Ever wondered why some training programmes work for some athletes and not for others? Why some people are genetically gifted athletes? Why there is a fixed set of intervals for all athletes? Why certain drugs work for some and not others? Do compression socks work? What the hell does a VO2 max test tell you, is it just useless information? Is lactate friend or foe? I delve into the sport science world and try to find the answers to train smarter and hopefully become a better athlete. This page is written in my own thoughts and words with a cross-pollination from several other sites and links to the original articles. Some of it might sound like a rant but it is written to make you think. So if you read it without a open mind then your in the wrong place. Enjoy and open your mind.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Compression Socks, just a trend?

Paula Radcliffe was one of the first well known people to make use of compression socks. Now days they have become very popular in most sport although I have not yet seen them used by cyclist in the pro peloton? Although cyclist tend to wear them for recovery. Compressions are also popular with pole vaulters, long and high jumpers.

Compression garments and socks have a place in the medical world for patients who suffer with deep vein thrombosis, bed ridden patients that can not move or people that have to sit for long periods of time such as traveling in aircraft.

The theory behind compression socks are that the compression helps to improve blood circulation. The graduated compression from the ankle to the calf helps blood that tends to pool in the lower limbs fight gravity and thus improve circulation. This then could move dexoygenated blood quicker away from the limbs with oxygenated blood flow back.

Another theory is and this will explain why long jumpers and pole vaulters use the socks where blood circulation is perhaps not a major issue is muscle vibration. Every time the foot strikes the ground the force of the impact send vibrations through the lower leg. These vibrations caused by impact are thought to be a contribution to muscle fatigue and delayed muscle soreness. There is research which has shown compression socks to increase leg power (Kraemer et al., 1996, 1998).

Research on compression socks whether they work has had mixed results. Knowing whether the socks improve blood flow during activity has been hard to research compared to using the socks for recovery which is probably why cyclist are not using them yet for racing. Although a portable NIRS could be a future option for testing something like this during exercise.

There have been research that show improvement in performance and economy while other research has shown no improvement in performance but a reduction in muscle soreness. (Kremmier et al. 2009 and Ali et al. 2007). Some research has looked at how compression socks influence lactate (blood lactate is measured not muscle lactate) and has found the socks seem to help lower blood lactate . Why this occurs is open for discussion as there are different theories what happens to the lactate. But perhaps with the increased blood circulation the blood helps transport the lactate to other muscles that need the lactate so improves the lactate shuttle?

Studies from (Byrne & Easton, 2010, Ali 2007), found decreases in muscle soreness from plyometrics and running. It is thought that the compression helps to alleviate inflammation and swelling. Once again why compression socks help with this is not known and there are several theory's.

Overall most research found decreases in muscle soreness but there is mixed results on the improvement in blood flow more so during intense exercise which is hard to study. The variations in research could be because of the wide variety of socks used from different manufacturers. The use of graduated compression to constant pressure compression socks. There is a certain amount of correct compression needed at different parts of the lower leg for a compression sock to work. It seems that a graduated compression sock running tighter at the ankles and less up to the calf would improve blood flow better than the same pressure in the case of constant compression sock. But also there is a individual element as different people could have a different reaction. People with circulation problems will likely see bigger results.

I own three different brands of compression socks and pants. It is impossible to say if they actually work without having some form of tests done. If someone feels like they work it may be psychological. But wearing the socks does feel very comfortable, and most of the research although perhaps it can not explain why the socks work indicate some form of benefit most of which shows reduced muscle soreness and improved blood flow at least during recovery use. Compression socks are just another small thing that makes a small improvement in recovery which could add up with all the other small tools that we add to our training. For now I will continue to wear my socks during hard session, or where there is high impact. And when the fashion catches on in cycling I might wear it during a Sunday coffee ride.

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