The application of compresion socks in the clinical setting is well known, i.e. for the treatment of edema, lymph edema, phlebitis, varicose veins, spider veins and deep vein thrombosis. However, renowned international athletes have occasionaly worn compression socks during races, claiming that it improves their performance and reduce their recovery time. The rationale behind graded compression socks is that it may enhance venous return to the heart through a more efficient calf muscle pump, leading to increased endurance capacity. It is also claimed that muscles are kept more compact (causing less muscle damage), thereby minimizing muscle fatigue. None of the above claims have been studied in an athletic population.
PURPOSE: To determine whether athletes improve their maximal exercise capacity and recovery when running with graded compression socks.
METHODS: Ten healthy male students (age = 23 ± 1.9 years, height = 182 ±6.3 cm, body mass = 82 ± 11.4 kg) volunteered to participate in this study. All subjects completed two identical maximal exercise protocols, with and without compression socks, in random order and within seven days. Blood lactate concentrations were measured at rest, and at 2, 10 and 30 min after the exercise tests. Maximal exercise capacity was determined on a h/p/cosmos saturn treadmill using a standardized, incremental protocol to exhaustion. Physiological responses were measured with the Cosmed Quark b2 metabolic system.
RESULTS: There were no statisticaly significant differences in maximal oxygen consumption, heart rate or minute ventilation between the two exercise tests (p > 0.05). Subjects did, however, show a faster lactate recovery rate after exercise when wearing the compression socks.
CONCLUSIONS: Our study does not support the claims of some distributors of compression socks that it would enhance short-term, maximal exercise performance. The possibility that compression socks may improve recovery after strenuous exercise seems promising and warrants further investigation.