Compression socks: they’re trendy, they come in fun, neon colors and bright patterns, and some athletes wouldn’t dream of running without them.
But what do compression socks – and other compression apparel, like calf sleeves, thigh sleeves, and tights – really do besides make a fashion statement?
The science behind compression socks
Athletic compression socks are a version of compression stockings that have long been used in the medical field. Compression socks and stockings are tight – they put extra pressure on the feet, ankles, and calves. Compression stockings were first prescribed to treat and prevent blood vessel problems in the legs. By putting pressure on the lower limbs, compression socks increase blood flow in the legs and send the blood back up towards the heart where it belongs. This stops blood from pooling in the lower legs, combats varicose veins, and reduces leg swelling.
Traditionally, compression stockings have been used to help prevent and treat complications associated with diabetes, pregnancy, deep vein thrombosis, among other conditions.
Compression socks and running
So, just how does this help runners and other endurance athletes? Compression garment manufacturers claim the apparel does a lot – everything from preventing cramps, decreasing lactic acid, and speeding up recovery. Some runners say wearing compression socks during races helps them run longer before fatiguing, which results in speedier race times.
However, there’s no science to back many of these claims up – especially when it comes to wearing compression socks during a run. Most research shows no significant statistical difference in performance or recovery in subjects who wore compression socks while running vs. those who didn’t.
A few small, lab-based studies found athletes who wore compression socks took a longer time to fatigue and recovered more quickly when compared to runners who didn’t wear compression socks on the run. But experts say it is impossible to tell if the difference is truly due to the compression apparel or due to the perceived benefit of the compression socks. The runners may have run faster and thought they recovered better because they assumed that’s how the compression socks were supposed to work.
In other words, it was all in their head.
When it comes to recovery though, most experts agree it’s a good idea to wear compression socks after long or hard workouts. They work the same way medical compression stockings do – by increasing blood flow and sending it back up towards the heart. This leads to a quicker recovery time.
How to wear them
The jury is still out on whether or not wearing compression socks on a run can benefit you. But if you like wearing the socks during long runs and races, then keep wearing them. They may not really do everything the claim to, but if you think they help, then go for it.
Just choose a pair that is comfortable and fits well. Good compression socks should be tightest around the feet and ankles, and gradually get looser as they go up the calf towards the knee. Look for compression socks or sleeves that deliver between 22 –32 mmHg of pressure.
For recovery, wear compression socks for at least an hour or two after a strenuous workout or race.
What’s your take on compression socks? Yay or nay?
Written by Jen Matz / Photo by Simon Thalmann, Creative Commons
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