Runners seem to (almost) always be prone to injury. As a repetitive activity that places a significant amount of stress on the lower limbs, running can lead to shin splints, sore calf muscles, sprained ankles, or even stress fractures. But, with attention to your running plan and a bit of TLC, you can avoid most of these and continue to run happy for as long as you have the energy.
Can compression socks help runners be stronger and healthier? Thanks to their beneficial influence on peripheral circulation, compression socks for running can help you recover quicker, delay the onset of muscle soreness, and protect your joints and muscles from injury.
Running compression socks can yield multiple benefits during training, as well as before and after. As Teresa, our Manager of Content Marketing and resident runner, puts it: “What you wear when you are not running can be just as important as what you wear when you are.” In this article, we’ll give you the details on how compression socks can help your running performance and recovery and we’ll explain how to pick the best pair for you and wear it for optimal results.
What Are Running Compression Socks?
When you think of compression socks, do you imagine varicose veins, blood clots, and maybe long airplane rides? While these are all situations where compression socks can be beneficial, there’s a lot more to them than supporting people struggling with a medical condition or those who aren’t moving for a long stretch of time.
Compression socks for running are high-quality, graduated compression garments that apply pressure to your ankles which slowly decreases as they travel up the lower leg. Through the gentle pressure applied to the lower limbs, these socks prevent blood and fluid from pooling at the bottom of your body. This reduces the risk of swollen ankles, the feeling of “heavy legs,” and fatigue.
Moreover, running compression socks support your joints and muscles during a high-impact sport. As you’ll see below, they help take some of the impact out of vibrations that go through the muscles as you land during your run. They’re also great allies for recovery, supporting healthy continuous blood flow to the muscles that need to refuel and re-build after every run.
How Do Running Compression Socks Work?
Thanks to the pressure they apply to the lower legs, compression socks support blood flow in the area. The improved circulation not only staves off swelling and discomfort, but it also supports the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles for recovery.
Since graduated compression socks for running are made to support the lower limbs, they are also great for runners coming back from injury or ramping up their efforts during a training program. Thanks to the increased blood flow in the area, they help prevent shin splints - one of the dreaded side effects of increased running! Compression socks help keep inflammation down and they support the veins and muscles around the tibia.
Running compression socks are also great for athletes coming back from injuries like Achilles tendonitis (where the lower side of the calf has been strained, possibly sidelining runners for weeks at a time). They help runners avoid too much stress on the lower legs, which is a great way to stay away from injury in general.
Finally, the increased blood flow and massage action from running compression socks have been shown to help recovery after exercise. With compression therapy, you can delay or even prevent the onset of muscle soreness, because they are literally speeding up the transport of blood to your lower legs. And, with this influx of blood, you’re getting oxygen and nutrients that help support muscle recovery and relieve pain and soreness.
The Benefits of Compression Socks for Running
Runners who wear compression socks can benefit not just from massage and pain relief. The long-term benefits of wearing compression garments include speedier recovery, bonus support of the ankles and muscles during runs, as well as some other positives including preventing blisters and chafing.
Improved Blood Flow and Oxygenation to the Muscles
Everybody benefits from compression socks differently. However, one thing that’s unanimously accepted is that the main effect of compression on the lower legs is increased blood circulation, which brings with it extra oxygen to the muscles.
The result is that your legs will not swell up and feel uncomfortable during or after runs. Studies also show that compression socks can help reduce the time to recover after exercise, thanks to the blood flow that delivers all that muscles need to replenish after an effort.
Decreased Muscle Soreness and Fatigue
The increased oxygen delivery to the muscles helps them recover faster after a hard run. This includes reduced soreness, but also a fresher, lighter feeling that can reduce your sensations of fatigue after a long day out.
While it’s not directly proven that wearing compression socks can help performance during your run, reducing soreness will definitely help long-distance runners, especially if they consistently wear compression socks or sleeves.
Reduced Swelling and Inflammation
Helping blood travel to the lower limbs and then back towards the heart leads to reduced swelling in the legs. This is great for runners who face hot and humid conditions, as well as for those who’ve run long distances.
Thanks to better blood flow, compression socks also help reduce inflammation, which has been shown to then speed up recovery.
There’s no clear connection between wearing running compression socks and preventing more serious overuse injuries like Achilles tendonitis, or acute injuries like a calf strain. After all, they can only provide so much support to your tendons and joints! However, runners who wear compression socks during their return to exercise have a lower likelihood of getting injured again by ramping up too quickly - since the socks are supporting their muscles and joints significantly more than regular garments.
Moreover, high-quality compression socks are soft and comfortable, preventing chafing and blisters during a run. These types of niggles may not feel like a lot when they first surface, but they can turn ugly quickly, and possibly spell the end of a running race.
Finally, compression socks for runners prevent the formation of blood clots and varicose veins. They’re also great for protecting your lower limbs from scratches, bruises and insect bites when you’re out in nature during a trail run.
Increased Comfort and Support
There’s no denying that wearing compression socks for running feels tighter and more protected. The added pressure from their material is beneficial for keeping muscles in place during the pounding inherent in running. Over time, these micro vibrations compound into painful muscle soreness or even shin splints, so the increased support from compression socks can be extremely beneficial the longer you run.
Ankle support is another great benefit of compression socks. Good quality materials like stretchy Nylon ensure that your ankles are firmly maintained, while also moving with your legs enough that you have flexibility on all types of terrain.
Merino wool compression socks are a huge help for runners facing hot and humid climates. The thermoregulating properties of Merino fibers help feet stay dry and enable enough air circulation to prevent blisters and chafing. Merino wool is great when it’s cold, too. It’s soft and thin enough that compression socks don’t feel too bulky in running shoes, while keeping feet warm and dry during winter runs.
The Best Running Compression Socks
To find the best compression socks for running, you’ll need to ensure you buy a pair that’s tight enough to provide the pressure your legs need during recovery. This means choosing the correct size and compression level. Moreover, choosing the right material makes a huge difference to keeping your feet and lower legs in top shape during a run.
Compression socks need to be tight - but not so tight that they cut off your blood circulation! This is why we recommend taking your measurements and following a sizing guide to get a pair that’s right for you. The best running compression socks exert some pressure, but feel comfortable to keep on for long periods of time. They shouldn’t roll down or bunch up, either.
While Merino wool is one of the best materials for running compression socks thanks to its versatility at all types of temperatures and humidity levels, it’s not the only option. You can also benefit from sleekness and flexibility with Nylon socks that are soft and stretchy - perfect for running in. For extra hot days, go for moisture-wick Nylon - a blend that will draw sweat and moisture off your skin and prevent any blisters or chafing.
Compression socks come in a range of levels showing how much pressure they apply to the limbs. Runners are best served by moderate compression, unless you have any medical conditions that may make firmer socks a good choice.
Everyday or moderate compression level is measured as 15-20 mmHg and you can purchase running compression socks in a range of colors and styles, as well as the material of your choice, at this level.
How to Wear Compression Running Socks
It’s been documented that, to make the most of compression socks for running, you should ensure that you wear them in between your sessions. When you’re not running, your body is recovering from the effort and having a boost in blood flow to your muscles will help them recover quicker. You’ll also stave off any swelling or discomfort caused by high temperatures, hard efforts, or long runs.
For extra support and comfort during your runs, especially for longer sessions, wear compression socks to prevent your muscles getting sore and to better protect your joints. You’ll also avoid blisters and chafing thanks to the tight fit and high-quality material of the right compression socks.
Whether you’re getting ready for a big race or just heading out on fun long runs (or short ones, for that matter!), high-quality compression socks in the best material and the most fun design will be your perfect running buddies.