At first glance, compression socks appear to be a statement of retro style. But a closer look reveals the knee-high tube socks many elite distance runners race in are anything but retro fit socks.
They’re progressive compression socks. They are snug fitting, over the calf socks (some of which start at the ankle) aimed at improving oxygen delivery to muscles. This speeds lactic acid removal and stabilizes the lower leg for greater muscle competence. A handful of front of the pack road runners swear by them.
However, do they work? Compression socks have been widely accepted in clinical and post-surgical settings for the treatment of deep vein thrombosis, edema, edema, lymph, phlebitis, varicose veins, and spider veins. Most theories about how the socks can improve running performance focus on the physical and biomechanical support of the lower legs.
The primary rationale behind wearing these socks in a race is that they may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump. This leads to increased endurance capacity. There is the notion that because muscles are kept more compact, proprioception and balance are improved and muscle fatigue is minimized.
A significant difference in maximal oxygen consumption was noted in heart rate or minute ventilation between treadmill runners who wore compression socks and those who did not. Subjects did, however, show a faster lactate retrieval rate after exertion when wearing the socks, suggesting that compression socks might speed recovery after a strenuous workout or a race.
So wear them in a race if it that is what works best for you, but definitely wear them after a race to recover more rapidly. If you choose to wear compression socks please note that they were originally meant for care of the feet for people with diabetes who had lower extremity issues with swelling. Overall, compression socks offer the best value for your dollar. .