If you have been running for any length of time, you have likely seen people running in long socks or sleeves on their legs. These are compression socks or sleeves. Maybe you have wondered why they are wearing them or what the purpose of compression is. They do assist to keep the muscles warm in colder weather, but compression does so much more than that!
Hopefully I can clear up some of the questions for you here. But, let’s start with a small anatomy lesson first.
- Your heart is responsible for pumping the blood around your body to supply the necessary oxygen and nutrients to the cells and muscles to generate energy for movement.
- The cells produce waste products as you are running, specifically lactic acid.
- In your legs, you have veins, which assist with blood flow back to the heart. These veins contain valves.
Every time you run, your muscles build up lactic acid. In small amounts, your body can clear it out with no problems. As the intensity and/or mileage increases, the lactic acid may increase as well. Over time, the body can’t flush it out fast enough on its own, and that lactic acid starts building up.
This is where the magic of compression comes in. Compression assists the valves, helping them more efficiently get de-oxygenated blood back to the heart and flush waste products out of the legs.
More specifically, graduated compression is where it’s at. Graduated compression means that the sock or sleeve is slightly tighter at the bottom compared to the top, helping the veins work at their highest level.
As lactic acid builds up, you may develop increased soreness, muscle cramps, and longer time to recovery because there is only so much that the valves can do. Because compression assists the valves, it helps to clear this lactic acid from the legs. This will allow you to train longer and more effectively, have reduced soreness and inflammation from strenuous workouts, and speed up recovery time to get you prepared for your next training session or race.
Compression is also great for injury recovery. No one likes to be injured, but sometimes injuries happen. Compression socks or sleeves can help to keep swelling down in the area when you are injured, which can also help to reduce the pain, allowing you to function better as you are healing and rehabilitating from the injury.
So, how much compression do you need? You can find it as light as 8 mmHG, but as a runner, you need much more than that. You want to look for medical graded 20-30 mmHG graduated compression when you are looking for compression socks or sleeves. That will be the most beneficial and effective for you, your training, and your recovery.
I highly suggest compression sock or sleeves, as I have found them to be very beneficial in my training and racing. Besides, there is really no reason to not at least test out compression sleeves or socks if you haven’t already, as there’s no downside. Even if you end up not liking it, it won’t do any harm to your body!