Compression Running Socks - Do they really help Long Distance Runners? 

We've all seen those compression running socks and if we don't own a pair we begin to wonder what the hype is about them.  Do they really help endurance runners or are they just another piece of sporty looking running gear?

Let's take a look at the research.

What are compression running socks?

Compression running socks compress, or applies pressure to a certain part of the body thereby providing stability and support to the tissues. Most runners wear below the knee socks that focus the pressure on the calves (the belly of the gastrocnemius muscle).  However you can get low socks (hit just above the ankle) and ones that hit above the thigh.

The idea behind the socks is to reduce discomfort during exercise and promote recovery afterwards. They have been won over in the running world by elite and recreational athletes alike.

Which type and which are the most comfortable?

Compression socks are actually quite comfortable to wear and come in two different types: graduated and controlled (or constant).  The graduated socks come in three grades: low, medium, and high and refer to the amount of pressure that they are placing on the underlying tissues.  The socks become less constrictive as they go up the leg (thus they are graduated) and help blood flow back to the heart.

In general, the control and low grade socks are more comfortable to wear than a medium or high grade. However the research has found that graduated pressure socks do not reduce the onset of muscle fatigue in running any more than the constant pressure socks do. Therefore it is merely a preference of comfort for the runner in choosing what grade or type to purchase.

However calf stockings with constant pressure seem to offer more significant benefits other than delaying muscle fatigue.

The Research

As this is a relatively new piece of running apparel, the research comes in bits and pieces. There is still much to look at and study in regards to the stockings however this is what we can glean from the past studies that have been performed.

Positive Research of Compression and Running:

  • Total work and time under a load of stress is significantly increased with the wearing of these socks. Therefore your body should be able to sustain more stress (mileage, increased speed) while wearing compression socks.
  • Significantly increases aerobic threshold (the ability of your body to use oxygen while performing long distance running). This is a great benefit as our aerobic threshold dictates our time until we HAVE to stop running. It is basically our limit point. If we can increase this threshold we can potentially increase the speed and distance that we can run.
  • It helps to offset delayed onset muscle soreness up to 24 hours after a race or long run. This seems to be a constant in the research that has been done on recovery while wearing the socks. This benefit has been proven from 10K racing up to the marathon.
  • Wearing low or medium grade socks help to maintain lower leg power after an endurance event.
  • They provide increased joint awareness and stability. They can help us to avoid injury especially in our knees and shins (think shin splints) which are prone to injury.
  • One of the most notable conclusions is that below the knee  compression socks have proven to be a functional recovery aid if worn for 48 hours after a marathon or long distance race.


Negative Research:

  • The socks appear to increase oxygen saturation but not overall running performance.
  • They do not seem to improve running economy in runners.
  • A 2014 study of experienced triathletes in a half-ironman revealed that no advantage was given for wearing compression socks in regards to maintaining muscle function or reducing muscle damage while exercising.

In Conclusion: 

Wearing compression running socks appears to vary greatly between individuals. However its greatest advantage seems to be in recovery and injury prevention. They can significantly reduce muscle soreness after a marathon or long distance running, prevent such injuries such as shin splints and provide a stabilizing effect on the muscle.

And if for nothing else, you feel a placebo effect benefits you, then go for it.

For me that is all I need to hear to own a pair or two or three (they come in so many patterns and colors!).

Some Recommendations:

I do earn a small commission if you choose to go with one of the following. There are obviously tons of different compression running socks available, but again this is my recommendation based on my experience with the company, the research and the shoes. If you do purchase through my affiliate link, thank you so much for your support!

For graduated compression running socks the Vitalsox Graduated Compression Socks are a great option. 

There are also Compression Sleeves that do the same thing as the compression running socks except for the fact that it is minus the "sock/foot" part. Some might prefer this to the actual full sock. 

Related Pages:

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Armstrong, SA, ES Till, SR Maloney, and GA Harris. "Compression Socks and Functional Recovery following Marathon Running: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Journal of Strength & Conditioning (2015): n. pag. Pubmed. Web.

Kemmler, Wolfgang, Simon Von Stengel, Christina Köckritz, Jerry Mayhew, Alfred Wassermann, and Jürgen Zapf. "Effect of Compression Stockings on Running Performance in Men Runners." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23.1 (2009): 101-05. Web.

MacRae, BA, JD Cotter, and RM Laing. "Compression Garments and Exercise: Garment Considerations, Physiology and Performance." Journal of Sports Medicine (2011): n. pag. Pubmed. Web.

Miyamoto, N., and Y. Kawakami. "No Graduated Pressure Profile in Compression Stockings Still Reduces Muscle Fatigue." International Journal of Sports Medicine (2014): n. pag. Pubmed. Web. 24 Mar. 2015.

Stickford, AS, RF Chapman, JD Johnston, and JM Stager. "Lower-leg Compression, Running Mechanics, and Economy in Trained Distance Runners." International Journal of Sports Physiology Performance(2014): n. pag. Pubmed. Web.