July 24, 2018

Do compression socks help runners?

From world-class sprinters to neighborhood joggers, knee-high compression socks have become commonplace in the running world over the past few years.

Available in a wide array of colors and compression levels, manufacturers have created socks to match every runner. But do compression socks actually do anything to help runners?

“More and more, people are using them to improve performance, but no, they’re not going to make you run faster and they’re not going to make you jump farther,” said Bryan Heiderscheit, PhD, a physical therapist with UW Health's Sports Rehabilitation Program and professor with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Day in and day out, Heiderscheit works closely with runners of all levels as director of research for Badger Athletic Performance and director of the UW Health Sports Medicine Runners Clinic.

In general, the idea behind compression garments is that they enable faster recovery by promoting blood flow. Heiderscheit said this can be beneficial when it comes to treating injuries.

“After an ankle sprain, putting on a compression sock would be a great idea because it prevents fluid from accumulating,” he said.

But Heiderscheit said existing research has shown little more than a placebo effect when it comes to using compression socks to improve recovery between workouts for uninjured athletes.

“What’s really consistent is that people will report feeling better after wearing them but the biometric data says there’s no change,” he said.

Runners certainly aren't doing any harm by wearing compression socks, though Heiderscheit said they might want to pause and lower expectations before rushing to spend as much as $60 on a pair.