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For decades, socks were just another part of an athlete’s wardrobe. Only in relatively recent times has the importance of socks been fully appreciated by many athletes. This period has also seen the emergence of compression sleeves, first for use in the treatment of diabetic conditions and more recently in sports.

The early history of socks

Socks were first worn by the ancient Greeks and remained almost unchanged for centuries. Machine knitting was introduced in the 1800s, and new materials such as nylon and lycra appeared during the 20th century. Development since then has been rapid, with increasing input from podiatrists.

  • The increased interest in running during the late 1970s and 1980s prompted scientific research into how athletic sock design could be improved.
  • Four key areas of interest were identified to work on: reducing friction, managing pressure, improved wicking of sweat and effective compression.

Managing wicking effectively

Many problems can be caused by sweat building up on the feet of athletes. These range from fungal infections like athlete’s foot to blisters from feet slipping around inside their shoes. Uncomfortable issues like these can lead to slips and falls, which may result in sprains or fractures.

  • Traditional materials like wool and cotton allow sweat to build up among the fibers, causing discomfort and risking injury.
  • Acrylic and polypropylene are much more effective at wicking, and recent specialist fibers like CoolMax are even more so.

Compression sleeves arrive

Using conventional socks for compression has the disadvantage that they can easily slide around, making support less effective. This problem can be solved by using sleeves instead. Such sleeves were first used in treating the symptoms of diabetes, before being used by athletes.

  • Compression sleeves were first widely used in the 1990s, and are now the best-selling orthopedic products in the U.S.

The importance of wearing the correct socks

Even today, many people simply grab the nearest pack of socks from their local discount store. Many of these socks don’t offer enough support for playing sports, and the results of an accident can be unpleasant. Well-fitted sports socks make an excellent investment.

  • More and more athletes, including NFL players, triathletes and marathon runners, now wear compression performance socks regularly.
  • Some people wear compression socks only in training, because knee-high socks can be uncomfortable when running in hot conditions.