You’ve probably seen a lot of people running around town or in races wearing those compression socks. Some find them stylish. What’s not fashionable about knee-high, bright pink socks!? Others find them hideous. Why would you want to wear knee-high, bright pink socks? But the real question is whether those compression socks are doing anything besides making a fashion statement.
What the Compression Sock Companies Say About Them
Let’s first take a look at the list of benefits listed by the various compression sock companies. There are a number of companies out there now selling them. And here’s what they say about the benefits:
- Improve performance
- Fix biomechanics
- Improve blood flow
- Dampen muscle vibration
- Improve running efficiency
- Decrease muscle soreness
- Enhance recovery
- Increase leg power
Looks like we found your ticket to the Olympics, right?
What the Research Says About Compression Socks
There have been many individual studies as well as several literature reviews done looking at compression socks and running performance. Note: a literature review looks at the individual studies on a specific topic and makes a conclusion based on all of the results.
If you type “compression sock research” into the google search bar, you’ll find plenty of research articles. You’ll find individual studies showing a significant benefit (you’ll easily find this research on the sock company websites). Other studies though will show no benefit at all. Confusing, right?
Looking at individual studies can be helpful. However, to get a better look at what the research is really showing, you should look at the literature reviews. If you look at the reviews, you’ll find them consistent about the inconsistency. The reviews indicate no conclusive evidence to support compression socks in improving running performance.
Now don’t throw out your pair of socks just yet!
Does this mean they don’t work? Not necessarily. At rest, there certainly is a benefit for compression socks. The gradient compression does help with swelling, which is why I frequently recommend them for my patients. Whether they perform those other benefits in the list above is still in question.
Compression socks are still a relatively new type of product, meaning a lot more research needs to be done on them. So hopefully in 5-10 more years we’ll have more conclusive data about the socks.
What Your Brain Says About Them
Some are convinced that the compression socks help them run faster or recover better. If you find they are helping you run faster or recovery better, there may be something to that. Like I mentioned above, some studies show a difference while others don’t. Whether it is really making you faster or recovering better is difficult to determine.
It may just be a placebo effect and there’s nothing wrong with that. The brain plays a large part in our performance. Even if the socks just alter our brain’s perception, that can lead to performance gains. But that’s a topic for another post…
Personally, I do not like to run in my compression socks. The pressure they create around my calves becomes uncomfortable. I also do not seem to notice any difference in performance when I did run in them. However, I only use one brand of compression sock right now (compression and overall comfort is different between brands). The amount of pressure in the sock can lead to some discomfort with the increase in pressure in the lower leg with running, as is probably the case for me. I do prefer to run in compression shorts and long tights though, but again, a topic for another post.
Now, I do like to wear my socks after hard workouts. I find that my lower legs feel better and seem to recover faster when I use them for the first 24-36 hours after a hard workout or race. Does it really decrease my recovery time and/or decrease soreness? Maybe. I just know that my legs feel better when I wear them after a workout. Some studies support that and some don’t.
Although the research is a little inconsistent overall on their effects, I think they are worth giving a try. Even if you don’t like them for running or don’t seem to notice a difference in recovery, they are nice to have for long car or airplane trips. Remember those warnings about blood clots on planes? These socks can help with the pooling of blood in the feet and lower leg.
Running compression socks can be a little pricy. You can find cheap ones for as little as $10 to as much as $60 per pair. I would question the quality and durability of the $10 pair. Although I didn’t go for the $10 pair, I have purchased compression socks on the cheaper end of the spectrum. They honestly didn’t hold up as well as my more expensive ones. If you want a pair with the proper gradient of compression and durability, you will probably be looking to pay on the higher end of that range.
If you truly want to improve performance, the first place to look is at your workouts. Are you performing the proper workouts for your current running goals? Check out our Free Resource Library to find out which runs you should have in your routine to improve performance. Be sure to also check out our post on training paces to make sure you’re running the correct pace for your workouts.
Which Sock to Go With?
Runner Click did a review of the top compression socks for 2017. You can go to their review and check them out: http://runnerclick.com/best-compression-running-socks-reviewed/
Like with running shoes, you may need to experiment with which brand or level of compression works for you.
You should also decide whether to go with the sleeve or the full sock. The sleeve should just be worn with running and not to control swelling. If you try to control swelling with the sleeve, you’ll end up with the fluid stuck in your feet. To properly control swelling, you need compression on the feet. The compression should be most noticeable in the foot and become less as it moves up the lower leg.
And, if bright pink isn’t your color, don’t worry, they have other colors!
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