What Are Diabetic Socks?

Reasons You May Need to Wear Diabetic Socks

Man wearing socks and sandals
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Diabetic socks are specially designed socks that keep the feet dry, decrease the risk of foot injury, and avoid preventing or slowing blood circulation. They usually are made of materials that have superior abilities to wick away moisture and are fitted, padded, and nonbinding. They differ from regular socks in that they are non-elastic and seamless. By eliminating the elastic, diabetic socks reduce the constriction that often occurs in swelling, which can limit blood flow.

Why People With Diabetes Need Special Socks

Foot care is an important aspect of diabetes management due to potential damage to the nervous and circulatory systems caused by high blood sugar levels. Nerve damage, or diabetic neuropathy, decreases sensation and increases the risk of injury, especially on the bottom of the feet. It can also cause a person with diabetes to be unaware of an injury and delay treatment.

Circulatory problems interfere with wound healing because continuous blood flow is required. Elevated blood sugar levels also can slow the immune system. These problems can create a situation that could lead to amputation or even death.

Not everyone with diabetes needs diabetic socks. For those without foot problems, regular socks that are comfortable, non-binding, and fit well are sufficient. However, if you're traveling, it may be helpful to wear diabetic socks so as to reduce the risk of swelling or blood clots that may occur when seated or still for longer periods of time, such as on a road trip or when flying.

People with diabetes who would benefit from making the switch to wearing solely diabetic socks are those who:

  • Have experienced changes in foot color or temperature, redness, irritation, nerve damage, blisters, or fungus.
  • Have frequently sweaty or moist feet as these specialized socks keep your feet dry by wicking moisture and thereby reducing the recurrence of fungal infections.
  • Have decreased pedal pulse (a pulse measurement taken at the top of the foot and behind the inner ankle), which is associated with an increased risk of peripheral arterial disease or another form of atherosclerosis.

If you have gestational diabetes, diabetic socks are a helpful tool to ensure proper blood circulation in the feet and lower legs, as they reduce the risk of blood clots and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the incidence of which is increased with the condition.

Features

Diabetic socks are designed with a number of features to directly address foot issues associated with the condition. 

Moisture-Wicking Material

Wicking socks pull moisture away from the foot to evaporate sweat, which reduces the risk of fungal infections and prevents odor. The drier the foot, the more protection from developing blisters and other wounds.

Seamless

Diabetic socks are typically made without seams along the toe to reduce the risk of rubbing and blisters that could develop ulcers, especially for someone with neuropathy or chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Diabetic socks also sometimes have white soles to reveal draining of a wound that may not be felt.

Soft Yarns

Diabetic socks are often made from finer-textured fabrics such as bamboo and wool. These types of yarns have natural antimicrobial properties and reduce rough abrasion on the skin. By using non-elastic binding that won't restrict calves, they also help prevent constriction for better blood flow. Some socks, such as those made by Dr. Scholl's, also use a specific type of blister-guard yarn that's meant to reduce blister-causing friction.

Antimicrobial Properties

To prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, some socks are made with copper- or silver-infused yarn, which has been shown to have antifungal properties that can kill athlete's foot fungus. Copper-infused socks may also prevent reinfection of athlete's foot on subsequent wears. These socks also offer odor protection.

Extra Padding

You can also find diabetic socks with extra cushioning on the footbed for those whose foot soles may be sensitive. Some socks may simply use extra fibers for more cushioning, or others may have gel or silicone pads sewn in.

People who exercise vigorously should consider padded acrylic socks because they keep feet drier and cause less blistering than cotton socks. Acrylic fibers seem to have better moisture-wicking abilities and can also be good for people who have diminished sensation or neuropathy, as the extra padding can help to prevent foot injuries. Depending on the type of activity you regularly do, you may want to look for a pair that has extra padding in the heel only (for example, if you're standing on your feet a lot), or extra cushion under the ball of the foot (if you run or exercise often, to reduce pressure and friction on that area). Extra toe padding may be helpful for those who play sports such as tennis or soccer.

Smart Technology

Some diabetic socks have embedded sensors that track foot temperature and alert you via an app if there is a change, such as a sore or ulcer that is forming. The coin-size battery is located on the exterior of the sock near the ankle. These socks usually last around six months. For more information, check out Siren.

A Variety of Sock Lengths

Calf-height or over-the-knee socks may be most helpful for those with circulation issues, though sport-length socks are also readily available in ankle or crew styles. Additionally, low-cut versions exist for those who prefer not to show their socks. Diabetic socks are also available in a range of colors and styles to suit your needs.

Where to Buy

Diabetic socks can be purchased at most chain stores, such as Walmart, Target, Costco, and pharmacies such as Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS. You can also find them easily online at Amazon or a specialty site such as Renfro Socks.

There's a wide range of pricing—anywhere from $2 to $140 per pair, depending on the materials and functionality. Moisture-wicking socks typically cost between $5 and $20 and can be purchased online or in stores. Common brands include Dr. Scholl's CoolMax, Brooks, and Balega.  

Copper socks costs range between $7 and $16 and can be purchased at Renfro Socks.

Diabetic socks are not currently covered by Medicare or commercial insurance, although some may be eligible for reimbursement under a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or Health Savings Account (HSA). Call your plan provider to check your eligibility for reimbursement—and you may need documentation provided by your doctor that the socks are part of your treatment plan.

Care and Maintenance

Diabetic socks should and can be worn daily, and should be changed and washed frequently so as to prevent bacterial or fungal build-up, especially if your feet become wet or sweaty.

Sock lifespan is usually around six months with regular wear. To increase their longevity, wash socks in a mesh undergarment bag in the washing machine, and dry them on low heat, as higher temperatures may cause fibers to break down faster. You may also want to use a sweater comb or sweater shaver to remove any fabric pilling.

Socks should be thrown away at the first sign of wear and tear, such as holes, rips, or pilling. This may seem overly cautious, but holes or pilling can cause extra friction against the skin, which may lead to blisters.

Diabetic Socks vs. Compression Stockings

People with diabetes who also have peripheral arterial disease may need mild compression stockings or hosiery to help with circulation and reduce swelling. Compression stockings are not the same as diabetic socks—their purpose is meant to increase constriction so that blood can return more easily to the heart. Medical-grade compression socks are a concern for those with diabetes because they can decrease blood flow to your feet and accelerate damage.

If you have swollen feet, discuss with your doctor whether mild compression diabetic socks are appropriate for you. These have lighter compression than typical compression socks.

A Word From Verywell

Diabetic socks may be helpful to prevent foot complications, damage, and nerve pain or poor circulation resulting from diabetes. Wash and inspect your feet daily to keep tabs on their condition. Trim toenails with care, or have them done professionally by your caregiver. Don't ignore any new changes when it comes to your feet—take any and all injuries seriously and discuss them with your care provider to prevent further complications.

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Article Sources
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