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Ask the Coach

Do compression socks actually aid in recovery or are they just a passing fad? …

Illustration by Jeremy Collins

I recently bought a pair of compression socks and have been wearing them after long runs. Do these socks actually aid in recovery or are they just a passing fad?

—Zack Hedling, San Francisco, CA

Well, it depends. Every year we are inundated with new products that promise to aid in recovery. The most studied and concrete aspect of compression socks lies in their ability to improve blood flow. Since gravity causes blood to pool in the lower legs, it makes sense that compression would force the blood back up, toward the heart.

The most promising studies have been done on gradient or graduated compression. Simple compression could mean a pair of tight-fitting jeans that are tight all over. You might look hot, but your emo jeans won’t help you recover faster. Gradient compression means the socks are tightest furthest away from the body, which forces blood from the extremities to the core.

“This creates a reverse pressure gradient that opposes the forces of gravity and helps restore the function of vein valves located deep within the calf muscles,” says Steve Ozmai, Director of Operations for Skins USA. A 2008 study on the effects of graduated compression garments found “improved venous return in the lower extremities.” In theory this means quicker removal of exercise byproducts and faster recovery.

The studies on this, however, aren’t as promising. A 2009 study with athletes performing high-intensity intervals concluded “the effects of compression garments on recovery were minimal; however, reduced levels of perceived MS (muscle soreness) were reported following recovery in the garments.”

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