From twitter chats to group runs, this question is bound to be asked.
The “work” they are referring to is likely one of a couple desired results.
Does the wearing of compression socks help you recover faster after a hard workout? The answer to this is, probably.
Studies show the apparel may “aid athletic performance by improving circulation and blood flow, limiting exercise induced peripheral edema of the lower extremity, supplying muscles with more oxygen, enhancing lactic acid removal, or decreased muscle soreness during and post exercise.”
There are various studies that suggest the use of this tool may be worth it. Even if it does not actually do anything, but you think it helps! It’s also worth noting that there are studies showing compression socks do not aid in recovery, so you may just have to try them out for yourself and see what you think.
Something I can’t help but consider, however, is there may be a difference between recovering faster and adapting to the workout fully? That, I’m not sure about.
Second, performance. Do they make you faster while wearing them during running?! Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it was that easy? I remember watching Chris Solinsky, who was wearing compression socks, become the first US born runner to go under 27 minutes for the 10k. The manufacturers suggest that worn during running, compression may reduce muscle vibration and movement. Combined with increased blood flow, this sounds like it should make you run faster! However, as with recovery, the results go both ways. If you believe they will make you faster, or frankly you’re more comfortable racing in them, then chances are you will be faster while wearing them!
Now, there is a third reason to wear compression as an athlete, and this may be both the most important and most reliable. One of the “traditional” uses of compression garments have been to help prevent deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, from forming in the legs during extended periods of inactivity. DVT has even been referred to as “Economy Class Syndrome” when flying, and numbers potentially 85% of DVT victims are endurance athletes.
How to wear them?
There are three main types of compression garments for the legs. Sleeves, socks, and tights. When looking at options, typically research and most manufacturers use 22-32mmHg of pressure, and that’s likely what you should look for as well. Brands use anything from shoe size to calf circumference for sizing. Compression sleeves, that are typically only ankle to knee, are likely only good for protection on the trail if you do not want vegetation rubbing against and scraping up your lower legs. Typically they are not recommended for their compression because the stop at the ankle and may actually cause the swelling you are using them to prevent! Sleeves may also help reduce muscle oscillation (vibration) during running, which could theoretically help reduce muscle damage from occurring in the first place. Socks are fantastic because they actually compress everything from the knee down. Unfortunately, you’re restricted to these as socks, which may or may not be an issue. Full compression tights may be the most effective form of recovery among typical compression garments. They normally go from ankle to waist, covering the most skin.