Compression socks have really infiltrated the sports realm. Every other sportsman can be seen wearing these socks nowadays. Even your favorite sports stars too.
So, why all of a sudden all the athletes are wearing these socks. Is there really any benefit of wearing compression socks?
Read on to learn the what, why, and how of compression socks and if there are really any benefits of compression socks for running.
What are compression socks?
Compression socks or stockings as the name suggests are socks that gently compresses your legs for better blood circulation.
They start out tight around your ankle and loosen up as they move up your leg. This way compression socks provide gradient compression which means compression of varying magnitude; this way they are able to push the blood back from the legs to the heart.
Oxygenated blood travels from the heart and covers every part of the body through arteries and after providing oxygen to various parts of the body, the blood travels back to the heart through veins.
Compression socks assist in pushing the deoxygenated blood back from legs to heart which puts less pressure on the heart as it does not have to work harder.
Types of compression socks
Graduated or medical compression stockings
These are designed in such a way that they provide the maximum level of compression on the ankle which reduces as they move up the leg.
These are designed for ambulatory patients (patients who can walk and are not bedridden).
As the name suggests these stockings help to fight deep vein thrombosis which is the development of blood clots in deep veins, mostly in the legs.
They also provide gradient compression but these are mostly used by bedridden patients and they have a different level of compression as compared to graduated or medical compression stockings.
Non medical support hosiery
These are not used for any medical condition rather for general use, mostly for providing relief from aching legs.
They provide uniform compression and they can be bought over the counter without any prescription.
How Do compression socks work?
Mainly they work by decreasing the diameter of the veins in the legs by compressing them gently which improves the movement of blood towards the heart.
Increased oxygen supply to every muscle as the gradient compression caused by compression socks supports easy blood flow due to which oxygenated blood reaches muscles at the right time.
Fights against gravity: Our heart has to work extra hard to push the blood from legs and back to the heart as gravity works against the flow of blood when it travels upwards but compression socks give the much needed extra push to blood in moving upwards back to the heart by compressing and reducing the diameter of the veins in legs. The also help in fighting off varicocele.
Reduced leg swelling and cramps; prolonged standing, exercising too much, venous insufficiency, infections or heart, kidney, or liver-related problems- leg swelling can be an indication of any of these conditions or diseases. compression socks can help with the pooling of the blood in the legs by exerting external pressure on the veins so that the blood is easily pushed back from the legs back to the heart.
Minimize the negative effects of lactic acid: The body produces lactic acid during anaerobic exercise and excess lactic acid is known to cause muscle fatigue and tissue damage. Now the compression socks stimulate blood flow which prevents the build-up of lactic acid in the legs.
Prevents blood clot formation: Blood clots form when your blood thickens which results in semi-solid mass formation. The blood clot can travel through nerves and cause serious damage such as hear heart attack. This formation can be stopped by using compression socks as they support blood flow due to which blood pooling does not happen and clot formation can be prevented.
Additional protection for outdoor running; Compression socks are long enough to protect your legs from scratches while running in forest trails or from getting dirty from all the mud and dirt on the track.
Keeps you warm: Most runners prefer shorts instead of track pants for running but winters make it difficult for the runners to wear shorts. The compression socks are a great way to keep legs warm in winter when you want to go for a run with shorts on.
Why do athletes wear compression socks?
Athletes all over the world are using compression socks. If you are a sports fan and you have been wondering lately why your favorite athlete is wearing some lengthy socks instead of those trending ankle-length socks then you are at the right place to find the answer.
Athletes have moved to compression socks not only because of their interesting looks but because these socks seem to enhance their performance.
Although there is not enough research as of now to conclude this fact 100%. However, it doesn’t hurt to use a simple pair of compression socks if they enhance your athletic performance.
According to a systematic review published in “Open access journal of sports medicine”, the compression socks provide a skeletal-muscle pump, promote venous flow velocity, and also stop blood from pooling in the legs through gradient compression. 1
Some studies also suggest that compression socks can help recover muscle soreness after a high-intensity long-duration workout such as long-distance running, playing a standard football match, or 15-16 Kms trailing in mountains. 2
All these activities can put pressure on leg muscles for prolonged hours which can cause muscle soreness, muscle fatigue, and leg swelling. However, compression socks are believed to provide relief from all of these effects by improving the venous flow velocity, stopping lactic acid build-up, and stopping blood pooling in the leg veins.
Whether compression socks enhance the athletic performance or not is still a question that is under the microscope. As there are many studies that claim the positive role of these socks in enhancing athletic performance. However, there are also many studies that claim that compression socks do not play any role in enhancing athletic performance.
But everything aside we have to accept the advantages of compression socks- controlling muscle oscillation, protection from scratches and providing warmth while running outdoors, and compressing the leg veins enough to stop blood pooling and lactic acid build up in the legs. These facts do favor the argument about the benefits of compression socks for running.