For decades, medical-grade graduated compression socks have been used to combat deep vein thrombosis or the formation of blood clots; with diabetic patients and long distance air travelers benefiting greatly from their use. But recent studies have shown that wearing graduated compression socks for running may also assist to stimulate the runner’s blood flow, helping their legs to recover faster from a hard run.

What Are Graduated Compression Socks?

At first glance, they appear to be a statement of retro style. But a closer look reveals that the knee-high, tube-like socks many elite distance runners are racing in, are anything but rekindled 1970s apparel. They are graduated compression socks – snug-fitting, knee-high socks aimed at improving oxygen delivery to the muscles, speeding up lactic acid removal, preventing cramps and minimizing muscle fatigue. They are also said to stabilize the lower leg, help reduce vibration, protect ankles and ultimately improve a runner’s overall athletic performance. A handful of front-of-the-pack road runners swear by them, including Lornah Kiplagat and Gete Wami.

But Do Compression Socks For Running Really Work?

Compression socks and wraps have been widely accepted in clinical and post-surgical settings for the treatment of edema, lymph edema, phlebitis, varicose veins, spider veins and deep vein thrombosis. Most theories about how compression socks can improve running performance focus on the physiological and bio-mechanical support of the lower extremities.

The primary rationale behind wearing compression socks in a race is that they may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity. And there is the notion that because muscles are kept more compact, balance and pro-prioception are improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.

However, a study presented at the 2007 American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting in New Orleans, suggested there were no statistically significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate or minute ventilation between treadmill runners who wore compression socks, and those who did not. According to the study, conducted at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, subjects did, however, show a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise when wearing the compression socks, suggesting that compression socks might speed recovery after a strenuous workout or a race.

So, in conclusion – wear compression socks for running if it suits you, but you will definitely benefit from them if worn for recovery after a big race.