Do those compression stockings really work?

The Introduction

compression stockingsWhenever I pick up a sporting magazine these days I see advertisements for “Skins”, “2XU” or “Compressport” compression garments. Even the triathlete magazines have photos of elite Ironman competitors in Hawaii wearing them while racing. Having raced there I can imagine how hot they must be! But do they work? The research suggests yes.

The Research

Recent German research examined the effect of below-knee compression stockings in running performance in 21 moderately-trained male runners aged 39.3±10.9 years (range 25-60 years) who run between 25 and 70 km per week and run no faster than 34 minutes for 10 km (like most of us!). They were randomly assigned to complete a treadmill test in a cool laboratory (20-220C) on two occasions (10 days apart) wearing or not wearing the stockings. The treadmill speed started at between 9-11 k.hr-1 and was increased in speed by 1 k.hr-1 every 5 minutes when heart rate and blood lactate were measured to determine aerobic and anaerobic threshold speeds and heart rates.

The Results

The below-knee stockings appeared to work. When wearing the stockings, the runners ran significantly faster at both anaerobic threshold (14.1 versus 13.9 k.hr-1), and aerobic threshold (13.0 versus 12.7 k.hr-1) pace than when not wearing the stockings. They also ran for longer on the treadmill (36.4 versus 35.0 mins). The researchers concluded that stockings with constant compression in the area of the calf muscle significantly improved running performance at different running thresholds.

The So What?

These findings suggest that the elite athletes we see in the magazines are onto something. This study suggests that running performance at these typical running thresholds improves between 1.5-2.2%, a figure most of us would be happy with when wanting to improve our PB or win a race. The stockings appear to work by increasing blood return to the heart, enhancing blood flow to working muscles, and preventing the belly of the muscle moving round when running. It cannot be discounted that the runners in this study may have improved performance by thinking the stockings would help them and were therefore more motivated to perform. It was also interesting to note that some of the runners had concerns about the wearing comfort and heat sensations, at least before the treadmill started. As in anything new, try them and see how they go for you.

 Kemmler, W., von Stengel , S., Kuckritz, C., and others (2009). Effect of compression stockings on running performance in men runners. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 23(1): 101 – 105.

Photo from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/threeroadstolondon/471043729/