This review of Pro Compression socks is long overdue. I received a pair of compression socks of Pro Compression back in January. I wanted to do a thorough testing of the socks because I was interested in testing claims that compression socks speed recovery. The severe cold winter weather prevented me from running outside for several weeks, so the testing of the socks took a while to do because I wanted to do a couple of really long hard runs.
At every race I’ve been to, there are runners wearing these-now-ubiquitous compression socks. They swear by the power of the socks. Compression socks help them run and recover faster. I was curious. Is this true? Or is this simply a placebo effect, where the belief in the socks’ efficacy cause people to perceive a difference when none actually existed?
A literature review of the science of the efficacy of compression socks in enhanced performance and enhanced recovery revealed that the evidence in favor of compression socks is at best mixed, and usually fail to find any effect. This blog post by Joe Friel nicely summarizes many of the studies. Because of these studies fail to find that compression socks harm your performance, many people conclude that if you think that compression socks will help you, then you should go ahead and wear them because 1) the socks might actually help, 2) if they physically don’t, there’s still a placebo effect and 3) the socks won’t hurt you. In my own reading and interpretation of the literature (and based on my own experience), it’s dubious that compression socks help with performance and recovery with normal, regular exercise. I do think it’s possible that compression socks help with recovery after extremely strenuous exercise and/or injury. The studies that found benefits in compression socks were the ones that had participants exercising to exhaustion, tested for lactate threshold or V02 max (which requires participants to exercise intensely), or complete very long endurance races (i.e., ultramarathons).
I was interested in conducting my own self-experimentation with Pro Compression socks. I received a pair of powder blue Marathon socks. I wore the socks (usually just one of the Pro Compression sock, more on this) on different days after different types of run. Because I can’t stand getting too warm while I’m running, I did not test the socks while running to see if it improved my performance. I knew if I ran with the socks, I would get too hot and quit prematurely. Instead I tested for Pro Compression for recovery benefits.
After a training run, I either did not wear the Pro Compression socks to observe recovery with no socks or wore ONE Pro Compression sock on one leg and ONE full length ski sock (no compression) on the other leg. I’m a scientist in real life so I like having lots of experimental controls (hence, the “placebo” sock). But I also know that this foray into self-experimentation is full of confounds; for example this is not a double-blind procedure where the researcher and the participants have no knowledge of which condition (compression sock or non-compression sock) that the participant was in. I was fully aware which leg that the compression sock and the control non-compression sock looks nothing like the compression sock, but I did the best that I could do in under these circumstances. Anyway, there were several days of my wearing mismatching socks around the house. Ben just shook his head and thought I was crazy. I really wanted to do this because I wanted to compare how each tired leg felt after several hours of being ensconced in a compression sock or not having any compression at all. I felt this method provided me with better information because presumably each leg is equally tired and if there is a benefit, then one leg should feel better. I couldn’t guarantee that the legs would be equally tired after different sessions. If I felt a benefit (or a lack of benefit) of the compression socks, I couldn’t be sure different levels of fatigue played a role when comparing between sessions. I wore the socks after different types of runs (short speed work, long slow runs, and long hard fast runs) and on rest days when I had plantar fasciitis. For all but one of these runs, I ran in the morning and wore the socks from after my shower and until I went to sleep at night (I don’t like wearing socks when I’m sleeping). I wore the socks all night long after one long hard run.
I did not notice any recovery benefits after short speed work and long slow runs. Based on my experience and the literature, I don’t think compression socks do much when there is no damage. I also did not observe any recovery benefit after long hard runs, but this could be because 1) I did not wear the socks for a sufficient period of time (I wore the socks for hours during the day, but perhaps I would have needed to wear the socks throughout the night as well) and 2) perhaps I did not exercise hard enough to reap the benefits of compression. None of my runs were longer than 10 miles. As I said before, the evidence to support the efficacy of compression socks came from studies where participants exercised pretty much to exhaustion. I was tired, but not that tired. I did, however, found the feeling of compression around my calves to be highly comforting after a long hard run.
Where I did experience the greatest benefit of Pro Compression socks was when I suffered from plantar fasciitis. When I get plantar fasciitis, it hurts to stand for extended periods of time and to walk/run a lot. I found that the Pro Compression socks made the pain far more tolerable. I was able to stand and walk much longer than when I wasn’t wearing the compression sock. The compression in the socks seemed to provide additional support for the weakened muscle in the foot, which then provided relief. I tested the idea that the compression sock provided additional support by taping some RockTape on my right foot. I taped my foot so I got the similar feeling of compression and support from RockTape as I got from Pro Compression. Et voila, the pain subsided and my foot felt better. Additional support either from compression socks or kinesio tape relieves plantar fasciitis pain.
Pro Compression socks are high quality socks. I’m very impressed with the material and its durability.
Pro Compression helped me with dealing plantar fasciitis pain. I could stand and walk longer when wearing the socks than when I did not have the socks on.
It feels really good to wear after a long hard run. When my legs are totally trashed and I can feel them throbbing, the feeling of compression feels very comforting and soothing. So much so that even though I usually don’t sleep with socks, I slept with Pro Compression socks on after one particular hard race.
The scientific evidence for the benefits of compression socks with respect to better performance and enhanced recovery is inclusive.
Personally I don’t feel that I experienced any recovery benefits after normal training runs and races. I’ve already laid out the caveats of this particular opinion, but with all the hype over compression socks, it’s very easy to think that they may be a panacea. Compression socks may provide recovery benefits, but its effect is more subtle and limited in scope.
I absolutely wear Pro Compression socks whenever I feel plantar fasciitis pain. Currently I don’t feel the need to wear the socks after my runs because I don’t experience the benefits myself. It could be that I don’t run enough and once I start marathon training, then I will experience its benefits. If I do have a particularly hard run and my calves are throbbing, I do find wearing the socks soothing, even though I don’t perceive any noticeable increase in recovery benefits either in terms of speed of recovery or less fatigue in the following days.
I know several runners who do regularly wear compression socks and swear by them. If you feel that they work, then they probably do (either for real or as a placebo). In any event, compression socks don’t harm or hinder you. I found the experience of wearing Pro Compression highly interesting and I look forward to doing more self-experimentation with them in the future when I start running more miles. Along with testing the socks during marathon training, I’m interested in looking at compression socks as an injury preventative measure. You can expect more reviews and analyses from me in the future.
If you’re interested in trying out a pair of Pro Compression socks for yourself, you can enter my giveaway (Thanks, Pro Compression!) and/or buy a pair for 40% off at Pro Compression with this coupon code: BLG14. The giveaway ends on May 7th at 11:59 pm.