26 Jan The Benefits of Compression Socks for Athletic Performance
If you have attended a basketball game lately or noticed runners passing by in the park, you may wonder when “retro” knee high sports socks came back in to fashion. Well, this time around, it would appear the 1970’s looking socks are more for function rather than fashion. The socks we are talking about are athletic compression socks, seen on runners and athletes of all ages and abilities. The theory behind these socks is that they work to improve athletic performance. The question though is – can changing your socks really shave minutes off your 10k time?
THE SCIENCE BEHIND COMPRESSION SOCKS
Compression socks are widely used in the medical community to treat chronic venous insufficiencies such as edema (swelling), varicose veins and lymphoedema. They are effective in treating these conditions by increasing blood flow to the heart and increasing the pressure in the venous system. The medical research that supports compression socks is well established and widely accepted, however when it comes to compression socks and athletic performance, the scientific jury is still out.
The theory behind compression socks in athletics is that the compressive forces reduce the amount of tissue vibration while exercising (thus saving energy) and potentially improve oxygen consumption by having increased circulation. Unfortunately these merits have yet to be proven in the scientific community. A study out of Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2007, found there were no statistical differences in running economy (the amount of energy used) between runners who wore compression and those who did not. Another study that same year from Massey University in New Zealand noted no performance differences were noticed between runners who wore compression socks and those who did not.
WHY CHOOSE COMPRESSION SOCKS?
Although the evidence supporting compression socks and sport performance is sparse, don’t ditch your expensive compression socks just yet! Evidence promoting the recovery effects of compression socks is steadily building. The same study from Massey University showed a significant decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a 10k run. Runners who wore compression socks during the run experienced less muscle soreness 24 hours after completing the run. So although these socks will not make your run any faster or run any longer, you could reap the benefits the following day by avoiding muscle soreness.
At the end of the day (or at the end of a run!) there do not seem to be any negative effects to performance while wearing compression socks and the benefit of decreased muscle soreness may be a good enough reason to give the socks a try. What must be understood is that these are not “regular” knee high, tube socks. Compression socks are made with firm elastic throughout and provide a mild to firm amount of compression starting at the ankle continuing up to the knee.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN COMPRESSION SOCKS
Due to the technology and materials used to make the socks, the cost of a quality pair of compression socks is likely to set you back around $50 or more. Look for socks with graduated compression, where the grade of compression decreases near the top of the sock (allowing for better blood flow and is generally more comfortable). The compression factor in these socks is measured in millimeters of mercury, often denoted as mmHg. When using the socks for athletic purposes, look for socks with a compression factor of 8-15 or 15-20mmHg or better still ask your BioPed Pedorthist who has been fully trained in assessment and fitting techniques.