How Do Compression Socks Help Shin Splints?

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So you’ve started a new running regime or delayed replacing your shoes, and now your shins hurt. Or maybe you’ve moved, and the only places to run are hard, concrete-covered surfaces. Whatever the reason, your shins hurt like a, well, um…a lot.

You might be left wondering – do compression socks help shin splints?

The answer is – thankfully, yes!

Compression socks can aid in the recovery of shin splints and be used as a preventative measure. Some compression socks are better to use while running, while others are designed for recovery. Compression sleeves can also help with shin splints but usually have more drawbacks than socks. 

Compression socks are no longer exclusively sold in that awful beige. These days, compression socks and sleeves come in fun colors and designs. But sometimes sports trends are just trends, with no real substance aside from the placebo effect.

Compression socks can help, although perhaps not exactly in the ways they are marketed. 

Let’s find out more…

What Are Shin Splints?

How Do Compression Socks Help Shin Splints?

Shin splints feel like the front of your leg is cracking into two. They are the ramification of repetitive stress on that very bone as well as all that essential connective tissue that joins the bone to key muscles. 

Some people are more prone to shin splints than others, but certain factors raise the chances of them occurring: 

  • You begin running without using a gradual “ease into it” program 
  • Too often, you are running on concrete or other hard surfaces
  • You’ve upped your hill training
  • You’ve taken up trail running without easing into it, and the terrain is uneven 
  • You’ve made dramatic increases to your training regime too fast
  • Your arches are falling, you have high arches, or you have flat feet
  • Your running shoes are worn out
  • Your running gait is causing issues

Compression socks can aid in recovery and in preventing shin splits. Other helpful recovery tips include:

  • Ice 10 – 20 minutes a few times a day
  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Rest, or at least back off on your training
  • When it is time to resume training, do so gradually
  • Physical therapy
  • Finding the right shoes for your feet, including considering orthotics

Prevention of shin splints can include using compression socks or sleeves, along with:

  • Proper supportive shoes for your feet that are not over 300miles old
  • Gradual shifts in training rather than sudden, dramatic changes
  • Stretch before and after
  • If possible, avoid running on hard surfaces and watch the frequency of hill training 
  • Have days off and consider adding variation to your training, such as swimming

How Do Compression Socks Help Shin Splints? 

Shin splints problem
Broken down with shin splints?

Compression socks have long been a medical tool to help with varicose veins, edema, and reduce the likelihood of blood clots when flying (deep vein thrombosis).

They work by pushing blood flow up the leg, thereby increasing circulation. The increased circulation brings more nutrition and oxygen to the muscle and tissues in the legs while preventing swelling. It’s a similar concept to how massage guns work, but with less work involved.

The amount of compression a sock or sleeve provides depends on the materials and how it is made. Lighter weight socks, such as 15-20 mmHg provide minimum compression and are often more comfortable. 

The firmest compression, 30 – 40 mmHg, is for post-thrombotic syndrome and other major issues, such as ulcers. While the firmest has the greatest impact, they also carry the highest user error risk.

They can also be uncomfortable to some wearers. 

You certainly wouldn’t want to wear them during a workout.

When you have an injury, such as shin splints, the compression socks help encourage blood flow to the area, keeping the system circulating, so the muscles get the most nutrition and oxygen your body can provide. The compression socks also provide support and comfort to the injury, but unlike a brace, they still allow the body to move freely so you won’t lose muscle tone. 

Thus, compression socks follow a similar theory that physios use when they apply stimulating machines to promote blood flow to an injury. However, compression socks are more of a passive approach that can be worn for a length of time. Where the machines physiotherapists use can only be used in short durations and typically require the patient to be still. 

Have There Been Studies On Compression Socks’ Benefits?

There have been several studies on the benefits of compression socks and compression clothing:

Together the studies present compelling evidence that compression socks aid in recovery and help minimize overall muscle soreness

Do Compression Socks Help With Performance? 

This is not as clear.

The studies on compression socks were not as conclusive of performance benefits as they were with recovery. Obviously, your performance benefits if you are injured less and recover faster. But if you will run faster thanks to compression socks is another matter. 

Some studies have shown minor performance increases when running long distances, such as a marathon, while wearing compression socks. In these cases, the marathon times were faster, however, not by any mind-blowing amounts. 

Again, the major benefits appear to be more on reducing lactic acid, preventing injury, and, most of all, aiding in a faster recovery from an injury, such as shin splints. 

See more: should I still run with sore legs?

What Is Gradient Compression? 

Gradient (graduated) compression socks do not have the same compression level throughout the whole sock. Instead, they are firmer at the ankle and gradually decrease the compression the higher they go up the calf. In some instances, the compression is customized to the parts of the leg. 

When Are Gradient Compression Socks Used? 

Gradient compression socks are primarily used while doing an activity, such as running. Thus, the graduated compression is mostly found in sports socks. The customizing of the compression makes them more comfortable to wear while you are moving and decrease the chances of them cutting into your upper calf near the latter half of your run. 

Thus, gradient compression is best while being active. A traditional compression sock with consistent firmness throughout is typically preferred during your downtime. 

What Is the Difference Between Compression Socks & Sleeves? 

A compression sock is precisely that: a sock that provides compression from the foot all the way up the calf.

A compression sleeve is worn like a tight legwarmer, starting above the ankle and going up the calf. 

Compression Socks Or Compression Sleeves: Which is Better? 

Compression socks and sleeves each have their benefits. However, rather than one or the other, many people find owning both is best so they can customize for their situation. 

Compression sleeve vs sock
Compression sleeves are similar to socks, but don’t cover the ankle

Pros to Compression Socks

  • Won’t cause ankle and foot swelling, which can lead to blisters and other problems
  • Better circulation since the fluid isn’t getting trapped in the ankle and foot
  • Stay in place better than sleeves
  • Offer better support from the foot upwards
  • Better for recovery due to increased support and better circulation

Pros to Compression Sleeves

  • You can wear your favorite socks that work best in your shoes
  • Sometimes easier to fit if your calf and foot sizes are widely different
  • It looks less weird if you are only wearing one
  • Allow people in recovery to still wear open-toe shoes, such as sandals 
  • Can be worn barefoot, such as when walking on the beach

When Do You Wear Compression Socks For Shin Splints? 

You can wear compression socks for up to 12 hours. They should not be worn while sleeping in bed, however. In addition, it is often advised that the sock you wear while exercising should be different from the one you wear after a workout. 

Also, the compression socks you wear for prevention might not fit when you are injured. Even with the use of compression socks, an injured leg is often bigger than when it isn’t injured. 

When you are not injured and only using them as a preventative, you can wear mild compression socks, which are 8 – 15 mmHg and go as high as 20. 

Best Way To Wear Them? 

Compression socks for recovery should be 20 mmHg minimum. Gradient can be worn for a workout or if you are struggling with swelling above the top of the sock. The socks must be applied evenly, without creases, as these can restrict blood flow. 

If you are struggling with above the sock swelling, check that you are wearing the correct size and, again, consider ones with gradient. 

Even if you have shin splints, it isn’t typically advised to use higher ranges, such as 30-50 mmHg, while training. The real firm ones should be reserved for non-training and traveling. But often, 20 mmHg is perfect for shin splints, even when resting. 

Can Everyone Wear Them? 

Some people with conditions such as Diabetes II are advised to avoid compression socks. If you have a chronic condition(s), then it is best to talk to a doctor before using compression socks or sleeves. 

What Are The Drawbacks To Using Compression Socks? 

Compression socks can cause problems if worn too long or incorrectly put on. Compression socks are rarely advised to be worn for more than 12 hours. Often, they are recommended for only a few hours each day, such as during a run and a few hours post-workout.

If compression socks are not put on evenly, they can cause sores and swelling.

Socks that bunch can cut off blood flow to particular areas and, if not fixed, cause damage. When wearing a compression sleeve, consistent swelling above the top of the sock or below the ankle can cause sores, swelling, or even restrict blood flow. 

Can I Wear Compression Socks With Compression Tights? 

It is not recommended that you wear two compression garments over one another. This can cause too much compression or not distribute the compression appropriately. You could end up restricting blood flow rather than promoting it. More isn’t always better, even when treating shin splints. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t wear compression socks with tights or shorts. Just make sure they are regular tights and not with additional compression. 

How Should The Socks Be Put On? 

Compression socks are not put on like regular socks. Instead, you begin with them mostly inside out. But not exactly. 

  1. Slide your arm into the sock so your fingers are where the toes, palm facing heal
  2. Close your hand inside the sock as if you’ve made a chomping, sock-monster
  3. With the “jaws” of your sock-monster shut, slowly peel off the sock
  4. Stop when you’ve reached the “foot” of the sock
  5. Slide hand out
  6. Now, with two hands, slip the foot into the foot of the sock
  7. Ensure toes, foot, and heal are in the correct position
  8. Grab the end of the sock with two hands and begin rolling up the leg
  9. If it bunches, roll slightly back down below the bunch, adjust, and resume rolling up
  10. When you reach the top, ensure the sock isn’t higher on one side than the other and that the band is even

Which Compression Socks Are Good For Shin Splints? 

Compression socks come in a lot of styles and fits. Of course, the best socks are the ones you feel comfortable wearing and make you feel better. However, we have a few favorites when it comes to our own aching shins. 

Which Compression Sleeves Are Good For Shin Splints? 

Like compression socks, compression sleeves come in a wide variety. The support they offer can also range in degree and where it is placed on the leg. Thus, personal preference always comes first. Nonetheless, here are a few we enjoy. 

The Bottom Line

Compression socks can aid in the recovery of shin splints and prevent them. However, be sure to wear them correctly and for the recommended amount of time.

Longer durations and too much compression can actually hinder recovery rather than help.

However, if you have a chronic condition(s), such as Diabetes II, talk to your doctor before using compression socks. 

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