The Science Behind Socks
Injury Care & Prevention Oct 19, 2015
The Science Behind Socks

Because socks come into direct contact with skin, it’s important to choose the right pair as they can affect your run as much as shoes. If your socks become damp, you risk getting blisters and chafing. For this reason, some runners use tape and bandages beneath socks or even take a break from their session to change them. Carefully selecting your socks can help improve your running experience.

Keep Cool

The fiber content of socks affects foot temperature. Researchers at Drake University found that a group of 12 adult male subjects who each ran for 30 minutes considered both cotton socks and synthetic socks to be equally comfortable. However, a temperature sensor on the synthetic socks was lower than on the cotton sock sensor, suggesting that olefin-based socks dissipated heat more efficiently than cotton. So, if you tend to have warm feet, choosing synthetic socks over cotton might alleviate some discomfort from overheating.

Avoid Blisters

A 2013 article from the Textile Research Journal reported a test done on six different kinds of cotton jersey athletic socks. By simulating common areas of friction between skin, socks, and running shoes, the researchers determined that tightly knit jersey and double-knitted jersey were the least likely to cause blisters. Translating this information to sock-buying decisions means choosing tightly knit dense socks over those with a looser weave pattern can be more beneficial to your comfort. If blistering is a problem for you, supplement the socks with tape or bandages in sensitive areas before running. A healthy strategy might include lubricants and powder inside socks or stopping during long runs for a clean pair.

Shop Smart

Take your favorite pair of socks in when buying new pairs to compare fiber composition, fit, and thickness. The best choice depends on what feels right to you. Try different thicknesses, fiber contents, and ankle height and elasticity to see what feels best for your feet.

Once you have the right socks, treat them right. Wash and dry them regularly, and avoid dryer sheets. Too much fabric softener can over-condition fibers and cause sliding against your skin and the shoe.