The Use of Compression Socks is No Good for Running

In my opinion, the use of compression socks is counter-intuitive for runners. Think about it, wearing a super tight sock will restrict blood circulation in the leg, which isn’t very helpful for running and may cause more pain than reduce it –at least in my experience with lower leg compression socks.

So, what does the science have to say about athletic compression socks for the lower leg? Are compression socks good for our legs when running? Not according to one study which found that compression socks were not effective at enhancing performance in well-trained, long distance runners.

Use of Compression Socks for Running
Chances are low that compression socks will boost your forefoot running performance.

The Use of Compression Socks is No Good for Running

Compression socks are supposed to increase deep venous velocity, reduce venous pooling, and increase overall peripheral circulation in the lower leg. Compression socks are also supposed to clear muscle damage markers such as creatine kinase. However, the findings are from studies on non-exercise and post-operative conditions, therefore compression socks may have different effects on blood circulation in runners.

Do Compression Socks Make You Run Faster?

The answer is no, and most elite distance runners, like Tirunesh Dibaba, Kenenisa Bekele, and Haile Gebrselassie who are forefoot strikers and hold world records, do not wear compression socks.

Moreover, Sperlich et al., investigated the effects of compression socks in well-trained, sub-elite distance runners and found no differences in physical performance, pulmonary and metabolic function, as well as no differences in perceived exertion and muscle soreness compared to well-trained, sub-elite distance runners without compression socks.

Other work also found that compression socks did not improve oxygen uptake and blood gas levels, or reduce lactate concentrations.

Therefore, when it comes to forefoot running, compression socks do not enhance performance.

My Experience with Compression Socks

I do not wear compression socks when I run and when I did, they bothered me and caused my legs to ache. I felt as if the compression of the socks restricted circulation in my legs.

When I first learned forefoot running, I dealt with shin splints because my technique was flawed. To improve pain symptoms, I wore compression socks, but they exacerbated my shin splints.

Another thing to consider is fluid distribution when running. If compression socks increase blood volume and venous return, how does this effect fluids from spreading out evenly, draining from the legs and filling up the chest and head? Wont this increase fluid in the head? Increased fluid in the head causes that sick-to-your-stomach feeling.

And, I know of a few runners with high blood pressure, although it is controlled via medication, runners with high blood pressure should not wear compression socks when running due to increased blood volume.

The Take Home Message

In terms of post-run recovery, compression socks may enhance recovery, but not so much performance when running.

As always, more research is needed, but what we already know, based on past reports, is that runners are no better off with or without compression socks.

Tips on How to Learn Forefoot Running:


References:

Agu, O., Baker, D., & Seifalian, A. M. (2004). Effect of graduated compression stockings on limb oxygenation and venous function during exercise in patients with venous insufficiency. Vascular, 12, 69–76.

Berry, M. J., & McMurray, R. G. (1987). Effects of graduated compression stockings on blood lactate following an exhaustive bout of exercise. Amer J Phys Med, 66, 121–132.

Chatard, J. C., Atlaoui, D., Farjanel, J., Louisy, F., Rastel, D., & Guezennec, C. Y. (2004). Elastic stockings, performance and leg pain recovery in 63-year-old sportsmen. Euro J Appl Physiol, 93, 347–352.

Gandhi, D. B., Palmar, J. R., Lewis, B., & Schraibman, I. G. Clinical comparison of elastic supports for venous diseases of the lower limb. Postgrad Med J, 1984; 60, 349–352.

Gill, N. D., Beaven, C. M., & Cook, C Effectiveness of post-match recovery strategies in rugby players. Brit J Sports Med, 2006, 40, 260–263.

Lawrence, D., & Kakkar, V. V. Graduated, static, external compression of the lower limb: A physiological assessment. Brit J Surg, 1980; 67, 119–121.

Sperlich et al. Different types of compression clothing do not increase sub-maximal
and maximal endurance performance in well-trained athletes. J Sports Sci, 2010; 28(6): 609–614.

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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