From their medical advantages to the misconception about how old you have to be to wear them, there’s lots more to compression socks than you think.
Compression socks (or compression stockings) are socks of various lengths designed to gently squeeze your legs a bit more than typical socks to promote better blood circulation.
Compression socks gently squeeze the legs, increasing the pressure beneath the skin. This reduces excess leakage of fluid from the capillaries and increases the absorption of this tissue fluid by the capillaries and lymphatic vessels.
The result is reduced swelling and swelling prevention. This can also reduce the ability of superficial veins to expand in order to fill with blood, which prevents that blood from flowing backwards and causing congestion like varicose veins.
Pooling blood in the veins of the legs can cause various problems such as inflammation of the vein (also called phlebitis thrombophlebitis), varicose veins and even blood clots.
Compression socks also are recommended when sitting for long periods, like on a long flight.
There are generally two types of compression socks: graduated and anti-embolism.
Graduated compression socks are the more common types you’ll find and what most people use. These socks are tightest around the ankle, getting looser the higher up they go. Compression socks generally come in two lengths, knee-high and thigh-high, but full compression tights are growing more common with runners and other athletes.
Anti-embolism stockings have a more specific purpose. They help maintain circulation to prevent blood clots, particularly those confined to bed after surgery.
For many athletes, compression socks and tights may help with recovery. An Australian study found that compression socks had a positive impact on subsequent running performance. Meaning if you wear them during a run, you may have a better run.
This may be due to increasing oxygen delivery to the athletes’ muscles, improving blood circulation and speeding the removal of lactic acid. Some athletes may wear them simply because they believe it gives them a competitive edge, and they feel good.
The best way to find out if compression socks will give you an advantage during your training is to try them. Most over-the-counter compression socks are low-to-medium compression. Look at it like breaking in a pair of shoes and wear them on and off for a few days to get used to them.