Serious athletes, including runners, are always interested in ways to hone their skills and improve performance. Something relatively new to the runners’ scene is the use of compression socks. Compression hosiery has long had benefits in the treatment and prevention of vein disease and other circulatory system conditions. Now, there may be some evidence to suggest that knee-length compression socks can help runners both during and after running.
There’s been a lot of research on the subject, studying the effects of compression socks on performance and recovery. Results are mixed, due in part to the variations in studies–some taking place in the lab, some on the track–and the variations in the type of socks used. Results literally vary from study to study, with some finding improved performance and some seeing no difference at all.
But some runners swear by them, including Chris Solinksky, an American 10,000 meter former record holder and other top runners like Paula Radcliffe, the current women’s world record holder in the marathon; Jo Pavey, a 4-time Olympian; and Benitta Johnson, an Australian long-distance runner. The theory behind the performance benefits is that graduated compression increases oxygen delivery to the muscles, improves blood circulation to the heart and speeds the removal of lactic acid. According to The Science of Running, another theory is that compression socks may decrease muscle vibration caused by impact. It’s possible this decreased vibration can lessen the soreness most runners experience as well as improve leg power.
When it comes to performance, various studies contradict each other, with some saying there’s measurable performance benefits and others saying there’s no difference between wearing compression socks and not wearing them.
However, there’s much more agreement about the recovery benefits. No one is exactly sure why, but compression seems to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue and produce faster lactate recovery. Some athletes use compression socks for workouts before a race as well as to speed recovery afterwards. Chris Solisky was quoted on Competitor, an online running site, as saying, ”I found I was able to come off the workouts much, much quicker.” He wears the socks during rigorous workouts and while racing.
OK, so do compression socks work or don’t they? The studies lean toward a positive effect on reducing muscle soreness and recovery time. One thing they do agree on is that for compression to have any benefit at all, it must be graduated, with pressure greatest at the ankle and gradually decreasing.
While they may or may not improve performance, many athletes swear by compression socks, claiming all those recovery benefits and a reduction in soreness and calf strain. And knowing that elite runners use them increases their popularity within the sport. The bottom line is, there have been absolutely no adverse effects reported, so there’s no reason not to see if they give you the edge.
There’s an in-depth examination of compression garments and sports from the Phase IV Health & Performance Center. If you’d like to try compression socks for yourself, Ames Walker has an extensive collection of compression socks and other products that may enhance athletic performance.