Running Gear: The Emperor’s New Compression Socks?

Do running compression socks work?

Do running compression socks work?

When I first started running a few years ago I didn’t even consider what socks to wear, or that this might make an actual difference to my performance. After a while, to avoid blisters, I started using specialist ankle running socks which felt fine but in real terms I probably could have kept on with my regular ‘sports’ socks and nothing would have been any different…

Then I noticed people at races wearing these really high socks… They went up to their knees! At first I thought perhaps this was a fashion thing that I really wasn’t getting but then I heard someone call them ‘compression socks’. Hmmm, I thought… that sounds scientific, maybe people are wearing these things for a reason!

I bought a pair and wore them for a few training runs before trying them out in a half marathon. I noticed no difference apart from blisters in places i’d never got them before. This is my investigation into whether compression socks for running actually work…

Possible benefits of compression socks:

A quick look at the description for some compression socks on sale promotes the benefits as:

  • More energy, greater endurance and enhanced performance thanks to improved blood circulation
  • Activates the flow of blood in the muscles
  • Muscle and joint stabilization for reduced risk of injury
  • Increased coordination by activating the muscles for a sense of stability and security when running

But surely they’re biased?!

During a Run – Maybe, Maybe Not!

Blood can pool in your legs. They’re low down so gravity tries to keep more blood than is necessary there. Your heart then has to work extra hard to get the blood up through your leg veins to be diffused with oxygen again and get rid of the lactic acid build up. It is suggested that wearing compression socks might increase venous blood flow, so flushing out these by -products of muscle exertion and warding off fatigue.

THERE IS NO CONSISTENCY in the results of the various studies done on this field. Ali et al. (2007) found that no performance or changes in physiological parameters occurred during or after a 10k run. In a more recent study,  Spurlich et al (2011) also found that compression “revealed no effects whatsoever”. On the other hand, Kremmier et al. (2009) found improved performance when wearing compression socks while running. The problem is that over all the various studies there were a lot of variables, from the type and length of socks, to the abilities and physiology of the studied athletes.

After a Run (Help the Recovery) – Probably!

There’s a theory that suggests that the vibrations created with every foot strike contributes to post-run muscle soreness. The aforementioned study by Ali et al. (2007)  “did find a reduction in muscle soreness, pointing to the muscle vibration and recovery aspects of socks.” Additionally, a study using full lower body graduated compression tights only after exercise showed improvements in muscle soreness (Byrne & Easton, 2010). so it would seem that compression socks CAN help your muscles recover quicker after a taxing run. As Steve Magness says though, it’s the process of damaging your muscle fibres and rebuilding them better adapted to running that helps improve fitness

Graduated Socks

Graduated compression socks

Graduated compression socks

Apparently the best types of compression socks to get are those that compress more down near the ankle, with compression force decreasing towards the knee. Buy them here (just for your info, I get no commission!)

You can read about this in a far better post by Steve Magness on his ‘Science of Running page (also a great book)

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