To treat certain vascular conditions such as varicose veins, a vein specialist near Houston may recommend that the patient wear compression socks. But even if a person does not suffer from venous disease, he or she might benefit from graduated compression for the purpose of improving athletic performance and recovery. While further research is needed in this area, clinical evidence does suggest that compression socks offer benefits for runners.
Compression stockings are primarily prescribed to people with venous insufficiency because they improve the flow of blood upward through the legs and back to the heart. The blood vessels in the legs cannot pump blood upward to the heart; they must rely on a system of valves to prevent backflow and muscle contractions to move the blood upward. Compression stockings support the proper flow of blood by gently squeezing the legs. With graduated compression, people may achieve a reduced risk of swelling and achiness in the legs. Clinical evidence has long since established that compression socks are useful for blood flow improvement while at rest. However, the research is inconclusive regarding whether compression socks help during running or other exercises.
Despite the lack of evidence that substantiates the claim of improved blood flow while a person is running, many runners do state that wearing compression socks reduces fatigue in the legs. This may be due to the effect of compression socks on muscle vibration. Each time the foot strikes the ground, the force of the impact causes vibrations of the soft tissues of the lower leg. It is thought that these muscle vibrations increase muscle fatigue of the legs. Some researchers tested this theory in long and triple jumpers who wore compression socks. These jumpers did not wear the socks to improve blood flow, but to improve the power of the leg muscles. The researchers determined that graduated compression may help manage muscle vibrations and thus reduce muscle fatigue.
Lactate clearance is a major issue for distance runners. During exercise, lactate levels increase as a byproduct of the breakdown of glucose. Elevated levels of lactate are associated with increased muscle fatigue. More than one clinical study has been performed to assess whether compression socks can improve blood lactate clearance and they have confirmed this theory.