In my quest to become a stronger, injury-free runner, I’ve transitioned into neutral, minimalist shoes. My current shoe arsenal includes pairs of Asics Gel Lyte, Newton Gravity, and Adidas Marathon. While I was feeling stronger and faster than ever before, I began having trouble with painful, tight calves. I did some research and found out that this is a fairly common part of transitioning to minimalist shoes, as most traditional running shoes provide cushion and support that keeps the calf muscles from having to work too hard.
I decided to purchase a pair of Zensah calf compression sleeves to see if they offered any relief. I was hesitant to spend $40 bucks on what seemed to be glorified, footless socks, but I am glad I did. Within a few days of wearing them during my runs and while sleeping, my legs felt awesome. I continue to wear them after long runs to aid in recovery, but haven’t needed them beyond that.
So, how do compression socks work? The concept is fairly simple: The compression increases blood flow to targeted muscles which helps to facilitate quicker recoveries. Also, because they hold the muscles tight and increase support, compression socks may also increase balance and improve proprioception – both of which lead to a stronger, more efficient stride.
A less accepted theory on the benefits of compression socks claims that they enhance venous return to the heart, which improves endurance. A study out of the American College of Sports medicine did not show any statistically significant differences in oxygen consumption or venous return in a group of treadmill runners wearing the socks over another group without them. However, the study did show that runners wearing the socks after strenuous workouts had faster lactate recovery rates than those that did not.
So do the socks work? I think it largely depends on the runner and their training. As a recovery enhancement, I think they can be very beneficial, but the jury is still out on whether or not using them during runs makes a significant difference. But if you’re having calf pain or suffering from extreme tightness, compression sleeves just might be worth a shot. Running through calf pain can alter a runner’s gait significantly, leading to a slew of other problems – if compression sleeves can help to sidestep that, I say give them a try.