No matter your age, level of athleticism, or goals, in the running world, you have may have heard of compression socks. Some runners use them and swear by them, while others don’t believe they give any benefits at all. While there evidence on both sides of the story I’ll try to dig a little deeper as to the theory behind why compression socks might help reduce your pain after long runs and any other benefits of wearing compression socks.
What are Compression Socks?
This compression sock is a specialized garment or hosiery that gently places pressure on your legs to assist in venous return. The covered area starts from your toes and ascends to the top of your calves and sometimes as high as your knees.
Before we dive into the details surrounding compression sock let’s touch on the basics of blood flow and circulation.
Your heart is responsible for pumping oxygen-rich blood throughout your body supplied by the lunges and cleaned by your kidneys and liver. It sends your waste-free and oxygenated blood to your muscles and organs.
The muscle cells in your legs need this oxygen to burn calories and flex, so blood is sent their way. After this is done, the waste products are ejected to the veins, and the deoxygenated blood is pumped back up to the lungs and released as carbon dioxide.
The problem with our legs is that this blood is rushing down fast, assisted by gravity. When your deoxygenated blood is pumped back up, it fights gravity giving it resistance, so the pumping process is slowed down.
Our leg muscles need oxygen during exercise, so a faster pump is desired. This is where compression running socks come in.
How Compression Socks Work
Basically, the theory behind compression socks is that they help balance out the pressure between the incoming blood flow and the outgoing blood flow. Constricting the vessels supposedly helps increase the velocity of that flow.
Requirements Of A Good Compression Sock
The International Journal of Angiology, in which a British study was published comparing compression socks to transcutaneous electro-neural stimulation, gives several requirements for a good pair of compression socks. This study, along with similar others concluded that runner’s compression socks need to be:
- Relatively low pressured – The sock should apply pressure under 15 pounds. This is Approximately 40 percent of compression socks which are designed to treat varicose veins.
- Graduated in its pressure – Highest pressure starting at your toes and progressively less pressure at the point of your calves.
- Comfortable – If they’re, not comfortable people aren’t going to wear them, especially during long-distance running events.
Do compression socks help you recover faster?
The most touted benefit of compression socks is their ability to enhance recovery. Wearing these socks makes it easier to train, according to some experts and athletes.
Tests of compression socks have found interesting and sometimes conflicting results. Studies have sometimes found measurable differences in placebo sock wearing participants and compressed subjects.
You feel relief when your aching muscles are squeezed. This is because the lactic acid build-up is released into the bloodstream, which is causing your muscles soreness. Over time your muscles will adapt to the lactic acid and be more resistant to it, but for now, especially as a beginner, you need to show up for training to establish this wonderful sport as a regular habit of yours. Going all out at the beginning is a surefire way to cause so much soreness that you will not be able to follow up at the next session. This is a common beginner mistake. But using compression socks will help curb the pain and soreness, no matter how much it is.
The pressure will leave lactic acid with less room to build up in, which can save you from a spasming muscle mid-workout, and allow you to go longer if you choose to do so.
Do Compression socks help you run faster?
In competitive running, winning is decided by very small differences at higher levels. A fraction of the second separates the wheat from the chaff and decides first place and second place.
Are compression socks dangerous to wear?
Tests have found that compression socks decrease the surface area of the lower leg by about a tenth of a square centimeter. Experts say there is no danger of leaving marks with this level of pressure.
Although there are concerns over the appropriate wearing of these socks. Inappropriate application of compression socks might lead to some issues.
According to physical therapists, if the compression sock fit is constricting, it can lead to blood being backed up in the calves and feet, causing a type of blood clotting that is known as deep vein thrombosis.
Coupled together with worsening factors such as dehydration, old age, flying in a plane, birth control pills, and hard workout sessions, runners are at risk of their deep vein thrombosis developing into a pulmonary embolism, which is deadly
Uncertainty Surrounding the Research
In a study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, athletes who used compression socks for two days after a marathon improved their running performance during a treadmill test two weeks later.
This is definitely a positive finding, but that hasn’t been the case with some other studies.
In a study published by the company of Horizon Research, runners using compression socks during and after a two-hour run followed by an 8 hour resting period had an insignificant advantage over those that didn’t wear the socks. The study failed to find any correlation between compression socks and enhanced performance.
Other studies reported similar results, with mostly insignificant results, sparsed with some benefits.
8 Benefits of Wearing Compression Socks
As stated earlier, compression socks with gradient pressure are designed to help create a funnel for speeding up blood flow for your lower limbs.
Many athletes swear by this effect. The science shows that compression helps your muscles by leaving less space for lactic acid build-up. Your blood will get pumped down with pressure and take the lactic acid with it, helping with you feel less sore the next day, and thereby increasing the frequency of your training sessions.
These socks have been reported to reduce the level of muscle soreness by 20 percent. This is a significant amount.
Increased VO2 max
Compression socks have shown to increase runners’ VO2, which is basically their intake of oxygen, by about an average of 0.6 percent. All the measurements showed this positive correlation with the use of compression socks.
Some older runners have problems with swelling feet after a long day on their feet. They have found that compression socks help combat this issue by gently compressing their limbs, leading to more comfort during and after a hard day’s workout.
Reduced unnecessary movement
One supposed benefit of compression socks is their ability to keep your calves from shaking and jiggling about. This tremor, if left unchecked, will move up to your leg and cause oscillation in your thigh and even in your torso. Compression socks reduce oscillation, which leads to an increased focus in your muscles.
Small aerodynamic boost
One could make the argument that a more compact mass would make you a tiny bit less of a target for air resistance and move a bit faster, especially across long distances. Much is invested in aerodynamic research in all racing sports, and running is no exception.
Protection from minor injuries
Compression socks can protect your legs from scratches, abrasions, and nasty bumps to be encountered along the way.
Simply put, they look like they belong to a pro runner, so you’ll end up looking cool and prepared for others.
If nothing else, compression socks will keep you warm, and most options do so without the downside of sweaty moisture.
Bestselling compression socks for women
2XU VECTR CUSHION
This is a great choice for a wide variety of activities right off the bat. The price is mid-level and reasonable for a lot of tech and research that goes into the inner workings of this compression sock.
With support specifically designed for the arch, ankle, plantar fascia optimization, and blister prevention, you’ll be happy to know this is high-tech gear. You won’t have to worry about smelly feet after your workout because of the fabric’s antibacterial and anti-odor technology. This means less cleaning is needed. The cushioning is made to support push-off and lessen the heel impact.
You can see why Vectr Cushion socks are a solid choice recommended to you. They are perfectly suited as a well-rounded choice of socks.
CEP Run Socks 3.0
These socks have been specifically designed for running. The gradual compression loosens up the further you go up along your leg, squeezing your feet and ankle the most. This new version has enhanced capabilities such as improved moisture management due to the Feran ICP finish that actively wicks moisture. By using such breathable material, you can ensure your feet’s dryness even during rigorous workout sessions. These socks have technologically advanced cooling systems, offering your feet cool insulation.
Falke Impulse Running Socks
Unlike the rest of the items on this list that only help with blood circulation, the Falke Impulse’s aim is to also improve your overall posture. No matter if you pronate or supinate, this premium compression sock uses targeted sensors to stimulate under-skin receptors to influence the way you take your strides. From the nodules on the outer calf protecting you against pronation and supination to those on the sole of your feet, these socks work to correct your posture while keeping you moisture free and comfortable. An expensive choice but well worth the advanced tech and design.
Bestselling compression socks for males
Rockay Vigor Graduated Compression Socks
This is the environmentalist’s choice, considering the use of Econyl Regenerated Nylon yarns, this compression gear is made using recycled ocean plastic. Not only does it apply tight pressure in all the right areas, but it’s also environment friendly. Despite the price, this polygiene anti-odor fabric is well worth its cost. They are in less need of regular washing as long as you leave them to dry out in between uses. Despite the high amount of tight and comfortable pressure, they offer fully breathable mesh zones, and the use of plastics makes them super sustainable.
Swiftwick Aspire 12
If you want super tight compression socks that offer the same level of compression all the way through the length of your leg, then this choice is for you. These socks are famous for their moisture management and sweat-wicking features, hence the name Swiftwick’. The tight and firm compression might not be for you or prove difficult to get used to at first, but they can efficiently enhance recovery and lower fatigue.
Run Forever Sports Compression Socks
This great athletic footwear will help you with those ultra-marathons with its use of graduated compression from the bottom up to help facilitate blood flow and aid recovery. This choice also has high moisture-wicking properties. The Lycra nylon blend behaves like medical compression socks to help ease pain and swelling before it begins. This is definitely one of the least expensive compression socks.
Are compression socks dangerous?
You need to check the skin area for possible rashes. Rashes normally don’t occur with runners. They usually occur when people have them prescribed by their doctor to wear and they are wearing them for multiple hours each day. Most of the time the patient doesn’t buy what the doctor prescribes, making the problem worse.
According to Healthline, you need to check for irritation or redness after wearing compression socks. These changes could indicate that:
- your stockings don’t fit properly
- you’re not putting on or taking off your stockings properly
- you have an infection
- you’re allergic to the stocking material
Multiple studies have concluded that wearing the wrong size compression sock could break the skin and are is the leading cause of skin rashes.
Are compression socks worth it?
The bulk of research doesn’t support the use of compression gear as must-have equipment, but this doesn’t mean you can’t derive personal benefits from it. Many anecdotes suggest their use has significant enhancing features and properties. Some think this may be due to the placebo effect. However the case, you should try out compression socks for yourself and see if they suit you.
If you personally feel more comfortable, less sore, notice a decrease in swelling, or think you go a bit faster, then don’t let some studies stop you from wearing them. Many athletes feel the same way.
Even if wearing compression socks has marginal benefits for you, take note that these small benefits because they may be helping you more than you think. The only way to see if compression socks work is for each individual to give them a try for themselves.
Should You Wear Compression Socks For A Half Marathon?
I’ve worn compression socks to one of my half marathons and they seemed to help with recovery slightly. There are other runners that swear by them and other runners that can’t stand them. For more information:
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