Put your best foot forward with socks

Podiatrist, Dennis Rehbock, educates us on the history of socks and how they have advanced over the years.

The history of socks

Socks have been worn on the feet of humans since the 8th century BC in Greece. They were made from matted animal hair or leather, called piloi. The earliest known surviving pair of socks, created by nalbinding, dates from 300-500, and these were excavated from Oxyrhynchus on the Nile in Egypt. A thousand years later in the 2nd century AD, the Romans were the first ones to sew woven fabrics together and make fitted socks.

Modern socks

Socks today are vastly different to the early historical models. Modern fabrics, technology and the latest fashion has transformed them into a necessity for humans to wear for protection and as great looking fashion accessories.

The functions of socks are:

  • Protection of the feet
  • To insulate feet from the cold weather
  • To absorb and dissipate sweat from the feet in warm conditions and during sport
  • Odour control
  • To protect the feet by preventing chaffing from shoes
  • Comfort
  • Fashion

Sock materials

Traditionally socks were made from wool or cotton with a little bit of nylon in it for strength.Wool and cotton are still used in socks, but modern materials are far better.

Modern socks contain materials like Drynamix, mohair, bamboo, Merino wool, Coolmax, elastane, polyamide, nylon, spandex and polypropylene. Some socks have silver or copper infused yarns for the antimicrobial function.

Bamboo is one of the softest, if not the softest sock material you can buy. It’s much smoother than cotton, and feels more like a high-quality silk or cashmere, making them extremely comfortable to wear. Bamboo has incredible moisture-wicking capabilities, being able to keep feet dry even if there is excess sweat.

Most technical sports socks contain mostly Drynamix and some nylon for strength.

Diabetic socks contain mixtures of cotton, bamboo, Merino wool, mohair and some nylon for foot protection and sweat control.

Other modern sock technologies

  • Left foot and right foot specific shape
  • Seamless toe design
  • Seamless comfort
  • Full foot cushioning
  • Lightweight construction
  • Soft comfortable feel
  • Extra heel and toe cushioning
  • Deeper heel pockets
  • Ventilation panels
  • Blister resistant materials and construction
  • V-tech arch support system
  • Silver thread for antimicrobial function
  • Non-elastic stay-up. Low compression, non-restrictive top with extra cross stretch to not impede normal blood flow.
  • Bamboo – hypoallergenic yarn
  • Compression socks, specifically for certain vascular conditions and may be calf-length and over-the-knee length.

Thickness and length

Socks also come in different lengths, such as thin volume socks for running, medium volume socks for tennis and squash, and thick volume socks for hiking and maximum protection.

Sock length can also vary: long socks, short socks or ankle socks for running, secret socks (very low-cut socks), and medium length socks.

How does diabetes affect your feet?

Diabetes can damage your feet and toes in the same way as it may affect your eyes, blood vessels, and other parts of the body.

Control of the blood glucose levels is most important on a long-term basis, but over time there may be damage to the blood vessels and the nerves throughout the body

This common complication of the foot in diabetes is known as peripheral neuropathy and peripheral artery (vascular) disease (bad circulation). Experts say that up to 80% of limb loss from diabetes is preventable.

Because the feet are high risk in diabetic patients, the feet must be looked after and protected. This is where the correct socks for people with diabetes is important.

Diabetic socks

Normal and special diabetic socks are important for good foot protection and care in the diabetic community. It’s advisable that all people with diabetes wear good quality, preferable special diabetic socks.

In simple terms, a diabetic sock is designed for keeping your feet dry, absorbing and dissipating the sweat, keeping the feet warm, preventing restriction of blood flow, and protecting from rubbing and trauma.

One of the functions is absorbing sweat. Research shows we produce 0,12L of sweat per day from our feet. Socks help to absorb this sweat and draw it to areas where air can evaporate the perspiration.

Thin socks are most commonly worn in the summer months to keep feet cool.

In cold environments, socks made from cotton, wool, bamboo or Merino wool helps warm up cold feet which, in turn, helps decrease the risk of getting chilblains and other lesions. 

Thicker thermal socks can be used for extreme cold environments.  They are commonly worn for skiing, skating, and other winter sports. They provide not only insulation, but also greater padding due to their thickness.

Diabetic socks are often made in a white colour. This makes it easier to notice any bleeding or oozing wounds on the feet.

Diabetic socks are specially designed to help save your feet from amputation by keeping feet dry, decreasing the risk of foot injury, cuts, blisters, infection, dampness, and enhancing blood circulation. They are a key part of foot care, which is an important aspect of diabetes management due to potential damage to the nervous and circulatory systems caused by high blood glucose levels.

Diabetic socks vs compression stockings

Compression stockings are not the same as diabetic socks. Compression stockings are meant to increase constriction so that blood can return more easily to the heart.

Medical-grade compression socks are not appropriate for people with diabetes because they can decrease blood flow to the feet and accelerate damage.

However, if you have swollen feet, talk to your doctor. Some diabetic socks provide a lighter degree of compression that may ease swelling without inhibiting blood flow. True compression socks need to be prescribed by a healthcare professional and properly measured and fitted for the patients’ requirements.

Smart technology

Some diabetic socks have embedded sensors that track foot temperature, moisture and pressure to alert the wearer via an app if, say, an ulcer is forming. They have a coin-size battery located on the exterior of the sock near the ankle. These socks usually last around six months.

Important things to look for in diabetic socks

  • Look at the Drynamix, cotton, wool, Merino wool, bamboo, mohair content in the mix. The higher percentage of these materials, the better the sock.
  • Choose socks that are soft and thick for the protection and cushioning.
  • Look for seamless socks, especially in the toe area.
  • Read the label of the socks when purchasing. The features of the sock and the material composition will be listed. Look specifically for a diabetic type of sock.
  • Buy new socks regularly and get rid of the old and worn away socks. Socks should be thrown away at the first sign of wear and tear, such as holes or rips.
  • Thermoregulating (keeping your feet warm in winter and cool in summer) resulting in dry, healthy, warm and comfortable feet all day long is important.

 What not to do

  • It’s not necessary to sleep with socks on, unless it’s to keep your feet warm.
  • Do not wear toe socks. These socks encase each toe individually like fingers in a glove. You may get irritation in between the toes that could cause skin breakdown or interdigital corns.

 Important diabetic footcare information

  • Gently wash your feet daily, especially in between the toes.
  • Dry your feet well. Concentrate in between your toes.
  • Keep your feet dry to prevent fungal and bacterial infections, especially in between the toes.
  • Powder the feet with a generic powder like baby powder.
  • Wear clean socks every day. Use the special diabetic socks if necessary. Use very soft and thicker socks if you need them to keep your feet warm.
  • Check your feet daily for any wounds, cuts or damage. If you can’t do this then get someone to help you. Look for any small cuts, blisters, or corns that are starting to look bright red, swollen, bloody, oozing pus, developing a green or brown colour, or producing a strong odour.
  • Do not walk around barefoot, especially if you have peripheral neuropathy. If you have neuropathy in your feet and have lost sensation and feeling in your feet, walking around barefoot (especially outside) means you could step on something sharp, cut your foot, and not know it.
  • Wear shoes. Even a thin shoe or ballet-like slippers are better than nothing. Running shoes or tackies also work well to protect feet.
  • Schedule regular foot checks with your podiatrist to examine your feet and to do any treatment that may be necessary.
  • If you have already experienced a foot ulcer, foot inspections and podiatry visits are critical to treating new cuts or ulcers quickly, preventing your risk of amputation.
  • Improve your blood glucose levels if necessary. See your diabetologist, diabetic educator and dietitian regularly.
  • If you suspect an area on your feet isn’t healing properly or is looking a bit unusual, don’t hesitate to visit your healthcare team immediately and get it checked out.


FALKE SOCKS – www.falke.co.za

BALEGA SOCKS – https://balega-socks.implus.com/contact

THE SOCK DOCTOR – www.sockdoctor.co.za

MEDIPOS DIABETIC SOCKS – www.medipod.co.za


Go to the Membership tab to sign up.


Dennis Rehbock is a podiatrist in private practice in Johannesburg. He has been a part-time lecturer and clinician at the University of Johannesburg Podiatry Department for 37 years. His special interest includes podiatric sports podiatry and the diabetic foot. Visit footdoctor.co.za for more info.

Header image by FreePik

This article is sponsored by Sock Doctor. The contents and opinions expressed are entirely the medical experts and not influenced by Sock Doctor in any way