What is Compression Clothing?
Compression garments, particularly socks, were originally developed for post-surgical patients. This type of clothing fits very tightly because it is made of strong elastic fibers, usually nylon and lycra. The clothing squeezes and compacts your limbs, increasing blood circulation, which delivers needed oxygen to your muscles. Hospital patients rely on compression socks to hasten recovery time. This practice is particularly helpful if the patient suffers from poor circulation or diabetes. Compression-wear is also useful for bedridden patients because the tight fit helps push blood back towards the heart rather than letting it pool in the veins. Pooled blood causes swelling and increases the likelihood of blood clots. In addition to providing a significant safety benefit, this clothing also helps patients feel more comfortable.
Compression Clothing for Athletes
It wasn’t long before the potential of compression socks for athletic wear was noticed by sports medicine practitioners. Though most athletes aren’t dealing with severe circulation issues, they are putting their body under great strain. Athletes struggle with all sorts of injuries where circulation comes into play during the healing process. While the jury is still out on whether or not compression socks actually improve an athlete's performance, many swear by them - particularly runners.
Compression socks for runners are typically worn to the knee. They tighten veins and arteries so that blood pushes circulates efficiently. This prevents the blood from lingering too long in one spot. During a run, blood often pools in the feet due to gravity and the impact of each step. While blood lingers in the feet, it degrades in quality because it is not re-oxygenated at the heart as quickly as it should be. Essentially, compression socks signal your body to pick up the pace of blood flow. Freshly oxygenated blood provides energy and keeps tissues healthy.
Benefits of Compression Socks for Runners
So, how does this really affect runners and other athletes? Here are the top 5 reasons to give compression socks a try during your next workout:
- Protection from injury. The sheer tightness of compression socks absorbs some of the impact vibration of running. Essentially, the socks provide a very light level of shock absorption. This helps prevent painful shin splints, a common problem in runners of all ages. Avoiding shin splints greatly improves an athlete’s endurance. Many compression-sock wearers claim that the socks improved their balance preventing rolled ankles and falls. So, while not directly tied to performance outcomes, compression socks definitely help keep runners safe. Less time at the physical therapist’s office means more time to train.
- Protection from the elements. Compression socks provide an extra layer against extreme temperatures, snow, dirt, and any other natural obstacles an athlete may endure during an outdoor workout. Compression socks help regulate temperature, which means they have both cooling and insulating properties. This is particularly desirable for runners during winter training. Winter athletes have the tendency to feel cold during the beginning of their run, but they warm up as the workout continues. Trail runners may find that these long socks protect them from branches and keep their skin protected from ticks. Of course they’ll also protect from mosquitoes and other pests. When moisture wicking yarns are used, compression socks will help keep feet and legs dry and comfortable.
- Quicker recovery. Swelling and inflammation is a common occurrence after many types of workouts. Compression speeds the return to normal. This is particularly helpful for people on a tight training schedule. For example, as that marathon date looms closer, skipping a long run because of muscle fatigue can be detrimental. Some athletes wear their socks overnight after long runs, or at a minimum for a few hours post-run. This, in combination with icing, keeping limbs raised above the heart, and proper diet, helps keep training schedules on track and athletes performing at their peak fitness.
- Improved circulation. The same circulation-stimulating benefits seen by hospital patients will help sore, tired athletes. Good circulation is what helps keep swelling down and keeps joints and muscles healthy. Proper circulation ensures that tissues are receiving enough oxygen during and after working out. This means that compression socks help prevent fatigue and make sure the body is working efficiently. This is probably the most well-studied benefit of wearing compression socks.
- Improved comfort. Compression socks also provide a barrier that prevents chafing and irritation. Blisters and other friction irritations are a hassle and a literal pain for any athlete. Compression socks help people avoid these distractions and concentrate on their true goals. Compression socks can be used in combination with athletic tape, bandages, and insoles to reduce the likelihood of unwanted friction. Shoes always feel more comfortable while wearing proper socks, and compression socks are no exception.
Find the Compression Socks You Need
There are a number of companies selling compression socks specifically for casual and sport use. These products are available in a variety of styles and fibers to satisfy the diversity of runners and other sports enthusiasts. Here are a few to look at:
- VIM & VIGR - Awesome collection of compression socks for men and women. Great variety of fibers, colors, and styles. The amount of compression is stated and all products are FDA listed. Highly recommended.
- Pro Compression - Great colors. More expensive than VIM & VIGR but they do offer low-cut options. Made in the USA.
- Sockwell - A wide variety of compression socks. Sockwell doesn't sell them directly, but the product is available through other online retailers. Made in the USA