Compression garments are now of the most popular items being used by various athletes especially runners. Before this influx of the compression sock phenomenon these garments were used in the medical field to help patients with circulatory problems. The compression stocking would help individuals with venous insufficiency to reduce blood pooling at the feet and ankles.
Now companies advertise compression socks as a helpful tool for aiding :
- Recovery times via the increase in blood flow return
- Reducing lactate concentration during and posts running
- Decreasing muscle stress from excessive pounding
- Help reduce shin splints
Before I jumped into researching for data, I decided to give these socks a try. I worse 20mmHg compression socks that went up the whole lower leg. I wore then for 4-5 hours after 2 long runs, and yes they did actually feel good. However, I cannot say with 100% certainty that they did anything extravagant. I was still sore as heck the next day. After my little experiment was over, I went on the hunt for what the research community had to say about these garments.
What are compression socks?
Compression socks or sleeves are worn just like a sock. The only difference is that the sock compresses the leg and foot and a sleeve compresses just the calf. The idea is that the compression will help with optimizing blood circulation back up the leg and decrease the amount of blood pooling at the feet and ankles. The compression varies from 15mmHg up to 20-30mmHg. They come in all shorts of colors and now there are a few brands that manufacture these.
As I stated earlier, compression stockings have been around for a long time, and medically are used to manage patients who suffer from excessive swelling due to lymphedema, venous insufficiency, spider veins, phlebitis, and deep vein thrombosis.
Do they work ?
I have been searching and searching for peer reviewed articles on the topic. I have come across a few running blogs that claim research supports it without referring to the articles or author. On my quest to find reliable data, I did not come across any recent peer reviewed articles that definitively conclude compression sleeves/socks serving the purpose they are marketed for.
There was one study by Armstrong et al (2015) were researched found that after marathon, runner who wore compression garments 48 hours after running a marathon, and 2 weeks later was tested on treadmill to run until exhaustion, and the subjects that wore compression sleeves improved their time to exhaustion by 2.6% compared to the control group. A 2.6% improvement by marathon runner ended up being 56 seconds, which to me is not statistically significant. The next question would be, were these runner recreational, competitive/elite, and how would that screw the outcomes.
In another study by Kerherve et al 2017, the researchers found that athletes who wore a compression socks found no change in delated onset muscle soreness compared to the control group, but found a decrease in Achilles tendon pain. The researches stated that the decrease in Achilles pain may have stemmed from minor biomechanical changes observed at the foot and ankle during loading in the subjects who wore the compression socks. I even went as far to research effects of compression garments specifically for medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints) and still found articles that concluded NO functional outcome improvements with compression socks (6).
Majority impression from research community: COMPRESSION SOCKS DO NOT AID IN PHYSIOLOGICAL optimization for healing and performance. (1,3,4,5,6,7)
However, I have read and heard from many runners that they feel that these items have made a difference for them. To those people I say, AWESOME, I believe you, and continue doing what works for you.
BUT I will end this post with this, if you are solely relying on compression sleeves, even generic braces, tape, topical ointments to help with pain, don't. Pursue a health provided like a physical therapist to help find and address the primary problem, don't just cover up the pain.
You should not be training or competing with pain, pain is an alarm that lets you know something you are doing is not optimal.
TRAIN SMART, RUN HAPPY
Your fellow runner
Jessica Mena PT, DPT, CSCS
1. Areces F, Salinera JJ, Abian-Vicen J, Gozales-Millan C, Ruiz-Vicente D, Lara B, Lledo M, Coso J. The Use of Compression Stocking During a Marathon Competitive to Reduce Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: AreThey Really Useful? Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. 2015 45(6)p 46
2. Armstrong SA, Till ES, Maloney SR, Harris GA. Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2015 29 (2) p.528-33
3. Goto K, Mizuno S, Mori A. Efficact of Wearing Compression Garments During Post – Exercise periods after 2 Repeated Bouts of Strenuous Exercise: A Randomized Crossover Design in Healthy Active Males. Journal of Sports Medicine 2017 3 (25) DOI 10.116/s40798-017-0092-1
4. Kerherve HA, Samozino P, Descombe F, Pinay M, Millet G, Pasquilini M, Rupp T. Calf Compression Sleeves Change Biomechanics but Not Performance and Physiological Reponses in Trail Running. Frontiers in Physiology . 2017 April. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2017.00247
5. Mizuno S, Todoko F, Yamada E, Goto K. Wearing Lower-body Compression Garment with Medium Pressure Impaired Exercise-Induced Performance Decrement During Prolonged Running. PLOS ONE. 2017 12(5) https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178620
6. Moen MH, Holtslag L, Bakker E, Barten C, Weir A, Tol JL, Backx F. The Treatment of Medial Stress Syndrome in Athletes: A randomized clinical trial. Sports Med Arthrosc Rehabil Ther Techono. 2012 4 (12) https://dx.doi.org/10.1186%2F1758-2555-4-12
7. Treseler C, Bixby W, Nepocatych S. The Effect of Compression Stocking on Physiological and Psychological Responses after 5-km Performance in Recreationally Active Females. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 2016 30(7) p. 1989-91