How long to wear compression socks after running?

Runners have been at the forefront of the recent upsurge in popularity concerning compression socks. if you go to a runner’s even chances are that you will see many racers in long socks with funny colours that reach up to their knees, or in some cases cover their whole legs. Runners wear compression socks because they believe they not only help athletic performance, but also aid recovery. So a common question we get is how long to wear compression socks after running?

How Do Running Compression Socks Help Recovery?

During hard exercise the muscles don’t get enough oxygen. Oxygen is needed to supply the muscles with energy during movement. If the oxygen is not present, because the heart can’t pump the blood quick enough to supply the muscles with oxygen, the muscles have to look for another energy source. When this type of reaction is going on, lactic acid gets produced in the muscles. Lactic acid is responsible for the burning feeling we have after a demanding workout. Even during workouts the longer the lactic acid stays inside the muscles, the harder it will be to keep up the same intensity in your workout. It is also the cause of delayed onset muscle soreness, the muscle burn we feel even up to 48 or 72 hours after a tough run.

Compression socks have their effect by speeding up blood flow. The veins are responsible for transporting the blood from the lower extremities to the heart. The veins flow through the muscles. If the compression socks put pressure on the veins in the legs, the diameter of the veins decreases, and the speed of blood flow increases. The blood washes out the lactic acid and other waste materials from the muscles. As a result the uncomfortable burning feeling after the workout can be avoided.

So how long to wear compression socks after running in order to get the most out of all the effects of compression technology?

After running the muscles need nutrients and oxygen to rebuild themselves after exercising. The increased blood flow helps the muscles recover as soon as possible by on the one hand removing the lactic acid and other waste materials, and on the other hand supplying the muscles with nutrients and oxygen during the recovery process.

With all these positives, one would tend to say that there is only one answer to the question how long to wear compression socks after running: As long as possible. But the reality is more complicated. There are other risk factors that have to be taken into account.

What does the science say?

Compression socks can not only increase athletic performance, but also can speed up recovery. The studies done on the subject so far had mixed results. Some studies showed that the compression socks studied lowered heart rate and increased endurance capacity when worn during running. Also some studies showed that runner were able to be back exercising sooner if they wore compression socks after workouts. You can find more information about the scientific evidence about the effectiveness of compression socks in this article.

A recent study published in February 2015 examined whether wearing compression socks after a race improved performance in the next race or not. Participants were asked to wear compression socks for 48 hours after running a marathon. Their performance was significantly better in a race held two weeks later than the performance of runners who didn’t bother wearing compression socks after running.

How long to wear compression socks after running?

First of all, it is not dangerous to wear compression socks for long hours without taking them off. In fact in some cases – for example with bed ridden edema patients – doctors recommend wearing compression socks 24/7.

However if you have a history of heart circulatory diseases, it is best that you consult with your general practiser before starting to wear compression socks. The doctor can give you important clues on how long to wear compression socks after running in your particular case.

Although you might wear compression socks even during your sleep, I don’t advise that. Compression socks are a lot better at letting your skin breathe now, but sweating while wearing them is still an issue. The sweat is a ground for bacteria and fungi to grow. Although nowadays models like copper compression socks do an excellent job at preventing bacterial growth, wearing them all day long is still not the most hygienic thing to do.

Most compression socks have a rubber band at the top that prevents them from falling off your legs. Nowadays they have a very comfortable design, but they still might leave a mark on your skin.

Modern compression socks have a seamless design. However older models might still have seams. If poorly designed, these might cause chaffing or blisters.

All these might be reasons for not wearing compression socks all day long. So is there a definite answer to the question: how long to wear compression socks after running? In my experience the harder you worked out, the longer you should wear compression socks. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to wear them all day long after a two hour run. I love wearing my socks a few hours while preparing dinner with my family and watching a movie before going to bed. After long races, I prefer to keep them on for longer.

Conclusion

It is important to experiment with what works for you. Try keeping your compression socks on for longer or shorter and see what kind of effect it has. Do you recover quicker if you keep your compression socks on for longer? With this type of trial and error, you can find out your personal answer to the question of how long to wear compression socks after running.

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