Should You Try Compression Socks?

Compression socks are a hot trend in athletic wear. Elite marathoners were first on the scene.

Paula Radcliffe wore them when she broke the marathon world record. Now they are showing up at local 5ks worn by active 40 somethings.

According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, running performance was improved while subjects wore compression socks. However, a 2009 study in the Journal of Science and Medicine reported no benefit. While the science behind this trend is slim, compression is not a new concept, and may be worth trying.

Compression improves venous blood flow for those with circulatory ailments. (That’s why your grandma treated her varicose veins by wearing those thick stockings.) Post surgery, compression is used to prevent blood clots and improve circulation. This same concept may apply to athletes during and post exercise. Blood normally pools in the lower legs due to gravity and centrifugal force. Compression socks may enhance circulation, and bring blood back to the heart where it’s oxygenated and returned to hard working muscles.

Muscle Vibration
Compression socks reduce muscle vibration, which can cause fatigue. By holding muscles in place, it’s thought that this reduces excess movement and wear and tear. Athletes suffering from shin splints, pain or injury of the calf muscles or Achilles tendon pain might want to try compression socks.

If the thought of running in tight knee socks is not appealing, consider compression as a recovery tool. If you work your lower leg muscles hard in running, paddle, tennis, hockey, basketball, or dance, you may get a boost in your muscle recovery and feel less sore if you wear the socks for a few hours post workout.

The socks are not easy to get on or off because they are tight!  They are meant to fit snugly at the ankle to prevent pooling of blood, but not so tight that they limit circulation. Compression clothing is made for other parts of the body too. Options include tights that cover the entire lower body, arm sleeves, and shirts. Try on your options at local sporting goods stores, to make sure the fit is correct.

While science is still exploring this trend, for those of you struggling with lower leg pain, injury, or slow recovery time, consider investing in a pair of compression socks. With cooler temps, you can hide the socks, but you might not want to—check out the great pink socks above!

Photo by Doug Ackerman.

Paula Radcliffe winning the 2003 London Marathon:

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