Does Compression Gear Really Work?

IMG_2927By Henry Howard

There are varying points of view on whether compression socks actually help athletes, or whether they are merely a placebo.

By a fairly wide margin, online reviewers credit compression gear for assisting their recovery from hard workouts, providing endurance athletes support throughout competition and following through on promises of wicking away sweat.

Does Compression Gear Really Work?

From one online review at Amazon.com: “Compression works, I don’t have any soreness in my calf muscles or arches after using these and I now do every run over 2 miles with these on. Moisture wicking works ‘Dayum Well,’ I have to say that as my runs continue into summer I am stoked to not have to deal with swamp foot, these socks are fantastic in this department and the amount of airflow through them to pull moisture away [secondary benefit of cooling] is worth the money.”

The jury is still out

Other reviewers were in the minority but didn’t feel the same effects. “Great cushioning, great style, but no compression whatsoever! I was very disappointed once I tried this on and found it to have no true compression support. Waste of money,” wrote another reviewer on Amazon.

I first tried compression socks about a year ago after being somewhat skeptical. In that previous review, I asked a representative of Swiftwick to explain how compression gear works.

“Compression works by increasing the blood flow and circulation through the lower limbs. Swiftwick socks have compression in every sock footbed which gives support and increases circulation. The higher the cuff on the sock the more compression and benefit you’ll receive from the socks.”

Since that time, I have been regularly wearing Swiftwick socks during training runs, road races and trail races, and afterward to enhance recovery. While it is true that my endurance has improved as I have run longer and become stronger, I believe that my post-race recovery has been enhanced by compression socks.

For example, I ran three marathons between mid-September and early November, including my first trail marathon in October. After each one of those events, I could not believe how quickly my legs recovered.

Running with Swiftwick

There are many options for compression socks. It seems that more companies are producing and marketing compression socks, sleeves, armbands and more every month.

I have stayed with Swiftwick because I have had good experiences with their products. (Full disclosure: I was accepted into being one of their brand ambassadors, which means I receive a discount when I make a purchase.)

In fact, I have had even better luck with their customer service. I received my first order since becoming a brand ambassador in September. On my first very run with a new pair, I discovered that one of my toes had poked a hole in the end of the sock.

The customer service representative sent me a new pair with sincere apologies. But their quick and courteous resolution to the problem wasn’t because of my affiliation, they promise such a replacement to anyone with a similar experience.

Added benefits of compression socks

Still, the evidence appears to be anecdotal and some studies find no evidence whatsoever. However, it is well known that compression itself does reduce swelling in legs.

If you are considering the purchase of compression socks, here are some other benefits to consider:

  1. They come in a wide variety of styles, colors and lengths. For those who like to jazz up their running wardrobe, compression socks can be a fashion accessory.
  2. The longer sleeves can help shield your legs from dirt, pebbles, thorns, prickers and other nuisances during a trail run.
  3. On those cool days when you can’t decide between wearing shorts and tights, pairing long compression socks with your favorite shorts is a real solution.
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