Compression Socks for Running: Do they Boost Athletic Performance?

We are all seeing many more people exercising in those colorful athletic compression sleeves or socks. Are they a fashion statement or do they boost performance? A clear, concise answer to that question is not easy.

Turning to the literature, the results are mixed. Some show an improvement in athletic performance, while others do not. Why?Well the studies are all designed differently. The athletes have different levels of conditioning, the compression socks are different (yes! There is a difference), and the end points of the study – measures of athletic performance and recovery are all different. Therefore, it is hard to compare results between studies. In addition, the number of study participants is small. However, in reading the studies, two points stood out:

  1. While an improvement in performance with compression stockings was seen in some studies and not in others, athletic performance did not deteriorate with the use of compression garments in any of the studies
  2. There was a trend toward improvement in recovery after strenuous performance.

Therefore, trying compression sock or sleeves to see if they feel right for you seems to be a good option.   So is there any down side if an athlete chooses to wear compression socks? If the athlete is using low compression socks (10-15 mm Hg compression, there is very little risk. However, higher compression listed as 20-30 mmHg or 30-40 mmHg are prescription strength stockings and you should check with you physician before wearing. People with peripheral vascular disease may experience decreased blood flow and numbness with use of these stockings. If you have any risk of peripheral vascular disease including smoking, family history, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, you should ask your physician and may need a test of your arterial circulation before wearing compression garments. Poorly fitted garments will also give more or less compression than stated on the package. You should seek help from a certified stocking fitter when purchasing compression socks or sleeves.

Anecdotally, I tried compression sleeves after working out.  My New Years resolution, like many of us, is to get into better shape.  My calves were sore after a interval training session.  Compression sleeves took the calf pain away and felt like a massage for my calves.  I am a convert.

The literature reviewed studied people with normal venous anatomy. People with varicose veins will feel better with use of compression wear. At Lakeshore Veins in Mequon, Wisconsin, we understand compression stockings and have a variety available for sale. We are also certified stocking fitters. Feel free to contact us for any questions regarding compression wear.

References:

  1. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan;23(1):101-5. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31818eaef  Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners.  Kemmler W1, von Stengel S, Köckritz C, Mayhew J, Wassermann A, Zapf J.

21 moderately trained athletes. Treadmill testing. Therefore, stockings with constant compression in the area of the calf muscle significantly improved running performance at different metabolic thresholds

2.  J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Sep 2. [Epub ahead of print]  COMPRESSION SOCKS AND FUNCTIONAL RECOVERY FOLLOWING MARATHON RUNNING: A RANDOMISED CONTROLLED TRIAL.  Armstrong SA1, Till ES, Maloney S, Harris G.

33 athletes.  The wearing of below knee compression socks for 48 hours after marathon running has been shown to improve functional recovery as measured by a graduated treadmill test to exhaustion 2 weeks following the event.

  1. Eur J Sport Sci. 2014;14(2):144-50. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2012.730062. Epub 2012 Oct 16.  The influence of wearing compression stockings on performance indicators and physiological responses following a prolonged trail running exercise.  Vercruyssen F1, Easthope C, Bernard T, Hausswirth C,Bieuzen F, Gruet M, Brisswalter J.

11 athletes 15.6 km run. No difference in run time, HR or other athletic perfomances

  1. J Sports Sci. 2007 Feb 15;25(4):413-9.  Graduated compression stockings: physiological and perceptual responses during and after exercise.  Ali A1,Caine MP, Snow BG.

14 athletes with 14 controls  “Wearing graduated compression stockings during a 10-km road run appears to reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness after exercise in recreationally active men.”

  1. Int J Sports Med. 2011 Nov;32(11):864-8. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1283181. Epub 2011 Nov 3.  Compression sleeves increase tissue oxygen saturation but not running performance.  Ménétrier A1, Mourot L, Bouhaddi M, Regnard J,Tordi N.

14 moderately trained athletes.  “Within the framework of this study, the compression sleeves do not improve running performance in tlim. However the StO2 results argue for further interest of this garment during effort recovery.”

  1. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 May;25(5):1385-92. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181d6848e. The effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance.  Ali A1, Creasy RH, Edge JA.

12 athletes. “In conclusion, GCS worn by competitive runners during 10-km time trials did not affect performance time; however Low and Med GCS resulted in greater maintenance of leg power after endurance exercise. Athletes rated low-grade GCS as most comfortable garments to wear during exercise.”

  1. Sports Med. 2011 Oct 1;41(10):815-43. doi: 10.2165/11591420-000000000-00000.Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance.  MacRae BA1, Cotter JD, Laing RM

8.  Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2013 Jan;8(1):4-18.  Bringing light into the dark: effects of compression clothing on      performance and recovery. Born DP1,Sperlich B, Holmberg HC.

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