The In’s and Out’s of Compression.

To compress or not to compress… it’s a pressing question…

I started nursing school before I became a runner, so incidentally I saw compression socks on patients before I knew they were also used in running. I learned in nursing school that compression socks were a great way to increase blood flow to extremities, decrease the risk of blood clots and fluid accumulation in the lower legs and feet, and aid in muscle recovery in patients going through extensive physiotherapy treatment. I often saw them on patients who were bed ridden or in wheel chairs since partially due to gravity, blood can tend to pool in the lower legs which can occur both during exercise or when at rest. Blood pooling increases lower leg and foot edema and the chance of developing blood clots. While I learned the importance of them from a medical stand point, I had yet to discover their benefit for the running community.

When I started running, and getting into the gear and apparel of the sport, I started to notice people wearing compression socks while running. I will admit that at first I was sure that they were just a fad and people liked wearing awesome coloured, knee high socks. It wasn’t until I started training for my first 50km that I decided to give them a shot. I went to the Running Room and got fitted for a pair. (see how to fit below). I walked out the of the store with the most expensive socks on the planet surely, a $70 dollar pair of bright blue, knee high, CEP compression socks.

I immediately put them on and headed out for a 10km trail run and was horrified. My lower legs started aching so strongly at the half way mark that I could hardly run, a sensation I had never felt before. I consulted Dayna, a compression sock veteran, and she told me that you had to ease into them. She said like any new product, you should start with shorter runs, and wearing them after runs for short amounts of time for recovery.

A little over a year later, since first trying them and I don’t think I could live with out them. All three
of us swear by them and all use them in different ways. Dayna wears compression socks on nearly ever long run. I personally wear them at work as I spend 12 hours on my feet on concrete. Courtney wears them religiously after each run for recovery. All three of us are found clad in our compression gear which included socks, calve sleeves and thigh compression sleeves at the Coastal Challenge and every long distance event we have done since.

There have been studies that have shown that compression socks stimulate blood flow, help legs recover faster after a long run, and reduce lactic acid build up. Some runners wear them while training and races, others use them for recovery. Some runners swear by them for improving race day performance. The idea is that with increased venous blood flow, by-products from muscle strain can be transported by the blood and flushed out faster. These by-products cause fatigue in the legs during long rungs. If you can elimante the by-products faster, muscle soreness occurs slower, and performance improves. Recovery after a race or a long run is similar. By increasing venous blood return, your muscles are going to recover quicker. From a personal experience, I run a lot before my night shifts and I have found that wearing compression socks at night after a run really helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness for the next day. Compression socks can also help prevent varicose vains and achy legs. Dayna finds that wearing them during a run allows her to run longer without her calve muscles getting tight.

Most brands make a variety of compression sock options, ankle socks, knee length compression socks, calve compression sleeves, thigh compression sleeves and compression shorts. I think we can all say that they made a huge difference on our recovery time, which is so important. Courtney swears by her calf sleeves and compression socks for helping with recovery and only wears them after runs!

So, we all support compression socks but do understand they might not work for everyone. If you are interested, here are a few pointers, especially if you are a compression virgin.

Types of compression socks:

Our favourite brands are:

  1. CEP Compression:
  2. Compress Sport:
  3. Pro Compression:

Calf Sleeve – Pro’s, they allow you to keep the compression on your calves while wearing your own sock. I find this to be the best option because the sock on compression socks doesn’t always work for me and its nice to have the option to change your sock etc. It’s also nice to just not have a sock on while using the compression for recovery for example. Letting your feet dry out or if its hot out etc. They are also usually a little bit cheaper then the full compression sock. Con’s, some say that they have experienced swelling below the ankle in the foot due to where the sleeve ends. I myself have not experienced this.

Full Compression Sock – Pro’s, its a full sock in one. Con’s, its a full sock in one… you just don’t have the option to change your sock without changing the entire sock. You will see lots of different compression socks with a variety of “compression shapes”. Socks will be designed to work with your muscles therefore certain areas of the sock will be knitted tighter then other areas, this is what is creating the muscle support where it is needed and allowing for movement without constricting in other areas.

Full Compression Short – This particular short from Compress Sport is tailor-made for roadrunners, however all compression shorts have the same idea whether they are for trail running or road running, this running short supports the muscles, absorbs shocks and guarantees minimum muscle tears and fatigue. Precise compression is exerted on targeted muscles, activating blood-flow and enhancing performance. Compression shorts are working in the same way as compression for your calves. We are compressing to support the muscles, preventing fatigue and also creating blood flow. I also find a compression short to be helpful under a pair of loser running shorts to help prevent chaffing, or for those of us who have the all much loved thigh rub!

Quad Compression Sleeve – Another example from Compress Sport, a quad sleeve that fits just like the calf sleeve. It will procure strength, power and safety to the muscles and tendons. We are skipping the entire short and allowing for easy slip on slip off compression. A pro for recovery compression or for during a race with easy on and off access. Again we are doing the same concept with compression here, during activity we are supporting the muscle preventing fatigue and creating blood flow. After race or long distance we are compressing to still keep blood flow and prevent swelling.

How to properly fit compression calf sleeves and or socks:

  • To ensure a proper fit, your calve is measured around, and then sized accordingly. A good compression sock should be tight that you can’t easily pull it away from your leg while it is on, but not so tight that it is digging into your leg.
  • If you are just wearing the compression socks for recovery purposes, not while running, but after a run then a little tighter is okay.

1. Don’t wear compression socks for the first time the day of a big race.

-Why? NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. You might blister, get achy legs, and do more damage then what you are trying to prevent.
2. Don’t wear compression sleeves for recovery unless you are going to be elevating your feet for a portion of the day
-Why? Think swollen feet. The compression in the calves will cause blood to pool in your feet if you do not elevate them.
3. Get properly fitted for a pair
-Why? A proper fit ensures that you are getting the right amount of compression and that the sock fits you properly to prevent blisters.
4. Figure out what works for you
-Why? Like we shared, all of us use compression socks differently and all get benefits out of them. You might find that you really like running in them, or you might find you only like them for recovery.
6. Ease into them
-Why? Like I said, they made my legs ache the firs time I used them. They are very tight, as they should be, and can take some getting used to before you learn to love them, and start benefiting from them.
5. Get them in a your favourite colour
-Why? Seriously nothing is cooler than bright coloured, knee high socks!

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