I returned from a Disney vacation with my family last week.  While there, I saw all the runners who had just finished the marathon.  Several of them had compression socks and I was inspired to write today’s blog.

In 2009, I wrote a blog post on soleus strains, the Anatomy of a Soleus Injury. It is a widely read post about a commonly misdiagnosed issue and brings many inquiries as to how to solve this condition that plagues runners.  One question I often get is will compression socks help?  Over the past few years, I have seen a proliferation in the use of compression socks in the recreational running community.

comp-socks-704762

But what exactly do these garments do?  Some of the proposed benefits are:

  • Improved oxygen delivery to muscles
  • Faster lactic acid resolution
  • Prevention of muscle cramping
  • Better stabilization of the lower leg leading to improved muscle efficiency
  • Enhanced venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity
  • Diminished muscle fatigue resulting from more compact muscles, leading to improved balance and proprioception

What does science have to say about compression garments. I performed a literature search for relevant articles pertaining primarily to runners and endurance activity.  Below are some links to recent research abstracts:

- Physiological effects of wearing graduated compression stockings during running

- Compression stockings in male runners

- Impact on high intensity exercise in hot conditions

- Effect on 400 m sprint performance

- Impact on endurance running performance

- Effect of graduated compression stockings on running performance

- Calf compression sleeves and impact on oxygen saturation/running performance

In summary, much of the research we have no seems to tell us the following things:

  1. Compression garments do not yield any measurable performance advantages
  2. Runners prefer low compression socks over mod/high levels for comfort
  3. Recovery does appear to be aided with compression in terms of improved venous flow and O2 saturation
  4. No specific studies on gastroc/soleus muscle strains/rehab strategies using the socks

There is no conclusive evidence that these garments will prevent muscle strains, but research does indicate that perceived exertion is lower and the psychological impact of wearing the garment may aid runners.  I have not tried these myself, but some of my clients swear by them.  The idea of supporting/compressing soft tissue is certainly not new and many find some comfort in it.  We need more studies specific to injured populations to accurately evaluate the impact on those recovering from gastroc/soleus strains.

With that said, I am in favor of any modality that may allow athletes to train and compete with more confidence and less perceived exertion even if there is no direct measurable performance gain.  While I will stop short of endorsing these compression socks, I do see some potential benefits for those coming back from an injury in terms of recovery that warrant some consideration until they resume their prior levels of activity pain free.  For runners suffering from muscle injuries, utilizing soft tissue mobilization, stretching, strengthening, and proper running progression is still a an absolute must.