One of the most common questions we hear from runners, particularly runners who are prone to injuries, shin splints, or muscle cramps, is "Do compression socks really work?" The (very) short answer is yes: increased blood flow and decreased muscle vibrations will help improve performance, facilitate recovery, and lessen muscle fatigue. For a more in-depth explanation of how compression works, we like this article from Fleet Feet Hartford.
To really understand how compression socks and sleeves work, it’s important to have a basic understanding of how blood flows through the body. The heart pumps oxygen containing blood to our extremities and working muscles though arteries. Once the cells use the oxygen and other nutrients from the blood, the then deoxygenated blood, along with lactic acid and other waste products enter the veins to get taken back to the heart. Once the blood gets back to the heart, it’s oxygenated from the lungs and the process is repeated.
Keeping oxygenated blood flowing to muscles is important for performance. The more oxygen the cells have, the better they will function. During exercise, the body produces lactic acid as a waste product. If this lactic acid is not removed from the muscles, it can contribute to soreness and decreased ability to perform. Another factor in decreased performance is muscle fatigue. Muscular vibration during physical activity contributes to fatigue. Think about how much shock and vibration is going through your leg muscles as you pound pavement with 3-5 times your body weight while running. Over time, those little vibrations of the muscles add up and they become fatigued.