You’ve probably noticed athletes opting for compression socks lately and you might have wondered why that was so. Is it just a fitness fad? Is it so they can showcase their bulging and toned calf muscles? Or are there are actual, observable benefits to compression socks?
To be honest, it might be a combination of both. Compression gear in general usually makes an already-good-looking-body look even better. And it helps it perform better too – research shows that compression gear in general offers a plethora of benefits to the wearer.
But in this article, we’re going to focus only on the practical reasons why you should seriously consider compression socks.
So let’s get started.
What are Compression Socks?
When you think compression socks for running, you probably envision knee-high socks.
But there’s a difference between your run-of-the-mill knee-high socks (which were probably designed primarily to help keep you warm) and compression socks.
For one thing, compression socks are, well, tighter.
For another, they offer a plethora of benefits that regular knee-high socks don’t.
Before we go over those benefits, you should know that there are three main types of compression socks, each of which has a different intended utility with a different set of benefits.
Types of Compression Socks
Graduated Compression Sock
The first is what’s known as a graduated compression sock.
This type is designed so that it’s tightest around the ankles and gradually becomes looser as it heads towards the knee.
And within this category, there are different configurations and lengths. Those that are long enough to compress the area just under the knee are designed to help those with peripheral edema, which causes swelling in the lower leg. If they’re long enough to cover thighs or reach the waist, they’re designed to help prevent blood from pooling in the legs and also to prevent low blood pressure caused by standing up after sitting or lying down (orthostatic hypotension).
They’re usually professionally fitted, but those are for cases in which compression sleeves or socks are medically required.
Nonmedical Support Hosiery
Graduated compression socks usually require a prescription from your doctor and are professionally-fitted to meet your personal needs. But there are also other options you can choose from right off-the-counter or online – these are what you’d call nonmedical support hosiery. For the most part, these are designed to provide less pressure than their prescribed counterparts, and that pressure is typically applied evenly up and down the foot and leg.
For runners, professional fittings are typically not required. If you’re a runner in the market looking for one, make sure to check out our own line of eco-friendly compression socks. These also offer graduated compression (16 to 23 mmHg), giving you the benefits of medical socks without the prescription.
If you’re reading this article, these probably don’t apply to you, so we’ll only briefly mention them here. These are designed for people who’ve been rendered immobile due to some kind of malady – their purpose is to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis by preventing blood clots and facilitating blood flow.
Hopefully, you won’t need one of these.
What Do Compression Socks Do?
Aside from the obvious medical benefits to those who need it, you might be wondering what compression socks even do for athletes.
In other words, does wearing tight garments actually do anything on a fundamental level for runners?
The answer is yes.
At their most fundamental level, and even in healthy people, compression socks improve blood flow to the heart and to the muscles. It’s from this very basic function that all the benefits to athletes are derived.
The Benefits of Compression Socks
- The increase in blood flow means that more oxygen and vital nutrients are reaching the heart and muscles. It doesn’t take a genius to realize this has the potential to substantially improve athletic performance. Simply put, the more oxygen and fuel your muscles receive, the longer you can continue to exert yourself. In this way, compression socks help to combat fatigue.
- Another thing that compression socks do is that they keep your muscles stable. By applying firm pressure, they limit the number of vibrations your, say, calf muscles will experience each time your foot hits the pavement, trail, or treadmill. In addition, the fact that your muscles are kept firmly in place limits how much they’ll bounce around, which limits how much potential damage they’re exposed to. And the less your muscles bounce around, the less sore they’re apt to get during and even after running. Less soreness will mean a higher level of performance.
- If your muscles are not as sore, it follows naturally that your recovery periods will be much shorter.
Overall, there’s a lot of science backing up and extolling compression socks for a wide variety of reasons.
The bottom line is that if you’re a long-distance runner (or wish to be), or if you regularly exert yourself with little recovery time, then you’ll want to invest in a pair of compression socks. You might even want to look into other compression gear for the rest of your body as well.
Even if they only help a little bit – every little bit helps.
The only real caveat we have to offer is to make sure that you choose the right fit. If your compression socks are too loose, they’re not really compressing anything, are they? But if they’re too tight, they can actually restrict blood flow instead of facilitating it.
If you have a medical issue and you think compression socks could help you, make sure to consult with your doctor.
And that’s all there is to it. If you have any questions or comments, make sure to leave them below.