What are Compression Socks?
Compression socks are socks with a gradient pressure system.
They use elastic fiber, a bandage, and a ribbed design stripe to apply pressure on the foot, ankle, and leg if the compression socks are high-knee socks.
When pressure is applied to the door, ankle, and calf, the blood and fluid flow are improved to prevent pooling.
This, in turn, increases the flow of blood where it’s needed most, strengthening muscles and relieving pain.
Sculpted to match the contours all the way to the feet, compression socks reduce pooling and enhance circulation.
This accelerates the recovery time of your muscles by reducing fatigue and soreness.
Compression socks are used mainly for recovery from injury and repair of bones and muscles.
It also helps to improve circulation, speed up recovery time, improve flexibility, reduce swelling, increase endurance, and improve mental focus.
Compression socks can be worn during travel, under and over tights, when working, during an intense workout, while sleeping, and while staying at home.
Compression socks also known as “knee-high socks” are typically over-the-calf up to mid-calf length.
The majority of runners prefer to wear compression socks during long-distance running, running, recovery, or after a workout.
Compression sleeves are typically shorter than compression socks.
They are worn under clothing and on visibly sweaty areas.
What are Compression Sleeves?
Compression sleeves are similar in design to compression socks but are smaller and designed to fit comfortably around only the lower part of your legs. They are one of the most common gear used in athletic performance and physical therapy.
Compression is achieved by a fabric or an elastic band that provides graduated pressure or force around the targeted area, helping to increase blood flow and circulation.
This increased circulation is better for oxygenation of the tissue, and reduction in swelling and muscle fatigue. They are specifically designed to be used in the following ways:
- Reduce muscle soreness after a long run
- Decrease muscle fatigue due to long-distance running
- Help the body recover from injuries
- Prevent muscles from swelling and enhance performance
When wearing compression gear, you make it easier for the muscles to pump the blood out of them.
Compression Socks versus Compression Sleeves
There are two options when it comes to running compression socks and sleeves:
- Sock style
- Sleeves style
The difference between the two is that the sock style is designed such as it encloses the entire foot, including the ankle while the sleeve style fits only around the calf.
How do Compression Socks and Sleeves Work?
When it comes to compression socks, the general theory is that they work by targeting varicose veins, those painful, bulging blue veins beneath the skin. Compression socks can reduce the swelling of varicose veins and improve blood flow in the legs.
The specific mechanism behind this is a bit more complicated. When lymph fluid builds up in the legs because of poor blood flow, it can increase the pressure against the veins. Lymph fluid consists of several waste products that your body is trying to remove from the tissues.
This causes the lymphatic system in the legs to swell. Unfortunately, this also reduces the size of your veins, which means you have less space in your veins for blood to flow.
Compression socks work by restoring the regular size of the veins. When the lymph fluid is reduced, your veins can kick back into shape and carry more blood.
Compression socks do not just push the waste product to other parts of the body. When you wear compression socks, they increase blood flow back to your heart and eventually into your lungs, where you get healthier breathing.
Benefits of Compression Socks and Sleeves
Muscle strains, exhausted muscles, and sore joints are among the many problems athletes face during and after physical activity. Improved muscle recovery and increased performance are among the many benefits of compression garments.
Compression garments, including compression socks and sleeves, are designed to improve blood flow, reduce fatigue, muscle soreness, and swelling, and provide comfort and support to the muscles and joints.
Compression garments have the same effect as any machinery designed to increase blood flow, such as a blood pressure cuff.
Compression garments are usually made with very elastic fabrics put onto the skin tightly, essentially around arms, ankles, calves, or thighs.
Evidence on the Effectiveness of Compression Garments
Hundreds of studies have been carried out to study the potential benefits of compression garments. According to the results of a 2009 Cochrane database review, using compression socks or sleeves is associated with a significant reduction in the acute symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage, including pain, swelling, and muscle tenderness.
Do You Have Increased Performance If You Wear Them?
That is a common question that will be most asked when it comes to compression socks and sleeves for running. The underlying question is does it give you a better workout or a faster time. It seems the answer is yes, but unfortunately, scientific evidence doesn't support it.
Researchers and studies have concluded that wearing compression garments like socks and sleeves during exercise slightly improves performance, but according to a minimal number of studies. However, wearing compression socks and sleeves can benefit muscle function indicators and perceived muscle soreness during the recovery period.
People wear compression socks and sleeves during or after hiking, running, and most sports that require a lot of walking, jumping, or moving in general. Socks are made of a form-fitted breathable material. They can help reduce muscle fatigue and soreness and can increase blood circulation. On the other hand, sleeves are tubes of form-fitted material that go from below the knee to the end of the calf. They are just like putting on a tight pair of socks around your leg.
Even if they don't improve your performance during running and workout, they have a few benefits that they can give you, as discussed below.
Other Reasons to Wear Them
Wearing compression garments has long been associated with health. However, it’s not the only reason to wear them. Even if you’re not in recovery, you can enjoy some other benefits that make them a worthwhile purchase.
- Blood Flow For Healthier Cardiovascular System
This is the big one. The socks, knee highs, and sleeves increase your blood flow by increasing blood circulation to the muscles, legs, etc.
This is called “venous permeability” in a medical text. The garment applies pressure to the vein and helps increase the blood flow back to the heart without that pressure. That makes it easier for your heart to push the blood through your entire body and keeps the blood vessels from collapsing. The improved blood circulation results in a healthier cardiovascular system.
- Healthier Days
People who do jobs that are not physically active will find that this will help with their body alignment. That’s important at work, where you’re sitting for almost the entire day. Your circulation will improve, you will feel less bloated, less tired, and your energy levels will rise.
During winters, socks and sleeves offer much-needed warmth and comfort while you are out for running or any sort of physical activity.
Should I Wear Them During or After a Run?
Athletes love bragging about their gear and equipment. I’ve seen runners at the gym talking about their new diet, their favorite running shoes, or their hydration packs. But what about their compression gear?
Many runners wear compression socks during a run and claim to feel a difference. I say wear them either way. You can wear compression socks during a run and experience for yourself the boost in endurance. You can also try wearing them afterward. That’s what I do. I’ve been wearing compression socks for over a decade and, although I can’t put my finger on how exactly they work, I know that they help me run faster and longer.
If you don’t run, compression gear can still benefit you. Wear them during or after exercise to help your muscles recover faster after workouts.
How to Find the Right Size?
It is very important to buy the right size of compression socks. If you buy a compression sock that is too tight, you can cause damage to your circulatory system.
If you buy a sock that is too large, the chances are that your therapy will not be as effective. To make sure that you buy the right size, here are some tips for you.
To determine your calf circumference, stand on a flat surface without wearing shoes and wear only socks.
Use a measuring tape to measure the circumference of your calf and ankles.
Calf circumference is generally a midpoint between the knee and ankle.
You can use this measurement to determine the size of your compression socks.
For reference, here are the general calf circumference measurements:
XS: Less than 9.5 -12 inches
S: 12.5 – 15 inches
M: 15.5 – 17 inches
L: 18 – 20 inches
How Much Compression Should Socks or Sleeves Provide?
Compression wear comes in different levels of compression. The compression level you need is dependent on your needs and ability to tolerate the compression.
Compression socks and sleeves offer a more graduated compression than compression stockings or knee-highs. Most compression wear will be categorized into a Class I or higher. The reason behind the categorization is to help you determine which compression fits your needs best.
Usually, medical compression is a Class II, while compression socks are a Class I, which is the lightest.
The higher the compression, the tighter the fit, and the more it can pump blood up the heart. The tighter the fit, the more issues you may have with tolerating the fit.
Finding a compression fit that works well for you will require some trial and error. It’s suggested that you start with a compression level that works for your basic needs. Most compression socks and sleeves come in sizes from Small to XX-Large.
Are There Any Downsides?
Compression garments like running socks and sleeves are more popular than ever, with a growing number of studies and testing showing that their use can improve athletic performance (including running) and recovery. For instance, a recent study out of Eastern Illinois University found that dynamic compression socks were just as effective as compression sleeves for muscle recovery. The benefits of wearing compression garments include reduced muscle fatigue, better performance, reduced muscle soreness, and improved circulation.
Now, like any new workout product on the market, there will always be some drawbacks. And in the case of compression socks, one of the drawbacks is that some runners claim that running in too tight socks can lead to skin issues like the formation of blisters.
Another potential drawback to compression socks is that more socks and sleeves on the market might not deliver on the compression factor. An investigation by the New York Times found that compression sleeves that were being promoted as if they are great for runners could be doing more damage to their knees than providing them any benefit. That being said, it can be worth your time to do some research into compression socks and sleeves to determine whether they would benefit your workout routine.
The benefits of wearing compression socks for running are numerous, but they can be applied to many areas of your life. Whether you have any muscle injury or not, wearing compression socks will improve your blood circulation and keep you healthier, and speed up recovery time.
Also, the added support that compression socks provide will help you feel less fatigue and pain while running.