If you’ve ever suffered from a running injury, you’ll know how frustrating it can feel to be sidelined. Add to that the pain and discomfort caused by Achilles tendonitis, and you’ll rightly want to do anything to reduce the symptoms. So, are compression socks good for Achilles tendonitis, and how can they help?
Thanks to the pressure they apply to the ankle and lower leg area, compression socks can help reduce superficial swelling and act as a local relief for pain and discomfort. There are also preventative effects of wearing compression socks when hiking or running.
Read on to find out:
- What is Achilles tendonitis and why it happens;
- How compression socks help with recovery;
- Whether you can prevent Achilles tendonitis by wearing compression socks;
- How to recover from this condition.
What is Achilles Tendonitis and What Causes It?
Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury, meaning it occurs when the Achilles tendon is over-solicited. The Achilles tendon is the band of tissue that connects the calf muscles at the back of the leg to the heel bone. It’s usually strained by runners, but walkers and hikers could also suffer from an injury here.
Typically, runners develop Achilles tendonitis when they increase their load (either volume of running, or intensity) quickly and suddenly. This may mean that you start running a lot without a gradual progression in training. Or it could happen when you train very hard without a proper warm-up to mobilize your tendons correctly.
Another at-risk group for Achilles tendonitis is made up of those enjoying casual sports, e.g. at the weekend, that would place a strain on the calf muscle. These include tennis or basketball. It’s common for middle-aged people to suffer from Achilles tendonitis in these scenarios.
Are Compression Socks Good For Achilles Tendonitis Prevention?
Since patients get Achilles tendonitis by over-soliciting the lower part of their legs - specifically the Achilles tendon -, it is difficult to pinpoint a product or garment that can prevent this. In some cases, wearing orthopedic inserts in shoes has helped release some pressure on the Achilles tendon, thereby reducing the risk of developing tendonitis.
However, compression socks play an important role in supporting and relieving pressure on the limbs as a whole. Through continuous gentle massaging action on the lower legs, they support healthy blood flow and prevent your legs and ankles from swelling and becoming painful when you’re on your feet a lot. By extension, they can be a great help for those who work their Achilles tendon a lot: runners, long-distance walkers, hikers, or even nurses, teachers, sales people exhibiting at conferences etc.
Moreover, compression socks are a real help when you’re recovering from calf strains, sprained ankles, and other injuries. Injury recovery can be a difficult time for athletes in particular, with some ramping up their workouts too quickly when they’re enthusiastic to return to sport. This puts them at increased risk of picking up other injuries, e.g. Achilles tendonitis. Therefore, it’s a good idea to wear compression socks that can better support your ankles and calf muscles during this time, as a preventative act.
Do Compression Socks Help Achilles Tendonitis Recovery?
To understand the role of compression in recovery from injury, we need to look at the fundamental elements of treatment: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Also known as the RICE method after each initial, this means:
- Rest and protect the injured limb or area - including a complete break from effort or exercise;
- Use ice on the injured area as soon as possible;
- Wrap the injured area in bandage and/or compress with compression garments as soon as possible after injury;
- Elevate or prop up the area or limb.
By compressing a limb where an injury has taken place, you support the blood flow towards the muscle, which in turn, helps recovery. Moreover, compression helps stabilize the muscle and reduce vibration through it, which can lead to less fatigue (which is why wearing compression socks is great when running and exercising in general).
In the case of Achilles tendonitis, wearing compression socks is one of the elements of treatment and recovery. However, a key part of understanding and improving your situation will be to investigate and address the root cause of the tendonitis. So, ask yourself if you could have caused the condition by overloading your training program, and what you can do to alleviate this in the future. It’s also important to incorporate some local muscle and tendon prevention elements, like stretches, strength exercises etc (see advice below).
The Science Behind Compression Socks for Achilles Tendonitis
The key benefit of compression socks is that they provide gentle, gradual pressure on the lower legs, ankles and feet, promoting blood flow in the area. Increased blood flow improves the transport of oxygen throughout the body, leading to better and quicker recovery from effort. It decreases your risk of developing blood clots and more serious problems like Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
Moreover, using compression socks helps stabilize the muscles. This can be very beneficial for coming back from Achilles tendonitis, providing more support to the calf muscles and minimizing vibration in the area. However, it’s important to note that Achilles tendonitis develops more as a result of a pulling of the tendon, rather than an instability or vibrations around it, so there’s no direct correlation with wearing compression socks despite their benefits.
How to Choose the Best Compression Socks for Achilles Tendonitis
To find the best compression socks for help with your Achilles tendonitis recovery, you should ask yourself three questions:
- What sort of activities will you wear the socks for;
- What weather conditions are you facing;
- Do you have any allergies or skin conditions to be aware of.
The answers will determine the type of materials you can and should wear. Compression socks come in a variety of fabrics, from versatile cotton for everyday wear at the office, in school or for a casual day out, to more specialized options. Merino wool is a great choice for hikers and runners thanks to its thermoregulating properties, for example. And, if you’re looking for thin and lightweight socks, there is also Nylon (with a moisture-wick variety for humid conditions).
Once you’re clear on the type of activity and weather, if you’re likely to suffer from a skin condition or allergy, we recommend checking out hypoallergenic Merino wool for your compression socks. This fabric also reduces itching and is known for softness and comfort.
Finally, compression socks have to fit perfectly in order to give you the full benefits. Check out our sizing guide here to find out how to get the right size.
How to Wear Compression Socks for Achilles Tendonitis Recovery
Wearing compression socks is as simple as… wearing socks! All you have to do is pick the right material and correct size for you, as well as understand compression levels to make sure you’re not putting too much pressure on your limbs from the start. Finally, we recommend wearing your socks in gradual increments, from shorter periods of time and increasing slowly as you get used to them.
Here’s a quick primer on pressure levels for compression socks:
- 15-20 mmHg is for light to moderate support which can be worn all day and suits you if you’re traveling or need to be on your feet a lot;
- 20-30 mmHg offers more support and is therefore recommended for people suffering from conditions like DVT, lymphedema, varicose veins or for those recovering from surgery;
- 30-40 mmHg is firm support that is usually medically prescribed.
If you’ve purchased your compression socks for recovery after an Achilles tendon injury, we recommend starting with 2-3 hours of casual wear and seeing how you adapt. You can then gradually increase the length of time you wear them, and can even go all day!
How Long Does Achilles Tendonitis Recovery Take?
On average, it can take anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks to recover from Achilles tendonitis. However, the first 6-8 weeks are critical as this is when most people risk jeopardizing their recovery by not resting appropriately.
Doctors recommend early and aggressive conservative treatment for this kind of injury. This includes rest through immobilizing the foot and ankle, avoiding all physical activity in the first instance, and compression therapy.
As you can notice an improvement in pain and in conjunction with speaking to your doctor, you can start stretching and strengthening exercises and then gradually return to exercise.
What Else Can You Do To Speed Recovery?
Wearing compression socks is only one of the steps you can take to improve recovery from Achilles tendonitis. Depending on the severity of the condition and on advice from your doctor, rest is actually key, followed by icing and various exercises you can include to help strengthen your Achilles tendon in the future.
Initially, you should avoid any stress on the leg that is suffering from Achilles tendonitis. Extreme cases may require immobilization with a walking boot or special supportive gear or an ankle brace. For less severe cases, simple rest will be enough - so, avoiding running or exercise, and walking as little as possible.
Using ice on the affected area will help relieve some of the pain and swelling from Achilles tendonitis (depending on the level of the injury). Do this as soon as you’re injured for best results.
Stretching and Strengthening Exercises
There are a few types of stretches that you can do to mobilize your muscles before running, which are good to learn during injury recovery. Start doing these in the morning, before running and after running as well.
Strengthening your calf muscles can also help your recovery and then reduce the risk of developing tendonitis in the future. You can do calf raises, from the very simple standing ones without any support or weight, and increase the difficulty by holding a dumbbell or doing these on one leg only (which will also help your balance).
It’s also a good idea to cross-train by alternating exercise types. For example, rather than just running, you can do one or two cycling sessions a week, add in swimming or other low-impact activities to keep you fit without the risk of getting an Achilles tendon injury again.
When to See Your Doctor for Achilles Tendonitis
If you often experience pain and discomfort in your Achilles tendon, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor to better understand underlying causes. However, most often, you can self diagnose and treat Achilles tendonitis based on the advice above.
It’s important to address recurring Achilles tendon niggles and problems. Consult with a doctor in the first instance and they may refer you to physiotherapy or sports injury specialists to help improve your running form, for example.
Finally, if you experience severe pain, you could have a ruptured Achilles tendon. In this case, you should seek medical advice immediately.
Achilles tendonitis can be a debilitating and frustrating condition which often affects runners who are overly enthusiastic and have overloaded their training plan. To avoid it, ensure you’re always increasing your running progressively.
Wearing compression socks during your runs can help support your ankle and calf muscles better, promote better blood flow, and make you feel lighter and more comfortable. This will not necessarily avoid developing Achilles tendonitis, but it can support you during your return from injury. Finally, choose a pair of good quality compression socks during injury recovery to help you recover and to reduce swelling and discomfort.