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Running Compression Socks: Fad or Essential?

November 05, 2019

Running Compression Socks: Fad or Essential?

What are compression socks for and is it time for you to get a pair? Learn all about the benefits of using compression socks and how it can beef up your everyday and competitive running gear.

When you start taking running seriously, it’s going to be hard not to come across compression socks. It’s mentioned a lot in running tips and you might notice your fellow runners using them. During races, it’s not unusual to see most participants sporting this type of gear.

If you ask top athletes, they’re most likely going to tell you that compression socks or sleeves have taken their running game to a whole new level. Countless runners have reported that by using compression socks, they get injured less often, they recover much quicker, and their performance has reached new heights.

But are compression socks really worth all that hype? Is there actual research that can back up what these runners are saying? That’s what you’re going to find out in this post.

How are compression socks any different from regular socks?

Compression socks look a lot like regular knee-high socks. Compression sleeves, on the other hand, start at the ankle and end just below the knee. Both, however, have a bit of snugger fit than ordinary socks because they’re meant to compress the surface level blood vessels of your legs. Because they’re so tight, you’ll feel your muscles getting squeezed in.

What does blood flow have to do with my performance?

To fully understand the advantages of compression socks, you have to know how blood flow works and how it comes into play when it comes to running. Let’s start with the basics. The central muscle involved in blood flow is the good old heart. It pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout your body by way of veins and arteries.

Cells all over your body then use up this oxygen in order to function properly. To complete the cycle, deoxygenated blood is pumped back to your heart to essentially be refreshed. Now, how is this related to running?

When we run, we turn our focus to our legs. To ensure peak performance, we have to make sure that our blood circulates more efficiently through these lower limbs. When you use compression socks, you force your blood to start flowing faster, making each oxygenation cycle easier.

To cut straight to the point: the better your circulation, the more oxygen your legs get. The more oxygen gets utilized, the better your muscles are going to function. It’s not rocket science.

What can I get out of wearing compression socks?

Optimizes the oxygen cycle

Make no mistake: compression socks are not just socks that are a little too tight. They’re a bit more sophisticated than that. They provide graduated compression, which means that they’re looser towards the knee and tighter towards the ankle. Why were they designed this way?

This graduated compression helps combat the effects of gravity in your legs. As an effect, your blood gets funneled back to your heart much quicker. The tightness creates a specific pressure that basically squeezes up your leg fluid with every step. Because the oxygen cycle is hastened, you get more nutrients to the muscle group that needs it the most as you run.

Reduces muscle soreness

The culprit of muscle soreness is lactic acid. Your body could produce more amounts of this waste product when you overwork your muscles. Because of poor or unaided blood circulation, you increase your chances of building up lactic acid in your leg muscles, which is why you feel like you can barely stand the day after a long running session. 

As mentioned above, compression socks constrict your veins. Now, think of a pipe with water running through it. What would happen if you make that pipe narrower? The velocity of the water increases. The very same principle can be applied to your veins.

When your veins are constricted, the faster the oxygenated blood and lactic acid leaves your legs and makes their way to your heart. When these elements don’t linger in your legs for too long, you’re not going to get as sore after you run.

Decreases swelling and cramping

When your leg muscles are tightly contained, you minimize excess movement in them. What does this mean for a runner? Running takes considerable effort. When you wear compression socks, you’re not going to have to exert as much effort and you won’t have to tire your legs out more than necessary. This means that you’re not going to be using as much muscle, which greatly eases the feeling of fatigue. A lot of athletes swear that compression socks help them go on longer runs because they don’t tire out as easily.

Swelling is another thing that runners are very familiar with. If you run regularly, your feet, ankles, and legs could get swollen because of fluid buildup. Compression socks essentially minimizes the room for this excess liquid, keeping your gams lean.

Are there studies that prove the efficacy of compression socks?

Yes, this is not just a bunch of malarkey. There are studies like this one that illustrate how athletes who wore compression socks for 48 hours after running a marathon recovered much faster than those that didn’t. Another study proves that wearing compression socks does, in fact, have positive effects on blood flow and volume. Plus, you get a ton of anecdotal proof from runners all over the world who can’t stop raving about this running accessory.

What size of compression socks should I get?

People who haven’t tried compression socks are mostly worried about sizing, which makes sense. You don’t want to wear socks that are too tight because it might cause bruising. Before you shop for your first pair, make sure you get your tape measure out and measure your calves and ankles to find the right fit.

Compression socks aren’t a universal remedy for all running woes — but they do help

Pulling on a pair of compression socks isn’t automatically going to make you a better runner. However, having them handy will help you recover from a particularly difficult run and power through the last leg of a long race. At the end of the day, compression socks are a great running accessory. You will still need to practice healthy running habits and consult with a medical professional to deal with recurring leg pain.

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OTC Compression Socks
Women’s US Shoe Size

5 – 7

7.5 – 9.5

10 – 12

Men’s US Shoe Size

6 – 8

8.5 – 10.5

11 – 13

Calf Circumference

26 – 34 cm

30 – 38 cm

34 – 42 cm

38 – 46 cm

Crew Compression Socks
Women's US Shoe Size

5 – 7

7.5 – 9.5

10 – 12

Men's US Shoe Size

6 – 8

8.5 – 10.5

11 – 13

Compression Sleeves
Calf Circumference

27 – 31 cm

32 – 36 cm

37 – 41 cm

42 – 46 cm

Body Width
Body Length
Sleeve Length