Runners who struggle with tightness, cramping, or pain in their lower legs while running are willing to try pretty much anything to alleviate their symptoms. One popular solution is running in compression socks or tights. Benefits like increased blood flow, improved circulation, prevention of cramps, and improved recovery are espoused by manufacturers of compression garments. But does running in this specialized gear actually make a difference?
The answer is…maybe. Compression gear has been clinically proven to help with recovery (that is, when worn after a hard run or race) by improving oxygen flow, increasing blood flow, and improving circulation. Medical professionals have used compression gear for bed-ridden patients to prevent blood clots and improve circulation for decades, so it stands to reason that athletes would similarly benefit. However, the jury is still out on using compression socks during athletic pursuits.
Evidence seems to be anecdotal at best. Of more than fifteen studies conducted on the effects of compression gear during performance, three have shown a benefit to wearing the gear on the run. However, many runners swear by compression gear as their “secret weapon” for race day. Because the majority of studies conducted do not use a control subject, it is impossible to tell whether any increase in performance can be attributed to the socks themselves or to a placebo effect – namely, people run faster because they think they can.
Whether people actually run faster while wearing compression gear or not, it does seem that wearing the gear both during and after exercise can improve recovery and help runners “bounce back” from tough workouts more quickly. The result? While compression gear may not help you run faster, it may very well help you recover faster. If you struggle with lower leg pain or have a hard time recovering from hard workouts, they could be worth a try!