Compression Socks – Do they work?

If you even have just a passing interest in running or athletics, you will have seen the odd runner in long compression socks.

I recently watching the Men’s 5000m Heats at the Rio Olympics in the kitchen at work during a tea break and one guy was wearing long socks in temperatures of 30 degrees. Someone else made a comment – Why was he wearing long socks in that heat?

I have a pair of these long socks but have not worn them very often because of comments like this. I am not sure if they are gimmicky or what people will think of me. I am very much down with my standard black kit.

I bought the socks, because like many people I am looking for an advantage and also wanted to know what they were all about and whether they did or improved anything. I planned to do a bit of experimentation.

My socks are from Decathlon. They are £14.99 in the UK; I got the same pair in Poland for a little less.

Compression Socks
My Compression Socks

A number of very high profile athletes have worn them over the years, including Paula Radcliffe. So, there has to be something about them, right?

What’s the idea?

For many years similar socks have been used to combat deep vein thrombosis. My Mum has a pair of “flight socks” she uses on long haul plane flights. They are also used in hospitals for bed ridden patients. In regards to running, the idea is they improve circulation and blood flow and can therefore increase oxygen delivery and minimize muscle fatigue.

There is also a theory that they hold the calf muscle in place and therefore it moves around less and is less fatigued and the muscle is used more efficiently.

So do they work?

There has been minimal research on the performance benefits and results have been inconclusive. Studies have been fairly small and some without the use of a control. It seems like there may be some evidence that there are benefits as the distances get longer which is maybe why ultra-runners tend to wear them (although they do also offer a form of protection for your lower legs).

A post at Competitor.com has a good breakdown of the studies.

What have I found?

I do have tight calves, particularly when I sprint or do anything that means I have to be on the balls my feet. I do try to stretch as much as possible to rectify this, but has hoping that the socks might help.

I have not really noticed much benefit during a BMF session or immediately afterwards. It is very much dependant of the session. During sprints and hill sessions my calves get just as tight as when I do them without the socks.

During long runs, I have noticed that my legs do not feel as tired, but this could very much be my perception and me buying in that there has to be some effect. One thing I have noticed is my legs do get hot. I get pretty hot and sweaty anyway whatever the weather, so this does not change a great deal, it’s just my lower legs feel warmer than normal.

Garden Compression socks
Rocking my socks after a long run. Legs felt good.

I did do a bit of a survey at BMF and asked a number of long sock wearers or calf compression sleeve wearers and they said they felt they helped and their legs do not feel as tired after a session.

In the interests of science, I started to wear them after a training session to see if there were any benefits on recovery. I wore them in the evening around the flat and found that my lower legs felt pretty good the next day. This is a very small sample size, but I think I will keep giving this a try.

The Placebo Effect

In some of the research mentions the placebo effect. That there is no physical benefit but there is a beneficial effect because of the belief that there is some advantage. This could very much be true. It is possibly what I have found and Runners Worlds have an article saying that exact thing.

Verdict

If you can get over yourself (or I can get over myself) and just wear them, then there may well be some benefit. Though the studies are small and inconclusive, it may really come does to what you think and what you believe. If it is just that little extra thing you need to make you feel a better, then your performance may show it. I will admit; I do feel a tiny bit more of a professional when I wear them.

I have now worn them a few times this week, and I am really coming around to them and starting to like them. I am going to keep wearing my long socks more and more for both running and during recovery and will let you know how this goes and if I find anything new.

Do you wear compression socks? How do you find them? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

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