Compression Socks - Fit or Fad?Posted on Sep 15th 2009 1:00PM by Jennifer Fields
|Photo: Nicolas Asfouri, AFP/Getty Images|
The brains behind the socks figured if they could help an immobile person with circulation, imagine what they could do for a runner. Improved blood circulation in the legs means more blood for the heart and a greater cardiac output, which translates into better performance -- at least in theory.
A study published in the May issue of Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise examined the effect of compression socks on endurance athletes to see if they had any influence on performance. The findings? There were no beneficial effects. The compression clothing didn't increase endurance, and there were no physiological improvements.
Where compression socks do earn their keep is in aiding recovery. "During a run, muscle is damaged through contraction, pounding and vibration, which is why you're sore after running," says John Smith, assistant professor of kinesiology at Texas A&M. "Compression socks hold the muscles together so to speak, minimizing the vibrations and contractions so you won't be as sore afterward and you can return to running faster, which in turn, improves performance," he says.
The socks can also be worn after you run and work the same way they do in hospitals on post-op patients -- by preventing the pooling of blood in your legs, speeding recovery, preventing swelling and minimizing pain. "I've worn them before and I think they feel pretty good. It feels like your calf is getting a little massage," says Smith. A post-run massage sounds pretty good to me, and at $30 or so for a pair, that's certainly cheaper than bodywork.
If you're considering embracing the fall's most fashionable running trend, you can't go wrong. There's no reason you shouldn't wear them, says Smith. They won't hurt you. The only drawback is that they might not work. "What they are is a fad," he says. "There's no solid evidence that they benefit performance."
So why is Paula Radcliffe sporting them during her runs? "In a well-trained runner, the blood isn't going to pool at the calf. Their circulation is strong enough that the compression sock isn't going to do much for performance. However, they may have a perceptual effect. A runner may think, 'my legs feel better,' sending a message to the brain that says 'I can run faster.'"
A massage and a pep talk from a sock? I'm sold.
Get some running motivation from a real reader.