While the science behind compression clothing is complicated, the concepts are simple: When an athlete moves, muscles contract to move bones around joints. Compression gear worn over extremities has been proven to help with venous blood flow in people at rest. Doctors prescribe compression socks to people at-risk for deep vein thrombosis, lymphedema and more. Athletic compression gear claims to help in a similar manner to aid in performance, recovery and injury prevention.
A second benefit of compression gear is in muscle stabilization. Muscle fibers contract in only one direction. The myriad movements of the human body are accomplished by opposing muscles situated around articulating joints. However, muscles also are forced to move out of their plane of contraction during athletic movement by shock and vibration. Compression gear lessens the effect of vibrations and shocks upon the muscles by stabilizing them so they can do what they do best – contract – unencumbered by external forces.
This guide will help you choose the best compression socks for your next run. Let’s get started.
Materials: Compression gear is usually made from similar fabrics as traditional athletic clothing. For example, compression shirts are often made using a blend of polyester and another elastic material like spandex to provide a stretchy, tight fit.
Compression shorts also use polyester in many designs.
Compression socks and sleeves, which are very popular among distance runners, are often modeled after other popular running socks. Merino wool is a popular material for high-end compression socks. This soft, durable and quick-drying wool is blended with a small amount of elastic synthetic materials to provide compression to the calf muscles.
Socks in particular must also function perfectly in the role of reducing friction in the foot and must sit smoothly between the foot and shoe.
Compression socks and sleeves also work to help blood and lymph move back through the circulatory system from the extremities. Outside of athletics, compression stockings and sleeves are also used to treat medical conditions such as varicose veins and lymphedema.
Use: Some compression gear is designed with a specific sport in mind. Compression socks are often targeted toward distance runners and sometimes cyclists. Compression shirts may focus on multi-sport athletes, weight lifters, and even runners.
Fit: Choosing a piece of compression gear can be tricky. It’s best to begin with sizing charts from individual vendors. Often, compression gear should be sized the same as non-compression garments of the same style.
Amount of Compression: Medical compression clothing is rated by the amount of graduated compression it exerts on the body as mmHg (which means millimeters of mercury). Unfortunately, athletic companies do not regularly list any quantitative measure of compression for their products.
Once again, it is best to defer to the product description, where sizing charts are usually available.