Congratulations to the participants of the 21st Annual Steamtown Marathon! Completing the long and arduous 26.2 mile journey is not an easy task. In fact, the mechanical and physiological toll on your body is tremendous; from painful joints, muscles, tendons, to black and blue toes. Not so obvious, however, is the damage to your deep veins and tissues of the circulatory system. New research indicates that strenuous endurance exercise, such as marathon running, stimulates the clotting mechanisms in your body in response to the multiple micro traumas sustained over 2 or more hours. While most healthy athletes will naturally heal from post exercise clot formation, others may be at risk…those traveling more than 1 hour (by car, bus, train or plane). The risk increases substantially for those with a longer period of travel/sitting post-race, history of previous trauma, blood clots or have the genetic predisposition for clot formation.
Compression socks are familiar to most people as the tight knee-high support stockings worn after a surgical procedure such as a knee or hip replacement to prevent blood clots. They are made with a special fabric and weave design to provide graduated compression (stronger compression at foot and ankle and less at the top of the sock) to promote better circulation and movement of fluids from the foot, ankle and calf back to the upper leg and ultimately the heart. Compression socks work similarly in runners. As the stagnant fluid with lactic acid and other byproducts of exercise is removed from the space, fresh blood, nutrients and oxygen is replaced to foster healing of micro damage to tissue and promote more efficient use of the muscles.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research published a study that found wearing compression socks improved running performance. However, similar studies have failed to support this claim. One finding that has been repeatedly supported in the literature, including The British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that compression socks worn in soccer players and runners improved the rate and magnitude of recovery. Moreover, recent studies, including a study with the Boston Marathon, have demonstrated the reduction in clotting mechanisms in those wearing compression socks AFTER the marathon, as compared with those wearing “sham” socks. Benefits seem to be less obvious for short duration activities or when running 10km or less.
In conclusion, only time will tell if compression socks will improve performance in runners will or be merely a fad based on placebo or true fact supported by scientific research. Based on current wisdom, these socks may offer value and benefit AFTER activities of long duration (more than 1 hour) or long distance running (more than 10km) to expedite the recovery from exercise-induced blood clot formation, muscle soreness from the accumulation of lactic acid and other muscle damage byproducts.
It is this author’s opinion that this product is worth a try. However, whenever you try something new for your sport, trials should occur during practice and if successful used during competition. Consider trying a lower compression to begin (the socks come in different degrees of compression). Even if one is hesitant to use the product while running, it appears the greatest value of the sock is after a prolonged training session or competition to reduce exercise-induced muscle soreness and prevent blood clots, especially in athletes at risk for clotting and those traveling for an hour or more after the race. Additionally, in view of the fact that some studies which showed only minimal to moderate improvement in well-trained athletes, it may be that those in greater need, such as deconditioned individuals attempting to begin a fitness program and novice weekend athletes, may benefit more from compression socks than elite athletes.
TAKE HOME: Runners, cyclists, triathletes, soccer players and others participating in endurance sports should consider compression socks, if not during the activity, certainly following the activity for 24 to 48 hours…especially those at risk for blood clots and those traveling for more than one hour after the race. AND…local elite runner, Matt Byrne, two-time Olympic Marathon Trials participant and three-time Steamtown Marathon winner, has been using compression socks post-race for many years. Even before the science, he states the “it just made good sense.”
Where to find compression socks:
2XU Compression Racing Sock – www.2XU.com
Scranton Running Company – Olive Street - Scranton
NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum” in the Scranton Times-Tribune.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: email@example.com
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.