Compression Impression

If you drive along Riverside for even one mile, you're likely to spot at least a half-dozen runners and walkers wearing long, wildly-colored socks. Maybe you've thought to yourself that those are some goofy looking hosiery and whatever do they think they're doing sporting such silly apparel. Ask them and they'll tell you: these are compression socks. People who wear them extol their virtues. But does compression really do anything for anyone? What even is that? 

First, a biology lesson. Everyone knows that the heart pumps blood and oxygen to our extremities and muscles though arteries. Our cells then use the oxygen and the deoxygenated blood travels back to the heart, along with lactic acid and other waste. The cycle repeats when the blood reaches the heart and is oxygenated and sent back out to the body.

In order the perform, we need to keep oxygenated blood flowing freely.The more oxygen the cells have, the better they will function. However, we mere mortals are prone to fatigue. Our performance can decrease during exercise if the lactic acid produced by the body is not removed from the muscles. This can lead to soreness and decreased performance. Muscular vibration during physical activity contributes to fatigue which is another factor that limits performance. 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 a long run or walk, the shock sent through the body every time the foot strikes the ground adds up to a whole bunch of very fatigued muscles. 

No athlete wants to experience a preventable decline in ability, which is where compression socks and sleeves enter the stage. These products provide graduated compression,which is tighter at the foot and ankle and looser as it moves up the calf and lower leg. Graduated compression fights gravity and assists the body in venous return (deoxygenated blood flowing back up to the heart).

Studies reveal that with an optimal level of consistent compression, the walls of the arteries dilate, increasing the blood flow. Arterial blood flow has been shown to increase up to 40% during activity and 30% during recovery. In other words, more oxygen and nutrients are moving through the body. Under compression, however, the walls of the veins constrict, allowing for an increase in speed of flow through them. Simply put, compressed muscles return waste-filled blood back to the heart faster, thereby increasing  the rate of recovery and decreasing muscle soreness. Compression also stabilizes the muscles and reduces vibration, resulting in decreased fatigue.

While compression socks and sleeves are beneficial to those with injuries, it is important to remember that compression can not cure anything. Wearing compression can improve your performance or make your recovering more comfortable, but it is no substitute for proper medical care and rest. Runners and walkers who have no current injuries can also benefit from compression. Anyone moving blood through the body can benefit from compression, which makes them ideal for travel. Recent reports on airline and rail travel have suggested a relationship between sitting for long periods of time and blood clotting. Health professionals advise people with clotting issues to wear compression products if they will be sitting on long flights. They also advise us to move around at regular intervals to keep the blood flowing freely. 

If you're thinking of investing in a pair of socks or sleeves, get fitted by someone who can answer all your questions. Proper fit is vital, just as with a shoe or a bra. Purchase a sock or sleeve that compresses but does not restrict movement, following the size recommendations made by your FIT professional. He or she can also show you some tips and tricks to make getting the products on and off even easier. Finally, your FIT professional will make sure you know how to care for the compression fibers so that your investment lasts a long time. 

Compression can benefit anyone at any time. From a long distance walk to recovering from a marathon to flying to Europe, compression will increase and speed up blood flow in the body. 

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