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Compression Socks Real or Just a Big Squeeze?

Go to any road race this weekend or athletic event and you will see people wearing fancy new socks that the manufactures claim to decrease the negative effects of blood lactic acid build up in the legs and increase performance. But do these knee high socks (gradual compression stocking or GCS) actually do what the manufactures claim? The logic of their claims seems valid so does it hold water?

Gradual Compression Stockings or GCS are nothing new. They have been around for a very long time in the medical field to help patients that suffer from venous insufficiency conditions or VI. VI is when the veins of the lower extremities do not exert enough force on their walls to overcome the forces of gravity and help with the return of blood to the heart. The GCS provide the added external pressure needed to assist in the return of blood back to the heart. It has been speculated that if GCS’s can work with patients with increasing the efficiency of the venous return of blood that it may help athletes such as endurance runners increase their efficiency of venous return of blood and decrease the workload on the heart. It has also been speculated that if they do increase the efficiency of venous return then the body will be able to clear lactate levels faster and thus increase athletes performance.

According to much of the research that I could find it is not that simple when one is trying to increase the performance in running. The most common studied GCS that I found were GCS that ranged from 15 mmHg to 35 mmHg. Note that 35 mmHg GCS are very tight stockings and rank up there with the pressure of skinny jeans on a football linebacker. It would take sometime to get use to the pressure of GCS that high and still be able to comfortably run.

The majority of research I found shows that there is no performance enhancements associated with the use of GCS when it comes to measured results such as total time to fatigue when put on a maximal treadmill run test, peak heart rate, VO2 Max, rates of perceived exertion, lactate threshold. In fact in one study that I came across the researchers found that the total time to fatigue on a treadmill with elite distance runners actually decreased with the GCS. Though the study did also show that the lactate levels in the runners blood were lower in the GCS after the treadmill test, they attributed that to the decrease amount of time running time on the treadmill¹. But what was also interesting was that though there were wasn’t much research to show that GCS increase running performance there was some research to show that leg power was maintained better with the athletes that wore the GCS.

Athletes that wore the GCS and performed 10K time trials and then were asked to perform a countermovement jump test were found to have much higher rebound jumps as opposed to a group that did not wear the GCS and also ran the 10K time trial². This was attributed to the increased proprioceptive feedback from the GCS and the fact that the stockings do not allow the calf to “jiggle” as much during the landing phase of the jump.

This is not to say that GCS were not found to have any positive effects in any of the studies that I found. Most of the studies that I found that reported to have a positive result on runners were those that did not focus on running performance but more on recovery. Several studies did show that the use of GCS did help with the decrease in fluid volume in the calfs after a treadmill endurance tests³ and helped return the athlete to a level of homeostasis faster during active recovery⁴. Though it is not clear whether or not if an athlete has to wear the GCS during the workout or they can receive the same effect by putting the GCS on right after the workout.

The use of GCS as a tool to increase performance during a race is still up for debate and personally I don’t see how a trained individual with calfs that are well developed would receive much benefit from such devices. But, as a tool to help with recovery there is much more evidence for the use of GCS’s and I think a much better reason to purchase anything. Because if recovery is better and faster the results of your training will be that much better and you won’t be relying on some ‘super socks’ to get you the results you are looking for.



  1. Ali, A., Creasy, R., & Edge, J. (n.d.). The Effect of Graduated Compression Stockings on Running Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1385-1392.

  2. Rider, B., Coughlin, A., Hew-Butler, T., & Goslin, B. (n.d.). Effect Of Compression Stockings On Physiological Responses And Running Performance In Division Iii Collegiate Cross Country Runners During A Maximal Treadmill Test. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 1-1.

  3. Bovenschen, H., Booij, M., & Carine J. M. Van Der Vleuten. (n.d.). Graduated Compression Stockings for Runners: Friend, Foe, or Fake? Journal of Athletic Training, 226-232.

  4. Bovenschen, H., Booij, M., & Carine J. M. Van Der Vleuten. (n.d.). Graduated Compression Stockings for Runners: Friend, Foe, or Fake? Journal of Athletic Training, 226-232.


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