Compression Socks: Sports Performance Enhancers
A scientist from James Cook University in Australia has found sports compression stockings are so effective, they should be considered performance enhancers for soccer players.
Associate Professor Anthony Leicht from JCU’s Sport and Exercise Science discipline took part in a study that measured the fatigue levels of female soccer players with and without the tight-fitting stockings, which are designed to apply pressure to the lower legs and enhance blood circulation.
“We found that compression stocking use during an amateur female soccer match positively influenced agility and lower limb muscular endurance following the match,” he said.
“The benefits were clearly higher with the compression stockings than with regular socks. They confirmed that there is a protective effect with compression stockings that may be crucial for performance in soccer matches.”
Increased Muscular Endurance
Dr Leicht said the study showed that the stockings were comfortable and unlikely to impede players during a match, and while the extent of their benefits needs to be further investigated, they could be considered a potential performance enhancer.
He said the finding that the stockings increased calf muscle endurance was important as soccer players often covered more than 10km per match, with more than 2.5 km of that at high speeds of more than 14kmh.
In addition, players perform multiple changes of direction, with constant acceleration and deceleration.
“Soccer is a demanding sport in terms of fatigue-related muscle damage that can significantly influence match performance. Anything that can prevent or delay this damage and/or change in performance could be an advantage,” he said.
Dr Leicht said compression stockings may have other beneficial effects too.
“Fifty-seven percent of on-field injuries during soccer matches are related to fatigue and compression stockings may provide a simple method of injury prevention.”
He said similar studies had been done with male soccer players but the current findings were unique because of the methods used and the sex differences in match performance and match-induced muscle damage.
“The study provides evidence of the practical benefits of compression stockings that may assist specifically female athletes” he said.
Performance and Recovery Benefits
Compression socks have been around for quite some time, but it’s only been in the past few years that athletes have added the tightly fitted knee-high socks to their bag of performance and recovery tricks.
Compression garments, including stockings, socks, sleeves, and wraps, were designed primarily to help improve blood flow in post-surgical patients, diabetics, those with circulatory issues or individuals prone to swelling (edema), phlebitis (vein inflammation), varicose veins, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
For inactive and bed-ridden patients, the tightly fitting leg wraps help blood return to the heart so it doesn’t pool in the lower extremities and cause swelling. The compression also reduces and risk of blood clots.
Improved Blood Flow For Athletes
Athletes started using compression socks in the hopes of gaining similar benefits regarding improved blood flow.
At first, a small handful of runners were wearing the tight stockings after workouts, and then during longer endurance runs.
The anecdotal reports of faster recoveries, improved running performance and decreased soreness while using compression socks started building, and with it, a long list of potential benefits of compression socks was emerging.
Athletes’ anecdotal reports of compression stocking benefits have led to studies and widespread use.
The latest studies indicate that compression garments do indeed, improve athletic performance.
Compression Socks For Sports Performance
Wearing the socks during exercise was believed to aid performance, increase oxygen delivery and blood flow, reduce the jarring, vibration and stress to the muscles, and prevent soft tissue damage such as shin splints.
According to a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research:
Athletes who wore compression socks for 48 hours after completing a marathon improved their running performance during a treadmill test two weeks later.
Some athletes felt the added compression around the calves and ankles also aided proprioception and even improved balance.
It was also thought that improving venous blood flow, and adding calf muscle compression, would result in increased endurance, more efficient muscle firing, and faster running times, and some studies have since shown this to be true.
A 2016 study published in the journal Sports Medicine concluded that:
“…by wearing compression clothing, runners may improve variables related to endurance performance (i.e., time to exhaustion) slightly, due to improvements in running economy, biomechanical variables, perception, and muscle temperature. They should also benefit from reduced muscle pain, damage, and inflammation.”
Proprioception is the sense of knowing your body’s relative position in space. Often referred to as our sixth sense, proprioception allows us to move and navigate environments as we inherently “know” where our limbs, weight, and center of gravity are at any moment in time.
Proprioception is a coordinated neurologic and physiologic response facilitated by specialized nerves known as proprioceptors. These are the sensory receptors situated on the nerve endings of the inner ear, muscles, skin, joints, tendons, and other tissues. They relay information about our body’s spatial position to the brain, the signals of which are translated into both large and subtle movements.
Thanks to proprioception, we can move without consciously focusing on where we are in space. Without it, we wouldn’t be to type, dance, jump rope, or steer a bicycle or car
Many athletes feel the added compression around the calves and ankles aids proprioception and improves balance.
Compression Socks For Sports Recovery
When it comes to wearing compression socks for sports recovery, the research paints a slightly different picture: a growing number of studies suggest that the use of compression socks may, in fact, speed recovery and reduce soreness after a strenuous workout.
Studies points to a decrease in reported muscle soreness and possibly less muscle damage and faster recovery when using compression socks post-exercise.
Some studies also support the theory that wearing compression socks during intense endurance runs, plyometrics or sprint training may also reduce the amount of post-exercise soreness reported by athletes.
Plyometric exercises are specialized, high-intensity training techniques used to develop athletic power (strength and speed). It involves high-intensity, explosive muscular contractions that invoke the stretch reflex (stretching the muscle before it contracts so that it contracts with greater force).
The most common plyometric exercises include hops, jumps, and bounding movements. One popular plyometric exercise is jumping off a box and rebounding off the floor and onto another, higher box. These exercises typically increase speed and strength and build power.
Compression socks are particularly beneficial for plyometrics.
Video: Plyometric For Beginners
The current recommendations of experts and athletes alike suggest that athletes may find a boost in mechanical efficiency when wearing compression socks for long, tough endurance events.
Plus, the use of compression socks may provide another tool for aiding recovery during the 24-hour period following a hard workout or competition.
Fitting Your Compression Socks
To get the benefits of compression socks, the right amount of compression is essential.
It should be tighter at the ankle and gradually decrease compression up toward the knee, so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s fit instructions before you buy compression clothing.
The ideal compression is still being analyzed, but the current studies indicate that compression of about 15-25 mmHg of pressure is ideal, as long as it is graduated (a bit more pressure on the ankle and less as you move up the leg).
Studies indicate that 15-25 mmHg of graduated pressure is ideal.
Too much compression can decrease blood flow, and too little compression offers little benefit, so getting it just right is the trick.
When buying compression socks, you’ll need to measure your calf and ankle circumference, not your shoe size.
Video Demonstration: Measuring For Compression Socks
Most brands on the market offer a similar fit, but follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the size recommended for your calf measurement to get the appropriate compression pressure.
How to Put Compression Stockings On
Video Demonstration: Putting On Compression Socks
Tip: Make sure you use a pair of donning gloves. They protects your compression stocking from any snags or tears that can occur when you’re putting them on, and allow your hands to grip onto the stocking with greater ease.
Donning gloves also give your hands the ability to grip the stocking without needing to pinch the stocking.
They’ll help you spread the material smoothly over your leg, and save you time.
I recommend Jobst donning gloves; the have excellent reviews from compression stocking wearers.
Reviewer say these really make a difference in putting their compression socks on evenly, with far less struggling. Purchasers also report that they’re high quality and well-made.
The best time to put on compression stockings is during the morning. Make sure that your legs and feet are dry. You may also use some baby powder or talcum powder to help reduce friction.
Make sure that the heel and toe are oriented to your leg before putting on your stocking. Remember, try not to bunch up the compression stocking or sock when putting them on.
On the Foot
Pull the stocking over the foot until the ankle is completely covered. Bring some material over the ball of the foot. Then gently pull the material past the heel and over the ankle. Gradually send the material up your leg.
For open toe styles only, putting on the foot-slip will help reduce friction around the toes and under the heel.
Over the Foot
Pull some of the material over the toes and the ball of the foot. After you’ve brought some of the material on the foot, pull the material over the heel and over the ankle.
As you ease the stocking over the foot, over the heel and up the calf, pay attention to the placement of the heel of the sock. Make sure that you center the heel of the sock properly.
If you’re putting on an open toe stocking, now is the time to pull the foot-slip off your foot.
Check that the top band of the stocking is where it should be:
- For knee high styles, the top band should be two fingers below the bend of the knee.
- For thigh high styles, the top band should be all the way at the top of the thigh.
- For an open toe compression sleeve, the toe band should rest comfortably on the base of the toes.
Like all things, putting on compression stockings take a little practice. Be patient and your compression stockings will return the favor.
Compression Sock Aid
If you have flexibility issues, you’ll find a sock aid useful.
Taking off Compression Stockings
To take off your compression stocking turn the top band inside-out and peel the stocking off your leg; this will prevent the material from bunching up at the ankle.
Continue pulling the stocking off your leg and foot. Short little pulls will get the stocking off your foot without over stretching the material.
Your stockings are now inside out and ready to be washed.
Washing Compression Socks
You will need to wash your compression garments to help prevent the buildup of bacteria. There are several things to keep in mind when cleaning your compression stockings.
- You can wash your compression socks by hand or in the washing machine.
- Placing your garment in a mesh laundry bag helps protect them during wash cycles.
- Use warm water, and a soap for delicates.
- Don’t use chlorine bleach to clean your stocking.
- Don’t use fabric softeners.
Tip: I like Woolite Delicates for washing compression garments (and anything that needs gentle care).
It’s such a versatile product: use on the gentle cycle in regular or HE washing machines, and it’s also excellent for hand washing.
It’ll help your compression socks to last longer, by giving them a good cleaning without breaking down the compression fabric, padding or top band.
Best Sports Compression Socks
Physix Gear Compression Socks
Physix Gear Compression Socks are recommended for their overall quality, performance, value, comfort and durability.
Made of a comfortable, highly-breathable and durable fabric, these socks can be worn all day to help reduce fatigue and swelling in your lower legs. The fabric is also moisture-wicking, which helps keep your feet dry and blister-free.
With just the right amount of support and compression in the heel, foot, calves and toe areas, they can provide relief for shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and other lower leg ailments.
Their stay-put cuffs keep these socks from falling down, without pinching or feeling too stiff.
You can use these socks during exercise or put them on when you’re finished to boost your recovery.
Wearers also love that the socks wash well without losing any compression.
They’re available in two different sizes and several different color combinations, so you can choose the ones that are the right fit and style for you.
Vitalsox Compression Socks
Vitalsox Compression Socks are extremely popular with runners, but they’re an excellent option for anyone who exercises regularly, is pregnant or dealing with foot or calf pain, or spends a lot of time on their feet.
They’re lightly padded at the ball and top of the foot, but not too bulky, so you can easily wear them with any athletic or work shoes. The padding provides additional comfort and helps to avoid abrasion and foot stress from impact sports like running.
The socks’ unique Drystat material controls moisture while also reducing bacteria growth, to reduce your risk of blisters and smelly socks. The compression starts around the midfoot, providing arch support while keeping common injuries, such as plantar fasciitis and shin splints, at bay.
These socks are available in several sizes and many different colors, so you can choose ones that suit your needs and preferences best.
Bitly Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks
If you suffer from or have been prone to plantar fasciitis, you should definitely consider the Bitly Plantar Fasciitis compression socks.
By offering targeted compression and support to your arch and ankle, these socks can help ease your arch and heel pain and stimulate healing blood flow to speed your recovery.
The moisture-wicking, breathable fabric promotes temperature regulation, so your feet will stay cool and dry.
These socks are available in several different sizes and colors, so you can get one customized for your needs and preferences.
Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks
If you’ve been dealing with shin splints or calf cramping, these Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks may give you some relief, while also helping to improve your comfort and performance before and after workouts.
These socks feature graduated compression to help improve blood circulation and oxygen flow, reduce leg fatigue, and support muscles.
Made of a lightweight, moisture-wicking, and thermal-regulating fabric, these socks feel comfortable against your skin and the seamless technology reduces blisters, rubbing and irritation.
They also feature an elastic band around the foot to help support your arches. Runners love the no-slip cuff, which holds the sock in place, no matter how fast you’re running.
2XU Compression Performance Run Socks
The 2XU Compression Performance Run Socks have a reputation for being one of the lightest and most comfortable compression socks out there.
With zoned breathability panels and moisture-wicking fabric, they provide plenty of airflow and moisture-control, allowing your feet to stay dry, cool and comfortable all day.
The graduated compression supports the calf, shin, ankle, Achilles, and foot, allowing for increased blood flow and maximum muscle contained.
The seamless construction and the light padding help keep your feet more comfortable and blister-free.
While you’ll pay a bit more for these socks compared to others, it’s worth the price for such a reliable, high-performance product.
CEP Women’s Progressive+ Compression Run Sock
The CEP Women’s Progressive+ Compression Run Socks feature compressive yarns that wrap around the leg more than 400 times, providing precise compression that promotes recovery and performance.
The compression contains your calf muscles and increases circulation, which helps reduce muscle soreness, as well as prevent shin splints and other overuse injuries.
By molding to your feet without restricting your toes, these socks offer a snug, custom fit, while also preventing blisters.
They also feature a halo top-band right below the knee, which keeps your socks in place, no matter how many miles you’re running.
There’s a big selection of fun colors to choose from, including flash green, Hawaii blue/pink, black/pink, and gold metal.
SB SOX Compression Socks
Whether you need compression socks for exercise, work, or pain relief, the SB SOX Compression Socks provide you with ideal compression and support, all at a lower price than similar socks.
These lightweight and durable socks feature a cushioned heel and toe support for additional comfort.
The anti-odor, anti-static, moisture-wicking and breathable fabric stops the growth of bacteria and fungus, keeping your feet dry and healthy.
They’re available in four different sizes so you can get the right fit and amount of support for you.
Travelon Compression Socks
These comfortable compression socks from Travelon are perfect if you’re going to be on a long flight and are worried about blood pooling and swelling in your lower legs.
And, once you reach your destination, you can also wear them to prevent leg fatigue while you’re walking around.
Once you pull them on, they stay put, even without a constricting ring around the top.
They’re available in several different sizes and come in white, black or tan.
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