Compression Socks for Running: How to Use and Benefits

Last update May 18, 2018

Currently, there are many sports tools that help runners, basketball players, and triathletes to ease muscle pain, improve circulation, reduce soreness in injured joints, and more. The most popular of them are kinesiology athletic tapes, compression sleeves, stockings, and special knee braces. In this article though, we’re going to tell you about compression hosiery, particularly, compression socks for running.

What Are Compression Socks?

Compression socks are specially designed hosiery that helps prevent such venous issues as swelling, venous inflammation, and thrombosis. They can also serve as a supportive tool for those who already have certain medical conditions. Compression socks tightly fit your leg, thereby reducing blood pressure on your veins, preventing stagnation of blood and relieving the feeling of "heavy legs".

Earlier, compression socks were recommended for pilots and frequent travelers, but now many runners use them during long trainings, marathons, and ultra marathons. Recent researches have shown that they stimulate blood flow, helping legs recover quickly after running.

Compression socks are intended to increase blood circulation and reduce lactic acid production. Some runners use them during training, while others prefer to put them on immediately after running many miles. Long running socks are especially popular among those who often run ultra distances.

What Do Compression Socks Do for Runners?

Running compression socks put some amount of pressure on your legs to help your blood vessels work better and deliver more oxygen to your muscles. They also prevent  tissue damage during training, which is vitally important for athletes. They are beneficial after marathons as well, since the lymph circulation and beefed-up blood help muscles recover quicker. Some studies even show that compression gear can slightly improve performance if worn during exercising.

They are mainly used to maintain healthy legs for runners, athletes, or just those who live a sedentary lifestyle or spend too much time on their foot. How do compression socks work? To put it simply, when we sit or stand still for a long time, the gravity forces put high pressure on our legs. The greatest pressure is in the veins of our ankles and the pressure decreases gradually up our body. That's why compression garments are designed with the greatest pressure at the ankle.

Benefits of Compression Socks

Compression hosiery is great not only for sports. This kind of socks has numerous benefits in daily life and we’re going to reveal all of them to you.

  • Mild-compression stockings provide a relief for tired and achy legs. They help ease little swelling of feet and ankles, thus, keeping your legs healthy. They are a must for pregnant women and those who sit or stand for extended periods of time.
  • Medium-compression socks are good for travelers who often go long distances. They prevent spider veins, varicose, or deep vein thrombosis. They are often used in post-sclerotherapy treatment so as to prevent the development of veins issues in future.
  • Tighter compression garments can provide a relief from moderate to severe varicose veins, superficial thrombophlebitis, moderate to severe edema or lymphatic edema. They also help with keeping active ulcers healthy and can prevent vein thrombosis and orthostatic hypotension.
  • Extra-firm socks are used for treatment of severe lymphedema and edema. They are able to ease the symptoms of postural hypotension and orthostatic hypotension.

As you see, compression stocking can be very helpful to everyone, as they prevent the appearance of spider veins or tired, heavy legs after running or long sitting/standing hours.

How to Choose the Right Socks?

First of all, you have to decide how much compression you really need. The compression classes are defined by the pressure (in mm of mercury) applied to the ankle.

  • Preventive class of compression (mild compression) can prevent the development of varicose veins and chronic venous insufficiency. These stockings put pressure somewhere between 15-18 mmHg. They are good for people with excess weight, spider veins, and excessive blood clotting.

Best for: daily wear.

  • The socks of the 1st compression class (moderate compression) have a great therapeutic effect at the initial stage of chronic venous insufficiency or oedema. The pressure here varies between 18-21 mmHg. This compression socks ease swelling, varicose veins and vascular asterisks.

Best for: daily wear and sports recovery.

  • Stockings of the 2nd compression class (firm compression) are usually worn only after a doctor's prescription. They are good for those with for chronic venous insufficiency (pronounced varicosis, pronounced oedema) without trophic disorders. The compression varies within 23-32 mmHg. These socks can be also used after traumas or surgery.

Best for: daily wear, sports recovery, medical recovery, managing mild symptoms

  • The 3rd class stocking (extra firm compression) provide 34-46 mmHg pressure at your ankles. These compression socks are used for treatment of severe chronic venous insufficiency. They help people fight lymphatic edema and prevent deep vein thrombosis. Like the 2nd-class compression socks, is this type of stockings is worn only after doctor's prescription.

Best for: managing moderate to severe symptoms, medical recovery, daily wear.

  • The 4th (RX compression) is the maximum compression class with 49 mmHg and higher pressure. They are good for those with severe lymphoedema or deep vein thrombosis.

Best for: treating serious venous diseases.

Compression socks of 21 mmHg or less are considered to be non-medical hosiery. They are used for general comfort and support during training, travels, work, etc. You don’t need a prescription to get these socks. However, compression socks of 23 mmHg and higher pressure must be prescribed by your physician. They are usually intended for treatment and should be used under the supervision of your doctor.

Material

Unfortunately, like any other compression clothing, compression socks can wear out rather quickly. Therefore, when choosing them, you must be very careful and be sure to check the material. They should be made of breathable materials like nylon, polyester, wool, CoolMax (moisture-absorbing fiber), Lycra, or Spandex. In any case, they should provide comfort and dryness of your feet.

These high-performance materials have skin-cooling and moisture-wicking properties. They let moisture evaporate, allowing you to use the athletic compression socks while exercising. If a pair of socks doesn’t allow the moisture to escape, then you’ll run a risk of itching, rubbing, and smelling bad.

We don’t recommend you to get white socks for running, as they might get dirty rather fast. Try to choose basic colors like black, beige, navy, etc.

Type

Knee-high compression socks have gradient compression and are offered in many styles and thickness. You can find models with open and closed toe styles.

Thigh-high compression garments are good if you need a full-leg compression. They are also offered in open and closed-toe designs. These stockings have silicone bands to minimize slippage.

Pantyhose/maternity garment is your choice if you need a full-leg and waist support. They have both legs connected with a torso portion.

Sports short compression socks provide compression to the ankle area only and are great for runners.

How to Choose the Right Size of Compression Socks?

To get the right-sized socks, you need to take your measurements correctly and then refer to the sizing chart. It’s better to measure yourself in the morning, because legs usually swell throughout a day. Different models of compression socks require different measurements.

  • If you want to get thigh-high stockings or pantyhose, you will need to measure the smallest ankle circumference, the largest calf circumference, the thigh circumference (approx. 3 inches below the gluteal crease), and the distance from the ground to the spot you’ll make the thigh measurement. Some stocking models may also require a hip measurement. Just measure the largest hip circumference.
  • For long running socks (knee-high socks), you’ll need to measure the smallest ankle circumference, the largest calf circumference, and the distance from the ground to the crease in your knee.
  • For short socks, measure ankle circumference only. Place the measuring tape at the narrowest part of your ankle, above your ankle bone.

Remember that compression socks mustn’t be too tight, otherwise, they might cause blood flow problems and cut off your circulation. Don't roll or fold down the tops. The socks should lie flat against your skin without bunching.

Can You Wear Compression Socks All Day Long?

Ideally, stockings should be worn all day long while you are up. You just need to take them off before going to bed at night. Wearing the socks throughout the whole day will boost circulation and make your legs feel much better. So, you can use sports running socks even on those days when you’re not training. However, it’s also important to give your legs time for relaxation, thus, remember to take them off occasionally. Plus, there’s no benefit from wearing compression socks while you’re laying flat. Take them off every time you’re going to sleep or have a nap. Also, it’s not recommended to wear them in a bath or shower.

It’s better to have at least two pairs of stockings so that you can wear one pair, while another pair is being washed and dried. As for washing recommendations, you should hand-wash your compression garments at about 104F and air dry them away from the direct sun or other heat sources.