What’s the Deal With Compression Socks?

Stand at the finish line of any running race and you will likely see countless runners wearing knee high socks or leg sleeves. Believe it or not, those socks actually serve a purpose...and it's not simply to make a fashion statement.

September 1, 2015
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Stand at the finish line of any running race and you will likely see countless runners wearing knee high socks or leg sleeves. Believe it or not, those socks actually serve a purpose…and it’s not simply to make a fashion statement.

No longer just for your grandma and her varicose veins, compression socks and sleeves are a craze that has swept the endurance racing community. But how exactly do they work, and what’s more, DO they really work? Let’s take a closer look…

The claims made by manufacturers are lengthy, including but not limited to: the promises of faster recovery time, decreased muscle fatigue, and cramping prevention. The idea is that the slight and sometimes graduated (tighter at the bottom, lessening towards the knee) compression of the tightly woven fabric acts as a gentle massage to your muscles, squeezing veins and helping to promote and increase blood flow. With increased blood flow comes increased oxygen delivery to the muscles, which in theory CAN assist with all of the promises mentioned above.

Which brings us back to your aforementioned Grandma: because the compression does indeed help increase blood flow, doctors have recommended them for years to post surgery or bed ridden patients, or even those with varicose veins, to help prevent pooling of the blood in legs, or worse, blood clots. So there is no denying that compression socks work for something.

But…

Scientists truly are on the fence as to whether or not compression socks live up to the claims that the sock manufacturers make for athletes. While proof of their effectiveness in athletic performance is inconclusive, a few things are for sure.

The first being: compression socks can’t hurt you. In the case of faster recovery and fresher legs, the placebo effect might certainly be to blame. Many runners will swear, scientific evidence or not, that the compression socks help them either in running performance or recovery. Personally, I always wear compression socks for runs that include steep climbs. The tightness of the socks feels like it holds my calf muscles and helps prevent cramping, and I really do notice a difference.

The second point is that compression socks can indeed help to prevent deep vein thrombosis, or blood clotting in your legs. Believe it or not, when flying on an airplane, athletes are more susceptible to DVT. Yes, you read that right, athletes are at a greater risk. A combination of typically lower blood pressure and heart rate, combined with the possibility of dehydration (especially if traveling after a race), and of course, sitting still for long periods of time (as one typically does on an airplane) are a potentially lethal combination for developing DVT. The simple act of wearing compression socks on your flight (or anytime you will be sitting for a long period of time, especially after a long training run or race) can help greatly minimize this risk by promoting blood flow to and from your lower extremities.

So, let’s get to the point:

In summary, the buzz surrounding the compression sock trend may simply be hype, or there may be some useful truth to it. So if you are interested in the possible benefits of compression socks, there really isn’t a reason to NOT give them a try! Head to your local running store to find socks designed specifically for endurance athletes. Look for a graduated compression, with a rating of 22 – 32 mmHg of pressure, and of course, find the right sock size for your foot and lower leg.

And while you’re at it, find a color or pattern sock that stands out. If nothing else, you can make a bold running fashion statement!

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