Compression socks and lower leg compression sleeves are worn by runners and athletes in both power and endurance sport, but the evidence supporting their effectiveness is surprisingly murky.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that wearing compression gear makes you recover quicker and perform better, but there’s actually not many studies supporting the claims. The socks are marketed as helping to increase blood flow to muscles, in turn improving recovery and performance.
New research makes the topic more confusing still. Research published this month in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance put 16 competitive distance runners on a treadmill with compression socks and didn’t find them to be helpful, overall.
Each runner ran three four-minute stints on a treadmill without compression socks. They later repeated the three tests with compression socks. Their oxygen uptake and biomechanics were tracked in all the tests.
The results didn’t show any overall improvements in the group, though some performed worse and some performed better, prompting researchers to write “it appears that the individual response to wearing lower-leg compression varies greatly and warrants further examination.”
Some athletes seem to have a beneficial response to the sleeves and socks, though not everyone. Why some respond positively and some respond negatively isn’t understood.