Compression Socks for Runners

Female runners wearing compression socksCompression socks for runners

It seems that compression socks for runners are big business these days along with compression tights and compression calf sleeves.

Look around in any race and you'll see lots of people in long socks or calf sleeves. The big question is what do they do and do they work?

So what are Compression Socks?

Have you ever been in hospital and been made to wear some really tight long socks that are impossible to get on? Or maybe you've worn them on the plane or for varicose veins. 

Well those are compression socks and they help to reduce the likelihood of a deep vein thrombosis or blood clot forming in your calves.

How does Compression Work?

Without compression socks, your muscles normally do the work of helping to move the blood through your veins. As your muscles contract, they put pressure (compress) on the surrounding veins which forces them to squeeze the blood back towards your heart.

However for people who might have poor circulation in their lower legs, such as if your are bed bound, have varicose veins or are sitting for hours on a long haul flight, then the muscle compression is reduced and so blood and fluid can pool in your lower legs. This could lead to varicose veins, blood clots and swollen ankles.

The idea behind compression socks is that they compress the blood vessels in your lower leg so that the blood and fluid can't pool there.  They create a positive pressure that forces the blood away from gravity. The compression tends to be tightest closer to your ankle and then eases off a bit as the socks go higher up your leg.

Compression Socks for Runners

So how do compression socks for runners work then?

Compression socks work the same way whether you are using them for running or for medical reasons. Runners wear compression socks as they feel that:

  • They reduce swelling and lower leg tiredness on very long runs.
  • They get less leg cramps.
  • Recovery is quicker.
  • They keep your legs warmer in cold weather.
  • They add a layer of protection to your legs when trail running.

 One thing to note though, is that various studies on the efficacy of compression socks for runners have been very mixed and not conclusive. At the same time, it is difficult to ignore the fact that many runners feel that they make a difference.

My personal thoughts are that if compression socks can improve the fatigue or cramps in your legs,  then that could translate to you running faster for longer. For me that is a good enough reason to wear them. So if you suffer from leg cramps, tired legs or calf pains then give them a go.

How to Choose Compression Socks

There are lots of compression socks on the market so what makes one better or different from the others and how do you choose?

Here is what I look for when buying compression socks for runners:

  • Go for knee high socks. They shouldn't be too long so that they bunch in any areas.
  • Choose ones that have graduated compression. Meaning that they are tighter round the ankle and gradually feel loser as you get closer to the knee.
  • Compression socks are meant to feel snug and so are a bit difficult to get on.
  • The best socks will have a compression rating. Look for 20-30mm/Hg which offers mid range compression.
  • Check the padding around the heels, toes, top of the foot and the Achilles area and look for seams that might irritate.
  • White socks are going to get grubby quite quickly.
  • Look at the washing instructions. You are generally not meant to use fabric softener as that affects the compression of the socks and putting them in a tumble drier could shrink them.

My go-to compression socks are the  X-Socks Run Energizer compression socks which I wore for my first marathon. They definitely gave me a spring in my step and I didn't suffer from cramp like I often do.  If you suffer from cramps,here are some possible causes of leg cramps.

Wearing compression socks for my first marathonWearing compression socks for my first marathon - no cramps :)

You may also like:

How to prevent leg cramps
Causes of leg cramps

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