The following article appeared on the Jobst website: The Benefits of Compression Socks - Dealing With Varicose Veins. Jobst is a maker of medical compression hosiery, targeted toward those with more severe leg circulation problems. Although they provide products for those with beginning stages of leg problems, anything more than support socks for men seems to be treated as an afterthough--which I will discuss later.
The article provides useful information on leg circulation problems and how support hosiery can help alleviate them. It's worth reading as long as you include a few caveats while doing so...
First, the articles are primarily directed at those suffering from more advanced leg conditions, which tend to require more specialized (and more expensive) products like those in which they specialize. The effect of non-medical grade support hosiery is given only only passing notice. This is understandable since there is less experimentally-quantifiable information available regarding the contribution of non-medical grade support hosiery on leg circulation. That's not to say there is none, however.
According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, "The single most important thing a person can do to slow down the development of new varicose veins is to wear graduated compression support stockings as much as possible during the day." They also list "wearing elastic support stockings" as a means of reducing the chances of getting new varicose and spider veins. In addition, a 2001 study cited by the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery concluded that, "Use of lightweight (low compression), ready-to-wear gradient compression hosiery is very effective in improving symptoms of discomfort, swelling, fatigue, aching, as well as leg tightness."
As I have written elsewhere on this blog, the article acknowledges that a significant portion of the population will eventually suffer from some sort of leg circulation problem, including venous insufficiency and related issues. And, of course, it's important to consult your physician when these problems become worse and varicose veins begin to appear, to make sure medical intervention is not necessary.
The article is also limited in that it focuses entirely on compression socks, although I've seen similar ones that include discussion of support hosiery as well. The trouble with focusing only on compression socks is that oftentimes the problems extend above the knee. In those cases, thigh-high or waist-high hosiery is obviously more appropriate. This is where the advice given in this article and others like it becomes confusing and a bit awkward.
The awkwardness comes from the fact that there are multiple varieties of waist-high support legwear styles (e.g., tights and sheer pantyhose) offered for women suffering from poor leg circulation. But when it comes to men, very few of the companies offer anything above the knee. Those that do have very limited options and one has to read between the lines to discern which are intended for males.
One could infer from the product offerings that there is a physiological difference between men and women that precludes any sort of venous insufficiency from occuring further up than the calf. Of course, there is no reason to believe anything of the sort. In fact, studies indicate that men are nearly as likely as women to suffer from some sort of leg circulation problem by the time they reach age 50 (see above: Health & Human Services). Yet none make any distinction about men's problems being confined to below the knee.
Why, then, would there not be equal numbers of men's products available to address those with leg circulation problems higher up? The answer seems clear. Prior cultural inhibitions against men wearing tights (sheer or otherwise) have prevented them from availing themselves of a viable solution to the aching and cramping of which so many complain. I personally discovered this when I was first directed by my doctor to try wearing support socks. I found that the elastic band at the top binds at the knee, and they did nothing to relieve achiness higher up. My doctor subsequently responded by suggesting I try wearing L'eggs Sheer Energy pantyhose.
This was because there were no male products offered by Futuro, Jobst, Ames-Walker, or other providers of medical compression hosiery--unless one is suffering from more serious leg problems. Products directed towards those conditions are very expensive, ranging from $50 a pair and up--and also quite uncomfortable to wear. You have to be in a lot of pain and discomfort to make the trade-off to wear these. Fortunately, I discovered ACTIVSKIN around that time, and was able to buy comfortable, inexpensive legwear that alleviated the chronic leg aches and heaviness I was feeling.
Although ACTIVSKIN does't claim to provide any sort of standardized compression in its legwear, for comparison sake I've tried on the Ultra Sheer by Futuro in 8-15 mmHg. To me, it feels very similar in compression to ACTIVSKIN's Style A2019 or A677. The UltraSheer cost around $20, placing them at the very low end of the medical compression hosiery price scale.
As for men's products from other companies, little has changed in the ten years since I first started wearing support hosiery. If you look at a Jobst Product Guide, you'll see that 8-15 mmHG compression (mild) is recommended for tired, aching legs; or minor ankle, leg and foot swelling. For women, the guide recommends UltraSheer pantyhose and for men: the Men's Dress product (socks).
Moderate compression (15-20 mmHG) is recommended for minor varicosities; tired, aching legs; and minor ankle, leg and foot swelling. For women, the guide recommends the same products, plus their Opaque compression socks. For men, it recommends a heavier support sock. There is an added category of Unisex, which includes two kinds of socks (ActiveWear and Relief) and one type of waist-high legwear, called Custom Seamless Soft. However, the product page for Custom Seamless Soft doesn't give any indication that is intended for men as well as women. One has to look very closely to discover that Jobst has any thigh- or waist-high products intended for men.
Ames-Walker, another leading seller of medical compression hosiery has little different to offer men with upper leg circulation problems or a dislike of elastic bands in support socks. Although they offer 17 varieties of support socks, there is only one waist-high product available for men, the Men's Waist Leotard that retails for about $90.
Solidea comes the closest to providing leg support products specifically tailored for men, with their 'Panty Plus'. It's a full-length, body-hugging compression pant with a built-in fly opening. At $110 each, men will be hard pressed to buy more than one, however. Otherwise, their offerings are either calf-socks or shaper briefs.
The bottom line is that Futuro, Jobst, Ames-Walker, Sigvaris, et al, are an excellent choice if you suffer from serious leg circulation issues and your doctor recommends compression therapy with a higher level of compression, say 20 mmHg or more. Although they don't cater to men who need above-the-knee products they do have something that can help if you look closely.
However, if your problem doesn't rise to the level of medical treatment, and you want to proactively help 'energize' tired, achy legs by improving circulation, ACTIVSKIN may be the ideal solution for you. I know it's helped me keep my legs in good shape after the beginnings of spider veins began to creep in. They've not progressed in the 10 years since I've been wearing support hose. At the time I first started wearing them, I never dreamed I'd end up working for the company that sold them. If I weren't such a believer in what we do, I wouldn't be here now.