Should you wear compression socks while running?


Wearing compression socks while running may slightly improve running performance, however, they seem to have a beneficial effect on post-recovery time, and muscle oscillation, while decreasing muscle fatigue and soreness.

compression socks while running

Keep reading to find out why many runners choose to train in compression socks, during and after the race.

Wearing compression socks when running

Many runners decide to use compression socks on a regular basis.

There’s actually a lot to consider when choosing your compression socks depending on many factors like your training type, time, and volume.

20-years ago you wounding hear that anybody is using any sort of compression gadgets.

Today is different.

Wearing compression gear in many amateur and professional sports has become more and more popular.

Back in a day, they were developed mainly to treat deep-vein thrombosis and other lower-leg circulation problems.

Today, they are commonly used by runners, soccer players, triathletes, and cyclists. They are also used for travel and prolonged standing jobs.

Naturally, with high demand, there was also a large spike in scientific research done on compression garments and their impact on performance and recovery.

So let’s see why you should wear compression socks.

Why should I use compression socks while running?

There are several reasons why to use compression socks while running.

Improved venous return

Improved venous return means your muscles are recovering faster by eliminating the metabolic waste (done from exercise) more effectively.

Think about it this way.

Pressure (from compression) and resistance (from exercise) determine the blood flow rate.

So by wearing compression socks you improve the flow of blood from the periphery (outside of the heart) back to the right atrium (inside of your heart).

It doesn’t mean more is better!

Prevent DOMS

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is the discomfort and pain that you have after doing abnormal (new or prolonged) exercise.

(Yes. Everybody hates DOMS.)

They can last even for a few days.

Typical signs and/or symptoms begin between 6 to 12 hours after initial exercise, then increase gradually until they reach a peak “pain”, which is around 48 to 72 hours.

After the peak, they slowly reduce and start to disappear, which takes around 5 to 7 days.

So regular use of properly fitted compression socks can help you reduce this problem.

Improve proprioception of the knee

Below-knee compression socks can improve proprioception of the knee.

In other words, it helps to stabilize your knee joint in motion (during running).

Compression socks create intra-muscular pressure.

Which is what gives you that stability and support. On the other hand, people with poor proprioception (aka knee stability) are at high risk of ACL injury. 

Muscle perfusion

Wearing compression socks during and after exercise may increase tissue oxygen “saturation” or “congestion” by an increase of pressure, which means better delivery of oxygen to the muscles.

With more oxygen, you have less lactic acid buildup in your legs.

Improves muscular endurance

There is strong evidence that shows wearing compression socks can improve muscular endurance.

That’s because of better running economy, muscle temperature, and reduced muscle inflammation.

(Think about compression stockings as burrito wrap.)

So apart from creating compression, it also provides an extra layer of “clothing” which leads to increased muscle temperature, which then leads to improved endurance.

Improves lymphatic drainage.

Think about the drainage system in your house.

It is there to eliminate all the waste. Well, in your body you have something similar. It’s called the lymphatic system.

Graduated compression socks improve the lymphatic system, and blood circulation and eliminate the build-up of fluid and swelling from the area of the limb.

How to choose compression socks for running?

Today there are over a hundred different types of compression socks that are currently commercially available and they all vary in some shape or form.

However, when it comes to choosing the best one for running, there are three most common ones:

Ankle socks

From the surface, these just look like regular socks, but they have much better compression, especially around the ankle joint.

They are designed to stabilize, support, and stimulate pressure around your foot and ankle. \

They are light and easy to use, but they don’t necessarily provide you will all the benefits as they don’t cover the calf.

Knee-high (below-knee)

These are full-length compression socks.

They give you pressure around your calf as well as with your ankle. Therefore you can use them during and after exercise for an extended period of time.

Personally, I find those great for traveling swell. They are a bit more complicated to put on.

Calf sleeve

Calf sleeve compression socks cover you from above the ankle up to knee level.

They are easy to put on and provide pressure only around your calf area.

They are great for running but they don’t give you compression around the ankle, therefore you shouldn’t wear them after exercise(not to be worn while traveling either).

How to choose the size of compression socks?

There are a couple of steps to properly size your compression socks.

First, let’s start by describing different levels of pressure.

(This is very important because it will impact your comfort.)

Here you may find the main 4 levels that are currently available.

Compression GradeCompression Level
Less than 15 mmHg:Light compression.
15 to 20 mmHgMedium compression.
20 to 30 mmHgModerate compression.
30+ mmHgHighest pressure.
Source

Please remember that the overall pressure is affected by things like elasticity, stiffness of fabric, and the size and shape of the legs (we will cover that next).

Pressure levels of the compression

Another aspect is the pressure level at different parts of the leg.

According to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research article, the Full-length knee-high compression socks, that are available for commercial use (e.g. running shops) have pressure grade at the ankle of 30–40 mmHg and at the calf of 21–28 mmHg.

Size

The second step is the actual size.

Just to let you know there are no one-size fits. Each company or manufacturer has its own sizing methods and systems.

Here is an example from the CEP compression size chart, a company for knee-high and calf sleeves compression socks.

Depending on your gender and calf circumference there is a number (level) that reflects size.

Calf circumference INCH
CM
9.5-12
25-31
12.5 – 15
32-38
15.5-17.5
39-44
18-20
45-50
WomenIIIIIIV
MenIIIIVV

Fitting

Fitting process is relatively simple.

All you need is tape to measure your calf circumference.

You want to make sure that you can fit your compression socks so that they do not cause you any discomfort.

For instance, if your calf circumference is 15-inches and you choose compression that fits 12-inch (which is too small), then you may feel that your legs feel heavy and cause you some pain.

On the other side, if your calf circumference is 12-inch, and you put on 16-inch socks, then you won’t get enough pressure.

Remember that higher compression doesn’t always mean better results (at least for running).

For instance, one study compared runners wearing compression socks from middle grade (middle pressure) to high grade (high pressure).

Interestingly enough, there was no difference in performance between the two, but athletes with middle pressure resulted in better leg power after exercise and rated them as the most comfortable garments to wear during exercise.

In other words, when you choose compression socks for running, it’s more about your comfort that anything else here.

On the other hand, a different article compared compression socks in individuals who were sitting all day and showed that not only higher compression was better (20–30 mmHg) but it also improved as the days go by.

In other words, the more often you use it, the better the results. Cool.

Conclusion

Commercial socks can provide pain relief for tired and heavy legs, for sports, and for travel.

Plus, they do not need to meet so strict technical requirements.

Compression socks are usually safe to use.

Poorly fitted stocks can create discomfort. However, if you have some serious circulation problems it’s better to consult your doctor. Also if you have an allergy to socks material.

Michal Sieroslawski

Michal is an exercise physiologist (MSc) and a veteran endurance athlete. He loves to experiment and share his successes and failures to help busy men and women who want to lose weight.

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