Before we start talking about when to wear compression socks, let's first explain what they are.
You may have seen marathon runner wearing knee-high socks or stockings and wondered, do they not feel the heat or are they that cold? What these elite runners are usually wearing are known as Compression Socks.
They are specialized elastic garments worn in order to compress the surface of the leg, ankle, feet, muscles and arteries during intense physical activity and for a very good reason, which we shall address shortly as well as answer the questions on when to wear compression socks and the benefits of wearing compression socks when running.
How do compression socks work?
According to Berkeley Wellness, compression sock therapy serves a few purposes:
- Force blood circulation through narrower channels
- Reduces the ability of the superficial veins in the leg to swell up and fill up with blood
- Increase arterial pressure
- Increase more blood return to the heart and less blood to pool in the feet
- Prevent the formation of blood clots
Types of compression socks
Compression socks are made using elastic fibers or rubber, which are either knee-high, thigh-high, ankle-high, pantyhose maternity garment and are all designed to give different levels of compression that are measured in mmHG or millimeter of mercury.
- Over the counter range of compression socks are available in 10 – 15 or 15 – 25mmHG
- High pressure compression socks that require a prescription or a trained fitter range from 20 - 30mmHG and 50mmHG
There are three types of compression socks
1. Nonmedical Compression Socks
They can be bought over the counter without a prescription and are commonly used to provide relief for tired, heavy and aching legs experienced after a long tedious day. They also offer a uniformed and considerably less compression effect on the limb.
2. Graduated / Medical Compression Stockings
When used correctly, these compression socks have shown to reduce the risks of deep vein thrombosis in surgical patients, in sufferers of chronic venous disease and edema.
These socks are manufactured under strict medical specifications to provide specific pressure and graduation of compression.
When used incorrectly, for instance, if the wrong size is worn, they are known to be harmful to the skin and in some instances increase the risks of thrombosis.
3. Anti-embolism Compression Socks
These socks are used by physicians as a preventative measure to reduce the risks of blood clots forming in the legs. The ankle-high socks add pressure from the ankle to improve blood circulation during sedentary periods.
When to wear compression socks
Depending on the level of physical activity, inactivity, muscle soreness, recovery, etc. If your doctor or physician has prescribed compression socks chances are, you may have an issue with blood circulation or various limb related conditions such as deep vein thrombosis.
Proper measurements of your legs are important to see which size of socks you need. You need to wear your compression socks during the day and take them out at bed time.
In the case of after surgery care, your physician should be able to advise you on how long you should wear compression socks and how to use them correctly. In most cases after an operation and you experience limited mobility you be required to wear them day and night until you recover.
You can wear your compression socks during the day for normal activities or for your toughest workouts, runs or race days to boost performance, but if you notice some irregular bruising of your skin, swelling or your legs turning red chances are you are using the wrong size or there is indeed too much pressure being applied on the area.
Consider getting the right sized pair of compression socks or simply just give your legs a compression break.
Who can and can’t use compression socks
Compression socks are generally safe for anyone to wear, such as athletes, long distance truck drivers, pilots, people who sit or stand for long hours, pregnant women. Caution must, however, be exercised by consulting with a physician before using compression socks especially for people with certain medical conditions such as:
- Uncontrolled congestive heart failure
- Advanced arterial disease of the legs
- Septic phlebitis of the leg
- Extreme Immobility
- Skin infections
- Weeping dermatoses
- Impaired sensitivity of the limb
- Skin sensitivity to the fabric
Benefits of wearing compression socks when running
There are various limb injuries that are associated with exercise over-exertion or due to overuse especially with elite runners such as:
- Shin Splint
- Achilles Tendinitis
- Stress fractures
- Runners Knees
- Muscle Pulls
- Ankle Sprains
- Plantar Fasciitis
And while there are recommended tips to prevent running injuries such as warming-up, stretching, wearing the appropriate training shoes, staying hydrated in order to replenish electrolytes lost in sweat plus much more, wearing Compression Socks when running goes a long way in controlling swelling, stabilizing the limb in use and alleviating running related injuries.
Other benefits of wearing compression socks
- Compression socks improve blood flow
- Improve athletic performance and endurance
- Reduce side movements of calf muscles
- Reduce muscle soreness and excess muscle fatigue
- Helps in maintaining of maximum leg muscle power
A published study by Ride et al shows compression sock may lower blood lactate values after intense training
If you are one of the many people who suffer from tired aching legs and other venous disorders such as edema and deep vein thrombosis then wearing compression socks should be considered.
Other instances where you can wear compression socks is during a flight if you think that you may be at risk of developing “economy class syndrome” a term used to describe DVT – deep vein thrombosis which follows extended airplane travels.
When to wear compression socks for running
Any avid male or female runner between the age of 25 – 50 years who take up regular outdoor running for at least 3-4 times a week or is involved 1 major race once a year understands the physical health benefits that come with having the appropriate training attire from footwear to exercise accessories and apparels in the efforts of optimizing and maximizing on their workout routine and gains.
That said, a good pair of compression sock for running must be all-encompassing. Here is what to Look for When Buying Compression Socks:
- Have the best compression range for maximum compression and comfort (medical grade compression)
- Have a proper arch, overall foot, calf, leg, and knee support
- Be easy to get on, won’t restrict movement and be resistant to premature fraying
- Be made from a quality fiber capable of controlling moisture, prevent or reduce the potential growth of bacteria, fungi and repel odor from socks after long training sessions
- They must be lightly padded and easily slips into any type of running shoes
- Have a 4 way stretch for consistent compression throughout the entire sock
- Reduce running related injuries such as muscle fatigue, improve circulation for a quicker recovery
- Come in various colors and designs such as high visibility neon with reflective accents to make you more visible while running or exercising in the dark
- Have an additional five-toe design to give the toes a more natural grip and alignment
- Have a padded heel for downhill comfort
Now that we have seen the health and physical benefits of wearing compression socks when running, how do you determine the right size and height of compression socks? Consider this compression therapy guide when purchasing Compression socks for running.
As discussed earlier, compression levels are measured in millimeters of mercury mmHG, the higher the numbers, the higher the compression and each compression need to be measured according to the size of the calf and ankle circumference. Therefore:
- 15mmGH will provide a mild compression
- 15 – 20mmGH will provide a moderate compression
- 20 – 30mmGH will provide a firm compression
- 30 – 50mmGH will offer an extra firm compression
When to wear compression socks - conclusion
When to wear compression socks DOs
- DO wear the right size of compression socks for effectiveness and comfort
- DO use donning gloves to reduce snagging your sock and ease wearing them
- DO wear your socks in the morning when your legs are less swollen
- DO maintain a proper compression sock hygiene by using genital machine settings and then air drying them to minimize elastic damage, maintain their original shape and extend their usability
- DO replace your compression socks after every 6 months when you notice the elastic fibers begin to sag or loosen up
When to wear compression socks DON’T’s
- DON’T wear them at night unless prescribed by a physician as you will be unnecessarily promoting an increased blood circulation. Instead, elevate your legs using a pillow to promote regular blood flow
- DON’T cut or alter any parts of your compression socks. The graduated compression is designed to give the strongest support on your ankle and cutting them will cause them to roll-up, which makes it uncomfortable to wear. Consider an open toe pair of compression socks if what you have feels too tight around the toes
- DON’T scrunch-up or roll-up your compression socks when putting them on or removing them as you risk cutting off blood circulation and bruising
- DON’T use harsh chemicals to wash your compression socks and avoid scrubbing or wringing them to dry. This damages the fibers of the socks