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Do compression socks work?

Well that’s a question I have been asking as well. You see, I used to be more of a bare-bones kinda runner, who found anything longer or more restrictive than shorts and ankles socks, well, restrictive and way to hot for this weather.

So one day, I decided to try them out for myself.


True though that research on the effectiveness of compression garments in athletic pursuits has never been substantiated. In fact, countless studies have found no differences in running times, VO2 max, oxygen consumption etc between those who wore compression and those who didn’t. In other words, a waste of money, and not to mention the hassle of one extra thing to put on, before you are out the door.

So then, let’s goes back to the reason for wearing them in the first place, and their mechanism of action. Compression stockings were made for those who spend too much time in sedentary sitting or standing positions. Gradient compression stockings are of most benefit to individuals with the following leg complaints –

Tired, aching, heavy feeling legs
Leg swelling
Varicose veins
Venous insufficiency
Post-thrombotic syndrome
Healed venous ulcer
Active venous ulcer

Folks who work as nurses (always on their feet), or are at a desk job (always seated) for prolonged hours, could well benefit from compression stocking. Compression therefore works by reducing the ability of the superficial veins in the leg to expand and overfill with blood. This in turn helps prevent blood in these veins from flowing backward causing congestion. Congestion in the leg accounts for the leg complaints, swelling, and skin changes common in persons with venous problems.

How about the athlete then?


Well then, one study did find (though not conclusively), that the athletes who raced in compression socks, versus those in regular knee-high socks or those without either, had significantly less muscle damage and were able to recover more quickly, with some even ready to train again three days later. Those wearing the socks also ran on average 12 minutes faster.

So the best recommendation is to wear the socks for long runs, and for the 24 hours following (for recovery).This study is just one in a sea of many that beg to differ, and maybe there’s a chance of placebo effect in the real world scenario. However, I find (personal experience and I am only speaking for myself) that wearing compression socks or sleeves for 21K runs and above have helped with my performance and recovery. My legs are definitely less tired and I am ready to train again by Monday, after my weekend Saturday long run.

While compression socks don’t actually really make me run faster, I feel better after each run, and I bounce back faster. That itself is a huge plus for me, and enough reason to wear them.

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