Do Compression Socks Really Help You Run Better?

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If you go to any running race or event, chances are you’ll see multiple runners wearing compression socks or compression sleeves. If you ask most athletes, they swear by the benefits.

Of course, any compression brand company will tell you that you’ll have tangible benefits but is it true? Are the benefits of compression socks or sleeves worth the price or are they just glorified tube socks?

What are compression socks?

Compression socks are an elastic sock. There are multiple varieties of socks that go to the knee, ankle cut, as well as “sleeves” which allow you to wear your own sock (my favorite!)

The socks compress the veins in your legs and feet, as well as arteries and muscles. The compression ultimately allows blood to get back to your heart faster, making it less likely to pool into your feet. In short, they are supposed to help you recover faster.

It’s important to note that not every compression sock is created equal and it’s important to look for what is called “graduated compression”.

Medical grade compression is a fancy term for the socks being tighter around the ankle and gradually get looser. Medical grade compression socks have been an essential tool for blood circulation in the hospital, but how does it help runners?

What the research says

There is talk on whether or not compression socks have any benefit. Ultimately research has shown the benefits are more mental than physical. There’s some evidence they could increase your performance by a small amount, but the best use is probably in preventing muscle soreness from workouts and races.

That being said, anything that helps you feel better mentally is a benefit in the sport. We all know running is mostly mental, so if it helps mentally, you are overall better off.

My experience with compression socks & what I learned

I am an avid wearer of compression sleeves and have been for years: I find they fit better. As someone who has sore calves, they make me feel better. Even if it’s placebo, I do find that I feel better. That being said, I’ve run PRs both with and without compression sleeves.

I do make an effort to wear them post workout or race. You also might find me walking around work with compression hidden underneath my pants in the winter.

Is compression gear worth the money?

First and foremost, it should be medical grade. There is a big difference from a $10 “compression sock” at a drug store versus a medical grade stocking with graduated compression.

A medical grade or graduated set of compression socks or sleeves will cost anywhere between $30-60.

Don’t buy the wrong size. Compression is usually measured by the circumference of your calf. It should be tight but not feel like a tourniquet.

A few well-known and medical grade compression brands are CEP, Zensah, and Pro Compression.

All-in-all, there is still a lot more research to be done on compression. While we don’t know the full benefits or if there are any physical benefits, one thing is clear: They do have mental benefits.

Have you tried compression sock? What are your thoughts?

Hollie Sick is an avid runner who’s completed more than 40 half marathons. Read her blog, or follow her on Facebook.

2 comments… add one
  • ffolliet March 6, 2018, 4:47 pm

    DVT is not the only concern with varicose veins. In 1999 I had my first ulcer below the ankle as a result of the blood not pumping up my legs to my heart. The blood pools in the lowest points of the veins and breaks down the tissue from the inside out. I had been taking supplements for leg veins for a number of years trying to bolster the health of my veins, and wearing compression stockings too. For nearly 20 years I endured recurrences of these extremely painful wounds that appeared below both ankles that took a long time to heal, and were debilitating. I was under the care of wound clinics, endured debriding of the wounds many times, and was on strong pain meds. I went to numerous vascular surgeons who said they couldn’t help me. I elevated my legs above my heart, wore strong (and expensive!) compression stockings religiously, and was depressed. Finally, one wound care doctor connected me with a vascular surgeon who said he could help me, and I went thru numerous procedures to get rid of the many veins that were causing the problem. Now I have been free of ulcers for about a year and active in daily life without pain meds. I still wear my compression stockings religiously, even during hot weather. Thank goodness I finally got to the right doctor!

  • Craig Kopra March 1, 2018, 2:00 pm

    I use the compression sleeves from Zensah, which I find they make a very good quality product. For the past few years I have been using the compression sleeves and I noticed it helped in training, races and race recovery. Even after a race my legs feel better than they would without the sleeves. In addition, I have little to no lower leg injuries or discomfort and that can also be attributed to proper warming up, cooling down, stretching and just everyday training.
    As an older runner that started in the past decade, I have noticed myself improving since using the compression sleeves. Placebo? There are several times during the warmer summer days where I would run without the sleeves and it just feels like the run is ‘lacking’ something physical and mental. The next day I will notice my calves will be more sore than normal.
    If there are any drawbacks to wearing compression sleeves it is that it leaves the oddest tan on the legs. I feel it is a worthwhile item to have in the running collection.

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