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Published on June 04, 2019

back view of runners lower legs wearing compression calf sleeves

#TryItTuesday: Do Compression Socks Help With Running Recovery?

I have a couple pairs of compression socks and calf sleeves for when I head out for longer runs — bright green, black and white striped, and a pair that say “Run Happy” on the back.

I think they’re fun, but I like how they feel, too. I feel less achy when I’m done, and, frankly, I can use all the help I can get in the recovery department. But do they really work or is it all just in my head?  

Compression socks have proven results in the medical field to increase blood flow. They can help:

  • Decrease likelihood of blood clotting
  • Prevent venous disorders such as deep vein thrombosis
  • Decrease symptoms of varicose veins or leg ulcers

They are tightest near the ankles with a gradual decrease in pressure up the calf. The pressure helps move blood flow up the main arteries of the leg to the heart, particularly when you are sitting or lying down. For instance, during a long flight compression socks can keep the blood flowing so it doesn’t pool and clot below the knees. 

Eric Noyes, CNP, for Avera Medical Group Internal Medicine, prescribes them for use often when treating these issues.

In the running community, compression socks are thought to improve performance, speed recovery and prevent swelling and aching in the calves. While there is a lot of anecdotal evidence, there isn’t a lot of research to support these claims at the moment.

Don’t despair just yet, though. Noyes is a triathlete and wears them often during exercise and at work where he’s on his feet much of the day.

Why? Because when it comes to athletic performance, sometimes it’s best to go with feel.

“Comfort makes a difference,” Noyes said. “Even if you just feel better you actually can do better. I feel like my legs feel better and less sore at the end of the day.”

Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. There are different levels of compression. Most athletic compression socks are mild to moderate ­— or 15-30 millimeter of mercury (mmhg), a measurement for pressure. Medical grade stockings can go as high as 50, but aren’t recommended without consulting your doctor, Noyes said.
  2. Fit matters. It’s recommended you measure the thickest part of your calf to get the best fit and comfort level.
  3. You can find compression socks at many running stores and medical equipment stores such as Avera Home Medical Equipment. (They have fun colors and designs beyond the typical white, black and nude medical stockings.) They can also help with fit.
  4. These socks aren’t for everyone. If you have bad circulation in your feet for instance, they may not be recommended.

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