the foot with no fasteners.
  • Nursing Sneakers - With that being said, more and more nurses, doctors and caretakers are looking to the nurse sneaker for support and protection. These shoes are often made from more flexible materials and typically feature a rubber sole, so they’re not a bad choice for medical professionals who need slip-resistance and flexibility when running from point A to point B.
  • Nursing Dress Shoes - Even if you’re in a nursing role that doesn’t permit you to wear scrubs — and even if you spend a good chunk of your day in an office or triaging on the computer — you still need good, comfortable nursing shoes. Nurse dress shoes are the best choice for the comfort-seeking caretaker who needs to accommodate a more buttoned-up dress code.

So what should you look for in a good pair of nursing shoes? According to an evaluation published in Applied Ergonomics, there is a science to choosing the appropriate nursing shoes. The evaluation found that the ideal heel height for clinical nurses is between 1.8 and 3.6 centimeters and that the footbed should emphasize arch support. These components will help minimize pressure and impact force while increasing shin and ankle comfort.

Woman wearing bright compression socks
Graphic quoting information about insoles found in article

What About Insoles?

The right pair of nursing shoes should be sufficient in terms of cushion and support, but there are some instances where some extra padding can mitigate pain and discomfort. A pair of orthotic inserts may provide the extra arch support you need to facilitate better body alignment. Some nursing shoe insoles are also equipped with shock-absorbing technologies that help to relieve pressure and impact throughout the day.

The best insoles for nurses should be comfortable in more ways than one. Choose styles that provide extra arch support but are also anti-microbial and moisture-wicking so that you don’t get distracted by sweaty feet and odors during demanding shifts. If you’ve noticed that your feet are particularly sore in the ball or heel, you may want to invest in separate insoles that cover only that area and leave the arch support to the shoe itself.

Universal insoles can make any pair of shoes extra-comfortable for long shifts. But another thing to consider is that, over time, the insole of your favorite nursing clogs or sneakers can get worn down and may lose its give and support due to constant pressure and moisture. Some nursing shoe manufacturers — including Klogs and Dansko — actually make affordable replacement footbeds that can add another few years to your nursing shoes.

Self-Care: Taking Care of Your Legs and Feet Post-Shift

Nurses and other professionals who work on their feet all day must take a little extra time after long shifts to care for their legs and feet. Lower limb disorders are no laughing matter; They’re to blame for some 2.4 million workdays lost each year. Besides wearing the right pair of shoes and compression garments, there are a few self-care steps you can take to ensure that you don’t wind up becoming a part of that statistic.

We’ve come up with a handy little mnemonic device to help you remember how to properly care for your feet after you’ve clocked out for the day. SIMES: Stretch, Ice, Massage, Elevate and Spoil. As long as you follow these steps regularly, your feet will be in grade-A shape so that you don’t have to miss any workdays or struggle through the job. Plus, these steps will help you mentally recoup after a long day.

  • Stretch - This one’s just as important on the job as off the job. When you’re standing, walking or sitting for hours on end, your muscles become stiff and pained. Make sure that you stretch at least once an hour while you’re working and develop a good stretching routine after work to help reinvigorate blood flow and work your muscles. Stretch your whole body, but prioritize leg stretches.
  • Ice - Nurses know better than anyone that icing tired, sore and stiff muscles can go a long way to help deter swelling and inflammation. If you’ve noticed that your feet and legs are particularly sore or inflamed, ice them down for about 20 minutes at a time after your shift. You can place your feet and legs in a bath of cold ice water or use an instant ice compress to keep things neat and dry.
  • Massage - Caring for your feet and legs really comes down to enhancing blood flow and working sore muscles, two things that can be effectively treated through foot and leg massage. If you’ve got sore soles, use a muscle ball roller or a tennis ball, using the weight of your body to roll out soreness. Make sure to hold onto a wall to help keep your balance as you roll. Massage rolling devices are also great for working out tight and stiff muscles in the calves and thighs.
  • Elevate - Elevating your feet after a long, tiresome day can help reduce swelling. Before you go to bed, use some pillows or a sleep wedge to raise your feet above your heart to get blood flowing to the area and to help reduce inflammation. You can couple this treatment with a cold ice compress for double the benefits.
  • Spoil - This one’s our favorite! We’re big fans of rewarding ourselves (in healthy ways, of course) after long shifts with a hot bath and some good bath and body products. Once in a while, maybe after you’ve just completed a marathon of 12-hour shifts, consider spoiling yourself with a pedicure and a foot massage to help get the blood flowing and to reduce pain and inflammation.
Woman standing outside stretching quadraceps muscle



Those who have acute foot and leg pain may want to use the RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) method regularly to help treat pain without medication. If you believe that you’re experiencing chronic foot or leg pain due to work, make sure that you’re wearing good-quality nursing shoes and compression garments, and follow a smart self-care routine, but be sure to see your doctor if pain persists.