The Best Compression Socks for Runners

Read the full article to learn about the benefits of compression socks for runners.

Chances are, you have seen a runner in a race with knee-tall, tight socks. These are called compression socks – a sock that gently applies pressure to the calf muscles. If you’ve seen compression socks, you have likely wondered: should you wear compression socks for running? What do compression socks do for runners? This article takes a look at the research about running in compression socks and provides guidance on how to use compression socks for running. 

What do compression socks do for runners?

Do compression socks work for runners? Most evidence indicates that compression socks are most effective as a recovery tool. 

After exercise, circulatory changes occur that lead to venous pooling in the legs, especially the calves. Compression socks expedite the restoration of normal venous return after exercise. According to a 2015 randomized controlled trial in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, compression socks worn in the 48 hours after a marathon resulted in better exercise performance two weeks post-marathon. Similarly, a 2020 systematic review found that compression socks can reduce muscle soreness in runners.

One interesting finding on compression socks came from a 2022 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In this study, researchers examined the impact that compression socks had on intestinal damage during a marathon. Since compression socks encourage venous return, more blood flow goes to the intestines – which leads to less gastrointestinal damage. Theoretically, less GI damage means better recovery, since the gut impacts nutrient absorption and overall inflammation.  

However, other studies demonstrate no significant effect of compression socks on recovery when worn during a marathon. A 2019 study in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation observed no differences in creatine kinase levels (a muscle damage biomarker) when comparing marathon runners who wore compression socks with those who did not. 

A placebo effect could be at play with compression socks and recovery. It could be that runners felt less sore and more recovered because they believed they were doing something to recover better. 

If you feel like compression socks help you recover, use them! They are safe and inexpensive. But if you do not like wearing them, know you can still recover well without them. 

Factors to Consider When Choosing Compression Socks

Similar to running socks, there are various types of compression socks available on the market. Some compression socks are specifically designed for running. Other compression socks are made for day wear, while others still are medically designed. 

Factors to consider when choosing compression socks for running include:

  • Compression levels: The higher the mmHg, the more compressive the sock will be. Most socks for running are 20-30 mmHg. 
  • Material: If you plan on using the socks for running, choose breathable fabrics such as merino/wool or synthetics. Avoid using cotton socks when running. 
  • Sock height: Most compression socks will come up to just below the knee, so that they cover almost the entire calf. If the sock is shorter, it could cut off circulation in the middle of the muscles.
  • Comfort: Compression socks should not hurt to wear! Try a different compression rating, size, or brand if they feel too constrictive.  

Best compression socks for runners

As with regular running socks, the best compression socks for runners will feature breathable, wicking fabrics. Compression socks should not cause foot pain or blisters when running. These brands are some of the most popular, highly-rated compression socks for runners.

Pro Compression Marathon Compression Sock

Pro Compression are one of the most popular compression sock brands – for good reason. These socks are made of breathable, comfortable fabric, with a wide cuff to prevent them from sliding down. With a compression rating of 20-30 mmHg, they can be worn for recovery or during running. (Available on Amazon in unisex sizing.

Zensah Featherweight Compression 

Zensah compression socks feature graduated compression – meaning they compress the calf muscle more than the ankles. These socks are made of a lightweight, breathable fabric, which makes them comfortable even in warm weather training. (Available on Amazon)

Bombas Everday Compression 

If you are searching for a recovery compression sock, Bombas Everyday compression socks will meet your needs. These soft socks feature 15-20 mmHg compression, making them ideal for daily wear. (Purchase on the Bombas website.)

FAQs on running in compression socks

Do compression socks prevent muscle cramps?

Unfortunately, wearing compression socks when running will not prevent muscle cramps during running. Venous return does not impact cramping. Various factors including muscle overuse, low muscle glycogen and neural factors cause cramping – nothing compression socks will fix. (For more on how to prevent muscle cramps, read this article.) 

Should you wear compression socks for running?

Some runners believe that compression socks help them run faster. However, the evidence demonstrates no clear correlation between wearing compression socks and performance. According to the above-cited systematic review, the one area where compression socks worn during running could be beneficial is when racing multiple times with shorter recovery in between, such as multiple 5Ks in a month or a multi-stage race. 

Again, the placebo effect is powerful. Some runners may perform better in compression socks because they believe they do. If you like to wear compression socks when running, keep doing that! If you do not like running in them, know it’s not impacting your performance.

How long should runners wear compression socks?

If you wear compression socks during a run, typically you keep them on for the full duration of the run. Afterwards, you should remove them. While compression socks may be beneficial for recovery, it is generally recommended not to wear them for more than a few hours. Additionally, socks you ran in – and therefore sweated in – may have bacteria that could irritate your skin. 

If you wear compression socks for recovery, you ideally should wear them for a few hours. Do not wear them for more than 8 hours or wear them if you experience discomfort or tingling sensations. 

What type of compression socks are best for running?

Medical-grade compression socks are not designed for the unique demands of running. These socks cannot wick away the heavy amounts of sweat you produce while running. Additionally, some medical-grade compression socks may have too much compression to accommodate how muscles move and swell during exercise. Some medical-grade compression socks feature pressures as high as 30-40 mmHg. 

The best compression socks for runners are those specifically designed for running. Marathon compression socks typically have 20-30 mmHg pressure – enough for the benefits, without interfering with muscle movement or feeling too tight over several hours of wear. Compression socks for running are made of wicking materials so that sweat is pulled away from the skin. 

When should athletes wear compression socks?

Compression socks can be most beneficial in two specific scenarios for runners. The first is during air travel, especially around a race. Since compression socks promote healthy circulation, they reduce the risk of adverse effects during flights, such as deep vein thrombosis. Your legs may feel fresher if you wear compression socks while traveling to your race. 

If you wear compression socks for recovery, you want to use them after races and long runs. You can wear them as soon as you shower after the run. 

Get More Science-Backed Running Advice

Compression socks may help with recovery from running. However, it is an individual choice. If you like to wear them, do so – but you do not need to wear them. Other factors such as sleep, good nutrition, hydration, and rest days have a more profound effect on recovery. 

Want more evidence-based running advice? Listen to the weekly episodes of the Tread Lightly Podcast! 

(*Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. Affiliate links cost you no additional fees to use; the retailers do provide a small percentage back to this website to support the content.)

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