Best Compression Socks of 2024

The best compression socks can not only help improve your post-run recovery, but they may help with running performance as well.

By on December 20, 2023 | Comments
Best Compression Socks - CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 and Outway Knee High Compression - feature photo

Compression socks may help with running performance and can improve recovery afterward. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

When runners are looking for the best compression socks, they’re probably looking to take advantage of the many recovery and performance benefits of these knee-high socks. Compression socks have been used in the medical field for a long time and have been adapted for athletic purposes in recent years. Running compression socks are made of technical fabrics that breathe well and can help prevent blisters, and they can be worn over long distances without discomfort.

The potential for improved blood flow, decreased swelling, and reduced fatigue is more than enough reason for droves of runners to slither themselves into compressive garments before hitting the road or trail. And while you’ll see that the science behind using compression socks during runs is not overwhelming, there is minimal downside, and they can help recovery. So whether they are performance-enhancing or just giving your legs a warm hug, we are all for using compression socks during runs, for recovery, or any time you want extra support.

For more background information, see our buying advice, testing methodology, and frequently asked questions below the picks. For normal running socks, check out our Best Running Socks buyer’s guide.

Best Compression Socks for Runners

Best Overall Compression Socks for Runners: CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0
Best Compression Socks for Runners Runner-Up: Rockay Vigor Compression Socks
Other Great Compression Socks: 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks, Injinji Ultra Compression OTC, Outway Flagship Knee High Compression Socks, Swiftwick Aspire Twelve

Best Compression Socks - group run

While some people only use compression socks for recovery, others wear them for every run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Best Overall Compression Socks for Runners: CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 ($60)

Best Compression Socks - CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 - product photoPros:

  • Technologically advanced fabrics from a company well-versed in compression gear
  • Multiple color combinations are available
  • Breathable materials work well in warm temperatures

Cons:

  • High price point
  • The taller profile may not fit shorter runners well

The CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 is the company’s latest running compression sock lineup update. The socks feature lightweight materials with mesh-like panels and ventilation zones that enhance breathability and comfort. This includes CEP’s Smart Dry Extreme Air Technology, designed to adapt to changing weather to keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cooler temperatures. The socks also use thermoregulating fabric technology activated by rising body temperature to cool the skin. While we did find them to be quite breathable, they were not noticeably cooler than other socks we tested in the summer humidity of New England. The material is treated with silver to help with odor control.

These socks feature graduated 20 to 30 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) compression at the ankle with targeted areas in the arch and ankle for increased support, and the footbed is lightly padded but not bulky. The compression was robust but did not feel too constrictive, though the compression around the calf was noticeably more than some of the other socks we tested. These socks are longer than others we tested, so they may hit a bit higher on shorter runners than preferred. On our 5-foot 3-inch tester, the top of the sock band reached behind the knee rather than just below, which made the socks less comfortable than others on this list. CEP also makes a compression calf sleeve with a similar fit and materials.

Shop the Women's CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0Shop the Men's CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0

Best Compression Socks For Runners Runner-Up: Rockay Vigor Compression Socks ($35)

Best Compression Socks - Rockay Vigor Compression Socks - product photo

Pros:

  • A bigger range of sizes for a more comfortable fit
  • Environmentally friendly recycled materials

Cons:

  • A little warmer than others tested

The Rockay Vigor Compression Socks are one of the most comfortable compression socks we tested when it comes to long hours of use. The 100%-recycled lightweight nylon-blend fabric is very soft and has good stretch and breathability. The sock portion is seamless, with a small amount of low-profile cushioning and slight arch support that felt very comfortable and not too tight or bulky. The fabric has an anti-odor coating to prevent bacteria growth and help keep the socks somewhat stink-free.

The compression rating is 16 to 23 millimeters of mercury (mmHg), which is more toward the mild compression zone. This made them more comfortable to wear for long hours and functioned well in running and daily use. The sock sizing system combines shoe size with calf circumference, and we found it accurate and true to size. In addition to being highly wearable, these socks are also an environmentally conscious choice. Rockay partners with Econy, which helps remove plastic waste oceans and creates regenerated nylon used in the sock materials.

Shop the Rockay Vigor Compression Socks

Other Great Compression Socks

2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks ($50)

Best Compression Socks - 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks - product photo

Pros:

  • Breathable material dries quickly and doesn’t retain much heat
  • Moderate graduated compression is supportive without being constricting
  • Specialized support in the foot can help with blister prevention and plantar fasciitis

Cons:

  • A little pricier than other options
  • Limited color options

The 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks feature lightweight, breathable materials and have a small amount of cushion in the foot to add comfort without excess bulk. The stretchy nylon and Lycra blend has some mesh areas to improve breathability, making them comfortable in warmer temperatures. The material felt relatively lightweight but not flimsy compared to other socks in this guide. The compression gradient is 15 to 20 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) at the base of the foot and 20 to 30 mmHg at the ankle. It decreases up the calf, providing excellent support without feeling too constrictive.

The sock uses what the brand calls X-Lock technology, a seamless combination of ventilation and support panels that wrap around the foot to provide arch and plantar fascia support while reducing friction and preventing blisters. The socks are right- and left-foot specific. They were nicely supportive around the midfoot but left room for the toes to spread. The color options are a little lacking compared with some other brands, but there are some excellent neutral options and bright pink for those who want a splash of color. We found their sizing chart to be accurate and true to size. Overall, these are a great option that combines compression technology with performance materials to create a sock that works well for long runs and recovery days.

Shop the 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks

Injinji Ultra Compression OTC ($49)
Best Compression Socks - Injinji Ultra Compression OTC - product photo

Pros:

  • Only running-specific compression sock with built-in toe sock
  • Lightweight fabric
  • Seamless sock portion

Cons:

  • Socks are very tall and may be uncomfortable for shorter runners
  • Limited color options
  • Less compression than other offerings

The Injinji Ultra Compression OTC combines the brand’s toe sock with a tall compression upper to give you the best of both worlds. The seamless toe sock is light with no added bulk or padding and lets your toes spread out nicely while providing a lightly compressive band around the middle that provides extra arch support. The upper of the sock features graduated compression that starts at the ankle. Injinji does not specify the millimeters of mercury (mmHg) of compression for this sock, but it feels less compressive than others in this guide. This is a good option for those who don’t want a super tight sock, especially while running. Our tester, a big toe-sock fan, liked these socks and found the lesser compression comfortable for longer wear.

The color options for these socks are limited, especially in the women’s-specific option. These socks are the longest of the socks we tested and were great for tall runners but not so good for those with shorter legs as they will come up to mid-knee when pulled up.

Shop the Women's Injinji Ultra Compression OTCShop the Men's Injinji Ultra Compression OTC

Outway Flagship Knee High Compression ($34)

Best Compression Socks - Outway Flagship Knee High Compression Socks - product photo

Pros:

  • Attractive designs
  • Reasonably priced

Cons:

  • Lacks some of the fabric technology of other brands
  • Sizing based only on shoe size, not calf circumference

The Outway Flagship Knee High Compression socks are a comfortable and stylish compression sock that we find ourselves reaching for very frequently for both running and daily wear. These socks feature a polyester, nylon, and spandex blend that is breathable and holds its shape well. The 20 to 25 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) graduated compression is nicely supportive and keeps the legs feeling fresh. The footbed is a little thicker than some of the other socks mentioned but not so much that it feels bulky in a shoe. Our tester wore these socks running and for 12-hour work shifts and found they were very comfortable in both settings.

Perhaps the best feature of these compression socks is their designs. If you like a little color or to jazz up your running gear with some patterns, these are a great choice. They perform well and are available in some very cool landscape, flower, and animal designs that look great! So far, the colors have held up well to multiple runs and washings.

Shop the Outway Flagship Knee High Compression

Swiftwick Aspire Twelve ($30)

Best Compression Socks - Swiftwick Aspire Twelve - product photo

Pros:

  • Excellent quality for the price
  • Material is soft, seamless, and wicks well

Cons:

  • Only available in black

The Swiftwick Aspire Twelve compression socks have a lightweight, wicking material that is seamless and very comfortable for long periods. They are moderate 20 to 30 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) compression but don’t feel overly tight or constrictive, especially around the calf. We found the foot portion to be very comfortable and didn’t have excessive cushioning, compressive bands, or seams. The material is stretchy and wicks moisture well, and it is also very durable, with no issues with tearing or snagging.

These socks are a more budget-friendly option compared to others reviewed and are an excellent quality compression sock for the price. They only come in black at this time, so more fashion-conscious or color-craving runners may not love the tall black sock look.

Shop the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve

Comparing the Best Compression Socks for Runners

SOCK PRICE MATERIAL CUSHIONING
CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 $60 Polyamide, elastane Medium
Rockay Vigor Compression Socks $35 Recycled polyamide, nylon, and elastane Light
2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks $50 Nylon, lycra Light
Injinji Ultra Compression OTC $49 Nylon, lycra Light
Outway Flagship Knee High Compression $34 Polyester, spandex, nylon Medium
Swiftwick Aspire Twelve $30 Olefin Light

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Compression Socks for Runners

Efficacy/Effectiveness of Compression Socks

Compression socks have long been used in the medical world to improve blood flow, reduce swelling, and improve comfort for people with conditions like varicose veins, blood clots, or circulation problems. They are also popular in situations that can cause leg swelling, such as standing for long hours, during pregnancy, and for travel. A compression sock like the CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 can be used in a variety of situations from running to sitting on an airplane. They apply pressure to the lower legs to help improve blood flow. This compression can be the same level throughout the sock or graduated, meaning that the compression level is higher near the foot and ankle and less constrictive around the calf.

Compression to these areas helps reduce swelling and fatigue by improving blood flow. The compression squeezes the surrounding tissue and helps enhance blood flow back up the blood vessels from the legs to the heart. This increased blood flow brings more oxygen to the muscles in the legs and helps remove excess fluid and lactic acid, potentially improving performance and recovery.

Compression Socks for Performance

Compression socks may have their roots in medical uses, but their ability to increase blood flow and have a potential impact on athletic performance has led to a boom in companies offering all manners of athletic compression clothing.

For running, in particular, the compression applied to the lower legs by compression socks may help increase blood flow to and from the leg muscles. Every time our heart pumps, it sends blood with oxygen out to our organs and muscles. The more a muscle is used, such as during running, the more oxygen it will need to function, and the more fluid and by-products of exercise, such as lactic acid, will need to be removed from the tissue. In theory, compression socks help with this by increasing blood flow, especially the flow out of the legs and back to the heart. This can reduce the potential for swelling and helps oxygen get back to your muscles while they are working hard. The potential for improved lactic acid removal can also decrease muscle soreness during and after activity.

Using the best compression socks during activity, such as our runner-ups, the Rockay Vigor Compression Socks, can also support the muscles, reducing movement and vibration and enhancing stability. Runners with calf and Achilles problems or shin splints may find the extra support reduces pain or fatigue. In addition to the potential performance benefits, wearing high-compression socks protects the lower legs from bugs, branches, poison ivy, and other trail hazards. They also add a layer of warmth in cooler temps when you may not need full tights.

You may have noticed a lot of “maybes” and “in theories” in this section. While the idea of compression socks and their benefits make a lot of sense, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support using them, the current scientific literature has produced very little evidence that compression socks have a measurable impact on running performance. A 2020 literature review on below-the-knee compression socks in sports performance (1) found a benefit in a few studies, but the majority were inconclusive. The key takeaway is that there are few scientific studies on compression socks in athletic performance, and most are pretty small, so more research is needed. However, there is no evidence to suggest that compression socks are harmful. If they are comfortable for you and you feel a benefit from them, they are a worthy addition to your running kit!

Best Compression Socks - Injinji Ultra Compression OTC front

The Injinji Ultra Compression OTC compression socks are an excellent option for toe-sock lovers. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Compression Socks for Recovery

There is much more support in the scientific literature for the benefits of compression socks for athletic recovery. The improved blood flow, stability, and reduction in swelling experienced when compression socks, like the 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks, are worn after strenuous activity or a long run have been shown to enhance recovery. Wearing compression socks for 24 to 48 hours after workouts can improve recovery times, and runners report less soreness and fatigue. One widely referenced study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2) found that marathon runners who used compression socks for 48 hours after their race had a 2.6% increase in their time to exhaustion on a treadmill test two weeks after the race as compared with the runners who did not wear compression socks. This translated to a roughly one-minute increase for the compression sock group and a similar decrease in time for the non-compression group. It’s not a huge difference, but significant in scientific terms. The takeaway? Compression socks can lead to measurable improvements in recovery – and if they make your legs feel better in a way that science can’t measure, that perceived benefit is worth the investment.

Compression Socks for Medical Uses

Before companies began marketing compression socks to athletes, medical providers were doling them out to patients for several well-researched and scientifically proven reasons.

Compression socks are prescribed for conditions like varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis (blood clots), lymphedema (swelling from damaged lymphatic system often due to cancer or lymph node removal), or venous insufficiency (valve or blood vessel problems that cause blood pooling in the legs). These socks are what most of us probably think of when compression socks come to mind – tan toeless numbers that look like pantyhose on steroids – equally aesthetically un-pleasing as they are difficult to get on.

The most common medical compression socks have graduated compression, meaning the compression or squeeze level is higher around the ankle and less around the calf. This helps promote blood flow upward, reducing the pooling of liquids in the lower leg veins that can increase the risk of swelling, varicose veins, or blood clots (3).

Compression socks are frequently used in several non-athletic settings to improve blood flow and prevent swelling. They are very popular among healthcare and food service workers and others who spend long hours on their feet, during pregnancy, and travel. Socks like the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve are comfortable enough to wear all day. Compression socks during travel or periods of immobility, such as after surgery, can also help reduce the risk of developing a blood clot by improving blood return up the leg veins and reducing blood pooling in the lower legs.

Anyone with problems with the arteries in their legs, an active infection, open wounds, or health conditions that decrease sensation in the legs and feet should consult a healthcare practitioner before using any type of compression sock or sleeve, as they could cause worsening symptoms and serious complications. When in doubt, check in with your provider before slipping on your compressive gear.

Best Compression Socks - testing compression socks

Wearing compression socks can increase blood flow, reduce swelling, and simply feel good. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Level of Compression

Compression levels are graded on a scale that typically ranges from mild to extra firm or light to heavy in some cases. The degree of compression is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg), a standard measurement used to determine the pressure of fluids.

Compression socks are rated class I to IV, with class I being mild support between 15 to 20 mmHg and class IV being extra firm support at greater than 40 mmHg. Class III and IV support, which provides compression greater than 30 mmHg, are reserved for more significant medical conditions like lymphedema, severe varicose veins, or treatment of swelling and vein problems after a blood clot or blood vessel surgeries. Vascular specialists prescribe these for specific uses and have no utility in day-to-day or sports use.

For everyday and athletic use, the best compression socks, including the Outway Flagship Knee High Compression, will be in the mild to moderate compression rating range, with a maximum of 20 to 30 mmHg. Some socks have the same amount of compression throughout. These usually have a lower compression level, less than 15 mmHg, and are made to wear all day by those who want a bit more support but not a full-on compression sock.

The majority of performance compression socks made for running feature graduated compression. This means that the sock has more compression and is tighter near the foot and ankle, and the compression decreases higher up the leg in the calf. In socks with a numerical compression grading listed, this will mean that the pressure around the ankle would be 20 to 30 mmHg, and the pressure around the calf decreases to 15 to 20 mmHg. This compression gradient helps to squeeze the tissues lower down in the leg to improve blood flow upward. The graduated compression prevents excessive pressure on the calf muscles to avoid swelling, cramping, and discomfort.

Materials

The materials used in the best compression socks for running will be similar to those used in non-compression running and performance socks, just in different ratios to provide the additional compression and elasticity needed. Polyester, nylon, Lycra, and spandex are the most common material blends. Some companies use proprietary fabrics, such as those with copper-containing fibers or different synthetic blends, but the primary function remains the same. Another frequently seen sock material that can also be found in the compression world is merino wool. Wool is well known for its durability, moisture control, and odor-repelling abilities, so it is a very popular sock material in the running world. Toe-sock lovers will be happy to know there is a compression version of those as well, the Injinji Ultra Compression OTC. Whatever the sock style and material you prefer, there is a compression sock to make your feet and legs comfortable and happy.

Comfort

Comfort is a very subjective matter when it comes to running gear, especially clothing. One person’s perfect sock is another person’s blister-filled nightmare, so it is important to keep in mind what works for you when considering your options for the best compression socks.

Several sock companies like Injinji and Swiftwick make a compression version of their socks, so if you already use socks from one of these brands, it is easy to shift over to a compression model. Both the Injinji Ultra Compression OTC and the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve are great options for compression socks.

Some people are sensitive to the tight fit of compression socks, especially options with increased compression around the foot and ankle. Trying a lighter weight or more mild compression sock first, or initially wearing the socks while not running, can help you get a better feel for whether or not they will be comfortable. Each brand has its specific sizing parameters, so measuring your legs is important to ensure a proper fit. Depending on the feel and level of compression you want, you may need to size up or down, especially if you are between two sizes. Compression socks that are too tight around the calves can defeat the purpose of using them and lead to cramping, numbness, or swelling above the sock. It is important to note that if you develop any of these symptoms, you should discontinue use of the socks right away.

Style

Perhaps even more subjective than the comfort of a sock is its style. For most people, compression socks tend to be on the low end of the style spectrum. Their existence is much more function over fashion, though there are plenty of companies that have jazzed up the knee-high sock world with different colors and patterns to make them more aesthetically pleasing for those of us who aren’t that into the knee-high-black-sock look, not that there’s anything wrong with that – you do you! Socks like the CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks and 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Sock come in a variety of brighter colors for better visibility and style points. For pattern lovers, the Outway Flagship Knee High Compression socks come in some fun patterns and colorways, such as flowers and mountain scenes. For those who prefer a more neutral compression experience, almost every compression sock company makes a black or white version that works just as well under a pair of dress pants as they do on the trail.

Best Compression Socks - Outway Knee High Compression running

The Outway Knee High Compression socks can add a bit of flair to your running outfit. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Compression Sleeves Versus Socks

In addition to a full knee-high compression sock, many companies also make a compression calf sleeve. Both styles have pros and cons, even with similar compression levels and benefits, so the decision ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Some runners are particular about what sock works best for them. Users of Swiftwick in Injinji socks will appreciate the brands’ compression sock offerings, the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve and the Injinji Ultra Compression OTC. If the sock you prefer doesn’t have a compression version, the best option is to use a calf sleeve with your usual socks to prevent foot issues. Sleeves are also easier to remove if the compression becomes uncomfortable without worrying about carrying spare socks. Some people may have issues with foot swelling if they wear compression sleeves for longer-duration events, which can cause discomfort, so test any compression setup out thoroughly before committing to it on race day.

Why You Should Trust Us

We started this best compression socks guide by researching today’s running and sport-specific compression socks and compiled a list of three dozen contenders. We used the 150+ combined years of running experience of the iRunFar team to narrow that list down to the socks we decided to test extensively.

Since compression socks are frequently used for running, recovery, travel, and work, we tested them under all those conditions. Our main tester not only took them out for runs but also used them for 12-hour work shifts where she was mainly on her feet, for car and plane travel, and recovery after runs and hikes. On runs, we took various compression socks out on long mountain runs that involved heat, cold, and water crossings during humid summer days and on race efforts where we wanted the extra support that compression can offer.

In the end, we evaluated the socks on a variety of factors, including their comfort, fit, compression levels on both the foot and leg, breathability, sizing accuracy, material quality, and durability. We also factored in the various colors and designs of the socks because if you’re wearing knee-height socks, appearance is important. We also considered various special features that brands advertised in their socks and determined whether they were evident in them.

Frequently Asked Questions About Compression Socks

How do compression socks work?

Compression socks for running work by applying pressure to the lower legs, ankles, and feet. This pressure usually varies, with a tighter squeeze around the ankle and less pressure around the calf. The graduated pressure helps the blood to flow to and from the legs more easily, reducing swelling and improving the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can get to your muscles. This can help during activity and afterward in recovery by decreasing fatigue, cramping, and swelling. Our testers loved the combination of attributes of the CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 and named them the overall best compression socks.

How is compression measured?

Compression is measured using the unit millimeters of mercury (mmHg). This unit is frequently used in the medical field to measure pressures – the most common and widely recognized being blood pressure. Millimeters of Mercury is a unit that refers to the amount of pressure that causes a column of mercury to rise one millimeter. This originates from the use of mercury in pressure gauges. While there isn’t any mercury measuring your compression socks today, the unit is still widely used in medical settings for pressure. A higher number indicates stronger compression, and the sock will feel tighter. A sock like the Outway Flagship Knee High Compression will have 20 to 25 mmHg of compression.

What is the difference between running compression, daily wear, or medical-grade compression socks?

The best compression socks for running, like our favorite, the CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0, are usually made of performance materials with stretch and moisture-wicking properties to improve comfort and prevent friction during activity. These can have constant compression throughout or graduated compression. Compression ratings max out at 30 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) for the firmest running compression socks. This compression level is usually only seen in graduated compression socks, with the compression around the calf no more than 20 mmHg.

Socks for daily wear are often less compressive to make them more comfortable for long hours of wear. These are designed more for extended work days or travel and often feature thicker materials or more cushion in the foot.

Medical-grade compression socks are usually much tighter and used for specific medical conditions under the direction of a medical provider. There is some overlap in the compression levels, however, as medical-grade socks come in the 20 to 30 mmHg range, similar to running socks. Medical compression socks with a pressure rating greater than 30 mmHg are often less stretchy and breathable and will frequently leave the toes uncovered to assess sensation and blood flow to the toes. These are meant to be worn at rest and are frequently used for situations where a person is immobile to prevent swelling or blood clots. They are not suitable for active endeavors.

Best Compression Socks - CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0

The CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 were iRunFar’s favorite overall compression sock. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

What does graded compression mean?

Graded compression, also frequently referred to as graduated compression, is a change in the level of compression from the lower part of the sock to the higher portion. Compression is higher around the ankle and lower around the calf to help facilitate blood return up the leg. For example, the 2XU Vectr Light Cushion Full Length Compression Socks has 15 to 20 mmHg of compression at the base of the foot and 20 to 30 mmHg at the ankle

How do I choose the correct size compression sock?

Some compression sock sizing is based solely on shoe size, but most higher compression socks are based on calf circumference. Check with the sock manufacturer you are shopping for specific details on their sizing parameters. Most companies will have a size chart on their website with instructions on measuring your foot and calf, and the size ranges for the sock. If you fall between sizes, consider the level of compression you are looking for. If you like very tight compression, go with the smaller size, and if you prefer a less constrictive fit, size up. The height of the sock may also be a factor in sizing. Most compression socks hit just below the knee, but for a shorter runner, the top cuff of the sock like the CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 could come higher and cause discomfort by putting compression around or behind the knee. Unfortunately, most compression sock companies do not include the sock height measurement in their description of the sock, so it can take a little trial and error to find a good fit.

What height compression sock is best for running?

Knee-high socks are the most commonly used compression socks for running. These allow for compression of the ankle area to improve blood flow, stabilization, and support of the calf and lower leg muscles to help with issues like cramping or shin splints.

Mid-height above-the-ankle and low-cut compression sock options are also available, but these function more to support the foot and ankle and do not provide the level of compression or support that knee-height socks do. This is particularly important when using the socks for recovery, as a shorter sock’s circulation and support benefits are significantly less. Using a somewhat less tight sock, like the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve, can increase comfort and allow you to wear them all day.

When should I run in compression socks?

There is no hard and fast rule about when to run in compression socks. Or when to wear them in general. One of our testers loved wearing the Outway Flagship Knee High Compression socks during long work shifts when they were on their feet all day. As we mentioned above, little scientific research proves a specific benefit to using compression socks during activity, so if looking at it strictly from an evidence-based perspective, there is no specific type or duration of activity that compression has been proven to improve. That said, many runners wear their compression socks on the starting line of everything from a 5k to a mountain ultramarathon. The best advice for running in compression socks is to do it when it feels comfortable to you. If you have an injury or problem that feels better with the compression sock on, wear them on every run! Many people like to wear them during long runs and races for added support and potential blood flow improvement. If you aren’t used to wearing compression socks, carrying a pair of backup socks is always wise in case you feel discomfort.

How do I use compression socks for recovery from running?

Recovery from running, especially long events, is where compression socks have the most documented benefits. The best use is wearing them 24 to 48 hours after a long run. The increased circulation, reduced swelling, and muscle support can help fatigued legs recover better, potentially reducing the time it takes to return to regular running and function.

If traveling to and from a race, wearing compression socks during your recovery can be even more beneficial, especially if you are flying. A comfortable pair of compression socks, like the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve, can leave your feet and legs in much better shape after a long flight. The support that compression socks give can help prevent the lower leg swelling that can come from plane travel or being immobile in the car. Compression socks can improve blood flow and decrease blood pooling in the legs, potentially reducing the risk of developing a blood clot during travel. Getting up and moving around regularly on a plane or taking walking stops if driving is still important. Compression socks help, but using them to support your body’s normal function is always better than relying on them alone.

Can I exercise in medical compression socks?

Medical compression socks are made of more constrictive and less breathable materials not designed for sports and activities. We recommend choosing a compression sock intended for athletics, which will be more stretchy and breathable. A compression sock like the Injinji Ultra Compression OTC is specifically designed for runners. Many sports compression socks will have compression levels in the 20 to 30 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) range, equivalent to mild- to moderate-grade medical compression socks used to support mild varicose veins and swelling. It may be possible to choose a more performance-geared sock for those medical indications, as long as your medical provider is aware and okay with that, but the medical compression socks are not usually comfortable enough for use during exercise. The heavy-compression medical socks should not be used during exercise unless instructed by a medical provider as these are very constrictive and have a much different fit and indication for use.

Best Compression Socks - Injinji Ultra Compression OTC and CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0

iRunFar testers loved both the Injinji Ultra Compression OTC (front) and CEP The Run Compression Tall Socks 4.0 (rear). Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Which is better, a compression sock or a compression sleeve?

There is no right or wrong answer to this, as it all comes down to comfort and personal preference. Both compression socks and calf sleeves made by athletic companies will feature similar compression levels and are made of similar materials. Many trusted running sock companies have started making a compression option, including the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve. The biggest deciding factor is whether you like the feel of the attached sock or prefer to wear a different sock with a sleeve. Some compression socks feature a very tight and compressive sock portion, so a looser separate sock may be preferable. Increased compression around only the calf and ankle, not the foot, can contribute to foot swelling in some runners, particularly in longer events. This is also something to keep in mind when deciding whether a compression sock or compression sleeve is right for you.

Call for Comments

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References

  1. Mota, G. R., Antonio de Moura Simim, M., Aparecida dos Santos, I., Eidi Sasaki, J., & Marocolo, M. (2020). Effects of Wearing Compression Stockings on Exercise Performance and Associated Indicators: A Systematic Review. Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 11: 29–42. https://doi.org/10.2147/OAJSM.S198809
  2. Armstrong, S. A., Till, E., Maloney, S. R., & Harris, G. A. (2015). Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(2), 528-533.
  3. Sim Lim, C. & Davies, A. H. (2014). Graduated Compression Stockings. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(10), E391-E398
Carly Eisley
Carly Eisley is a trail runner, hiker, mountain biker, and traveler. Her home base is in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two rescue dogs. When not writing or adventuring, she works as an emergency department nurse practitioner. Follow her on Instagram.