Compression socks have long been touted as essential weapons in the arsenal of diabetics and those with varicose veins. The improved circulation this legwear supplies keeps these conditions, and their negative effects on a person's lower extremities, in check. In addition, compression hosiery (whether knee length, thigh-high, or tights) is a boon for long-distance travelers and individuals who spend a considerable amount of time on their feet.
However, there is another group that is becoming aware of the utility of this legwear: athletes. Individuals who engage in physical activity for a living, participate in competitions from the neighborhood variety to the Olympics, and work out for optimum health and strength are focusing their attention on the benefits of compression stockings. Athletes are coming to the conclusion that these accessories provide benefits both during and following workouts.
The efficacy of compression socks lies in their effects on blood circulation. The heart sends oxygen-rich blood throughout the body via a system of arteries. Cells take up oxygen and nutrients, and the depleted blood returns through veins to the heart, where it receives a new oxygen supply from the lungs.
When a person exercises, lactic acid forms in the muscles. If allowed to remain, the waste product can cause discomfort and tiredness. Compression socks combat this double whammy because of graduated compression: the legwear has a tighter fit around the feet and ankles and gradually loosens through the calf area. This quality forces oxygen-depleted and lactic-acid containing blood from the legs, facilitating its transportation to the heart and lungs.
In addition, according to research, compression causes artery walls to dilate, improving blood flow by as much as 40% during exercise and 30% afterwards. On the flip side, veins become narrower, speeding up the rate of deoxygenated blood and lactic acid's removal from leg muscles. These phenomena together allow quicker recovery time, reduced soreness and fatigue, and less of the muscle damage that accompanies rigorous exercise, especially the weight-bearing and resistance kind. One researcher, who discovered (in the first study conducted in actual conditions) notable benefits among compression-sock-wearing participants in a grueling South Africa race, suggests wearing the legwear during and for 24 hours post-workout.
There is more good news for athletes. Compression legwear can benefit those suffering from muscle cramps, injury, and conditions like tendonitis as a complement to medical treatment and therapy. It decreases discomfort and may keep re-injury from occurring. Wearing compression socks, however, is not a magic pill; injuries and chronic and acute conditions must be evaluated and treated by medical professionals.
Regardless of your level of physical activity--Olympic athlete, weekend warrior, or occasional visitor to the gym--compression socks may be what the doctor ordered. This readily available and comfortable legwear can reap significant benefits--and make possible longer, more frequent, and less painful physical activity. It's a win-win situation.