Most athletes at different levels of performance and with various specializations in diverse fields use pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks to improve their performance as well as facilitate recovery. Use of these pressure-gradient therapeutic garments for the enhancement of physical functioning has rapidly grown and has become a major topic in the sports and exercise fields. The competitive nature of athletes has driven them to apply medical and clinical approaches in muscle and performance functioning in sports and recovery. Consequently, sportswear companies have begun to develop modified version of medical pressure-gradient garments for sports purpose usage. Studies indicate that use of the pressure-gradient therapeutic sports garments can enhance performance especially on high-intensity physical activities, improve injury prevention, and lead to a reduction of lactate in an individual’s bloodstream (Azad Engel, Holmberg, & Sperlich, 2016).
How pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks work
Most of these pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks are created from a combination of nylon and spandex and are designed to be stretchable while upholding a particular structure. In most cases, they are custom designed to be smaller compared to the athlete’s measurements, depending on the amount of compression required. The field of medicine has used pressure-gradient garments for years. They work through the application of mechanical pressure to a person’s body through compression and provision of support to the individual’s underlying tissue ("The Benefits of Compression Socks for Athletic Performance," 2016). The graded pressure increment assists in the improvement of circulation. Also, the compression leads to enhancement of blood flow and acceleration of removal of metabolites from the bloodstream. The inside of the clothing is also made sticky for reduction of sliding on the athlete’s skin surface (Kiikka, 2015). This technique can also be useful in the treatment of spider or varicose veins, support of wound healing, and in the prevention of ankle and leg swelling. When used appropriately in these perspectives, studies indicate that compression is beneficial. Furthermore, clinical compression clothing has also revealed that it can be used in the improvement of functional movement especially among individuals with disabilities with the inclusion of paralysis and arthritis. The fitness industry has adopted it as a means to increasing physical performance and improve muscle recovery. In the athletic environment, pressure-gradient socks work through providing compressive forces to decrease the amount of tissue vibration during exercise, therefore, saving on muscle energy expenditure. Also, there is a potential for improved oxygen consumption through increased circulation. Theoretically, pressure-gradient socks were created for improvement in recovery and running performance through an exertion of pressure. This pressure gradient, in theory, leads to a reduction in the available space for swelling hence helping in the removal of metabolites. Also, the pressure gradient results in the provision of mechanical support for the working muscles (M. Stanek, 2015). Such an application is also said to help in recovery by decreasing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a familiar experience for both the elite or novice athlete. Symptoms range from muscle tenderness to severe debilitating pain. DOMS is most prevalent at the beginning of the sporting season when athletes are returning to training following a period of reduced activity. Up to six hypothesized theories have been proposed for the mechanism of DOMS, namely: lactic acid, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, muscle damage, inflammation and the enzyme efflux theories. DOMS affect athletic performance by reducing joint range of motion, shock attenuation, and peak torque. Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns also occur, resulting in unaccustomed stress placed on muscle ligaments and tendons. These compensatory mechanisms increase the risk of further injury if a premature return to sport is attempted. (Cheung, 2003).
History of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks usage
Compression socks were initially used in the medical environment for enhancement of impaired venous return, prevention of venous stasis, and reduction of edema. The use of compression socks also causes a reduction of post-operative thromboembolism among hospital patients. Another development in this field occurred whereby, it was discovered that use of an elastic compression sock with an advanced pressure that was highest at the ankle and progressively reduced up the leg had a considerable impact on patients who had been diagnosed with DVT. This research wrapped one leg with the clothing, and the other leg was left unwrapped. Results showed that the covered leg had a reduction of DVT by 37% whereas the leg that was not covered had a decrease of 11%. There was a reduction of lymph and blood pooling at the muscles and the skin, making sure that circulation continually returned blood to the heart. Moreover, compression put on the knee produced the greatest support to femoral venous blood flow velocity.
A meta-analysis of venous deficiency treatments was carried out, and it revealed that putting on pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks led to a reduction of post-operative venous thromboembolism by 69%. These obtained results encouraged more hospitals to start using compression garments in the treatment of all patients suspected to be suffering from venous deficiencies. However, in the field of sports, the effects of the use of compression garments were not measured until in 1987 when the differences in blood lactate concentration for runners wearing pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks was measured. The results revealed that athletes who wore pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks during their run did not experience any significant changes in aerobic pressure and they ran to exhaustion time. Nonetheless, there was an increase in resting femoral blood flow velocity for the runners who wore pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks. A reduced blood lactate concentration was also detected in athletes who wore pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks during and after a cycling workout. These findings showed that work out performance might have been hindered by lactic acid retention in muscle beds. Another investigation was done on highly trained runners at rest and also immediately once they finished running six repetitions of 100 meters for sprinters and 2000 meters for middle distance athletes when wearing pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks. It was discovered that two-kilometer running generated considerable stress on the veins measured on the lower leg but also the pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks assisted in optimal blood flow (Creasy, 2008). However, emerging of new kinds of compression clothing as well as the changes in the textile design tailored particularly for runners inspired further research. As a result, pressure-gradient therapeutic sports shorts were fabricated to help athletes during sports where explosive power was essential to performance, specifically in sprinting and jumping. Some studies were also carried out to examine the usage of socks, leggings and shorts on parameters with the inclusion of marathon running, cycling, jump height, running performance, muscle damage after eccentric loading, repeated jump height, muscle damage after rugby union games, and sprint performance. The results of this studies on the athletic population denoted that wearing of the pressure-gradient therapeutic clothing significantly led to an improvement of cycling, repeated jump height, and running economy, in particular on the older athletes. Accordingly, athletes started wearing pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks as a part of cool-down, recovery, warm-up, or during all parts of their racing and training.
Effects of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks during high-intensity workouts
A number of studies indicate a considerable decrease in hip range of action when the waist-high compression garment is used during physical movements. This effect is as a result of a decline of the maximum hip flexion angle when an athlete is running which is an indicator of increased stride frequency. Furthermore, putting on the pressure-gradient therapeutic waist-high garment did not alter the sprinting or kinematics, since it did not affect the natural range of movement of the knees or hip. This finding reveals that compression clothing does not have an adverse impact on the stride while running. Besides, the elasticity of the gear may bring about an increment of speeding up of the individual’s leg at the end of the step. According to another study, a jump power test indicated that there was a significant increment in the single maximal countermovement once the compression garment was used. The same results were obtained from the average jump height athletes. The tests also indicated that use of pressure-gradient therapeutic garments during a vertical jump exercise led to a faster recovery of the athlete.
Other results showed that the usage of pressure-gradient therapeutic garments led to a reduction in the squat angle for the jump. As a result, there was a greater compulsion in the jump’s concentric stage and a more optimal squat depth. Moreover, pressure-gradient therapeutic garments demonstrated less undesirable effects in vertical jumps compared to most of the other activities. Therefore, athletes who take part in vertical jumps have a high probability of obtaining more benefits from the usage of pressure-gradient therapeutic clothing (Kiikka, 2015). The study also claimed that the use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks led to a provision of an increased biomechanical support for muscle-tendons as well as the muscle tissues. This support for the muscle-tendons and muscle tissues may lead to a reduction in metabolic costs at certain workloads. Therefore, according to the study, the use of pressure-gradient therapeutic socks offer support so that the physiological pathways that are concerned with the supply of oxygen to the muscles throughout a workout allows for little oxygen to be required to keep on with prolonged exercise. However, similarly to the other studies, it was found that use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks decreased edema after exercise.
Benefits of use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks during running
Pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks benefit athletes in various ways all of which are derived from the improvement in blood circulation. The increased circulation of oxygen, as well as the distribution of other nutrients into a runner's legs, results in some powerful effects on the leg muscles. This circulation is responsible for the provision of extra fuel to the muscles, leads to the reduction of lactic acid, assists in the prevention of cramps, minimizes muscle fatigue and gives the athlete a boost in their performance. All of these attributes when combined provides a runner with a competitive edge. Despite providing benefits to a runner during the actual event of running, the compression socks also help them with recovery. Wearing of compression socks during the recovery period assists the recovery process hence making it more efficient. The oxygen circulation and additional blood aids in rejuvenation and repairing of the sore and tired legs. Therefore, the use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks enables fast recovery through the reduction of the recovery time hence enabling the runner to train again faster. This decrease of recovery time can be specifically beneficial for a serious athlete training for a particular event by allowing them to have extra training which enhances a performance boost (Wallace, Slattery, & Coutts, 2006).
Pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks also benefit an athlete through supporting their muscles. With every step they take, vibrations are sent throughout the leg, and as a result, their muscles oscillate. However, when a runner wears pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks, there is a reduction in the oscillations and aiding in the prevention of occurrence of any damage or fatigue. An example of such is the occurrence of shin splints. However, putting on the pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks has been found to be quite effective in the prevention of shin splints from occurring. Through the provision of support for the calf muscles and application of pressure on the shins, there is a reduction of each vibration from the strides. Shin splints are known to having the ability to cause dramatic reductions in an individual’s training capacity, and therefore any prevention measure is a benefit (Laura, 2017).
The pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks can also be useful for people suffering from spider and varicose veins. They help decrease the symptoms of painful varicose veins, and when worn appropriately, this compression gear can slow the advancement of vein diseases. This gear promotes the venous blood flow from the feet towards the athlete’s heart overcoming the impact of gravity. Moreover, medical pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks are created to be stronger at the foot area, and there is a gradual decrease in pressure as the clothing extends up the calf into the thigh. When appropriately fitted, pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks can aid in the prevention of venous blood pooling in the feet and legs, hence resulting in improvement of leg symptoms and a reduction in the risk of blood clots.
Currently, the number of athletes in the world have increased significantly. As a result, athletes are looking for various ways to improve their performances to obtain a competitive edge. Therefore, some have started relying on the use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks to boost their performance. The use of pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks has been associated with performance advantages. For instance, usage of compression socks is said to enhance blood lactate removal hence promoting fast recovery during periods following a strenuous activity. Other studies reveal that their usage results in a reduction of muscle oscillation thus decreasing the chances of muscle damage or fatigue. The reduced muscle oscillation when an athlete makes contact with the ground also leads to increased vertical jump height. Other benefits include increased stride frequency during running due to a significant decrease in hip range of motion when the compression stockings are used. Moreover, there is a reduction of lactic acid, assistance in the prevention of cramps, minimization of muscle fatigue when the compression socks are worn hence giving the athlete a boost in their performance. Therefore, it is clear that pressure-gradient therapeutic sports socks may provide an individual, athlete or not, both an injury reduction and a performance enhancement role during any exercise.
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