You have probably seen people at races or running around the streets that have those compression socks or sleeves on. Maybe you have thought to yourself, “Do those really work?” or “I wonder if those would help my shin splints or calf cramps?”
During this time of year, with the start of marathons and half marathons creeping up on us. Most commonly, people want to know how it works and if it’s appropriate for their condition. Today, I will explain the concept behind compression, how it can benefit you, and which conditions it’s appropriate for.
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.
Now that we know what the blood and muscles are doing while we are running, let’s talk about what compression socks and sleeves do to help the body. Compression socks and sleeves provide graduated compression, meaning the compression is higher (tighter) at the foot and ankle and lower (looser) as it moves up the calf and lower leg. This type of compression helps to fight the effects of gravity and assist the body in venous return (deoxygenated blood flowing back up to the heart).
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