Many people have asked, if “compression socks or sleeves really work”?
The short answer is yes and no.
Before the running boom, compression socks were used by diabetics and airplane pilots. Now, you can’t go to a race without seeing runners of all abilities wearing them (myself included!).
So if “everyone” is wearing them, there must benefits, right?
Most of the benefits in studies have been mental versus fitness gain. Running is 80% mental anyway. Personally, while wearing compression my legs feel better during and after runs.
So what are some benefits of Compression?
Compression promotes blood flow and in turn accelerates the removal of metabolic waste. In short, it encourages blood flow with oxygen and nutrients to muscles faster. As someone who deals a lot of with calve tightness, I’ve found that compression helps to speed up recovery after a hard workout or race.
If you’ve ever had issues with needing stabilization (for instance a rolled ankle), compression can help stabilize tendons and ligaments. A few years ago, when I rolled my ankle, I used the CEP compression ankle sleeve.
What to Keep in Mind:
There are a few things to keep in mind though, and not every compression sock brand is the same. Some are just glorified tube socks. The average quality set of compression sleeves cost about $40, while the average sock is about $60. I personally have had the most success with CEP compression (they aren’t paying me to tell you that).
Socks or Sleeves?
If you aren’t having foot pain and issues, I highly recommend the sleeves versus socks. It can be tough to get a perfect fit between a calf size and foot size. For instance, my feet don’t match up because my calves are size 3 and my feet are women’s size 10-11! Plus with the sleeves, you can use your own socks or if you feel like you need a pair of compression socks, purchase the right foot size.
Look for Medical Grade:
You want to look for a brand that uses “Medical Grade Compression.” Medical Grade Compression is designed to promote and target blood flow. Typically colors are more boring and aren’t on sale every 10 minutes.
Medical grade compression comes in several different levels of compression:
- Mild (8-15 mmHg)
- Medium (15-20 mmHg)
- Firm (20-30 mmHg)
- X-Firm (30-40 mmHg)
Most runners don’t need anything more than medium or firm.
The last thing to remember is to get measured. If you need a size 11 and are wearing a size IV, then you probably won’t feel much of the benefit. You want to measure the widest part of your calve. Keep in mind to measure both, as many people’s calves (and feet) are two different sizes. Compression socks should fit snug. They should be tight enough to leave small impressions from the fabric, but they shouldn’t ever be painful. The first time you put a pair on, it should challenge you.
Finally, When to Wear Them:
There are no rules about when to wear compression socks. Many runners like myself, wear them while running to increase circulation. Others use compression after a workout or run. If you are having shin and calve issues, wear them during a run or workout, as well as after. (Don’t wear them 24-7 though, your feet need time to breath). If you’re using them for recovery, use them post run. The beauty is, you can experiment is figure out when feels the best to you.
Question for you: Do you wear compression? Socks or sleeves?
Incredibly informative, thank you!!
I occasionally wear the sleeves and they make me feel good but too hot
When I’ve tried in the past, compression socks actually seemed to aggravate an issue with calf tightness and foot tingling I had. But I do like them for air travel.
Thanks for the helpful post. I’ve always wondered about using sleeves… now I know where to start! Congrats on your marathon!
I tried sleeves first and didn’t like them then about a year later I tried socks with compression starting in the foot area and really love them! I usually wear them on my longer runs and for harder effort runs. I really do believe my legs feel better afterwards if I have worn them.
I know a lot of people prefer the socks over sleeves. Whatever works for you! Are you training for anything Megan?
My shins are the part of me that get the most sore so I definitely love wearing compression sleeves. I have often wondered, though, if they can cause imbalances other places? Or are there are “cons” to wearing them?
There aren’t really any cons unless you wear them 24-7, and I do believe there are very rare cases of the sleeves causing blood clots in your feet. You would have to wear them for days without taking them off though.
I use them sometimes for post runs. Mainly long runs. Luckily I do not have any shin, calf or foot issues so when I have tired them during a run they seem to aggravate me more than not. So now I use them post long runs and find that works well for me and helps with recovery!
I think a lot of people prefer them post run for recovery. What brand do you use?
I have always used Mojosocks
I use Pro Compression socks and I like them. As you said it is mostly mental…..
I tend to wear them on longer races (half, full or ultra marathons) because my legs tend to feel more fatigued during those races. I agree that it is probably more of a mental thing, but whatever works.
If you mentally feel better, I think it’s a success right Steve LOL?
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