Benefits During Performance vs Recovery
The benefits of compression in both performance and also recovery has been the subject of much debate for many years. While many remain divided on the possible benefits during performance despite anecdotal evidence and use among elite runners like Olympic medalists Meb Keflezighi, Chris Solinsky and legend Paula Radcliffe, there is a consensus regarding the benefits of compression foot sleeves and calf sleeves during post-race recovery.
Research consistently suggests that compression socks & sleeves noticeably enhance your recovery after strenuous workouts and races, allowing you to return to running & training much faster, and providing you with an obvious training advantage.
For example, a key study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by a team of Australian and New Zealand scientists provides some compelling evidence. In this study, a test group of 33 runners included some who wore leg compression sleeves for 48 hours after a marathon. Significantly, those who recovered with the compression socks were able to run for longer on a graded treadmill test 14 days after their marathon than the control group that didn’t use compression.
“In the compression group, average treadmill run to exhaustion time two weeks after the marathon increased by 2.6 percent,” the researchers reported. “In the placebo group, run to exhaustion time decreased by 3.4 percent. This shows a significant beneficial effect of compression socks on recovery.”
A review of 12 other studies on compression socks and sleeves published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year reached a similar conclusion about the recovery benefits of compression. It concluded that compression gear had a “moderate” effect in diminishing delayed onset muscle soreness following hard workouts and allowed damaged muscle tissue to be restored to its full power and strength. “These results indicate that compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage,” the researchers noted.
How Do They Work?
Originally developed to improve blood circulation and prevent blood clots in people with deep vein thrombosis and other problems, compression socks squeeze the de-oxygenated blood that pools in your ankles and feet when you are sitting or standing and helps send it up toward your heart. There, the blood is re-oxygenated by your lungs and then sent back down to more quickly to repair the muscle damage in your legs.
Secondary Benefits During Performance
Nevertheless, it’s clear that compression socks, calf sleeves, shorts and tops can keep your muscles warm and improve blood flow during runs on cold days. Compression socks provide an extra bit of stability for your ankles and calves when you’re running on an uneven trail in reducing muscle vibration that can also create soreness. And the lycra/spandex-like fabrics in compression gear provide a comfortable feel while allowing your body to efficiently wick sweat away, which can prevent chafing and blisters.
Not All Compression Is Created Equal
However you decide to use them—whether for running or to recover more quickly from your hard runs or races—make sure you buy the compression socks & sleeves with true graduated compression. The best manufacturers provide moderately graduated compression calf sleeves which are tighter at the ankle than at the top of the calf to promote venous blood return and which has 20+ mmHg of moderate compression. Among compression products, compression calf sleeves have been found to be particularly effective in reducing shin splints and calf & leg soreness while compression foot sleeves are most effective with other problems such as plantar fasciitis and heel and ankle pain.