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The Role of Socks

The role of socks in preventing foot injuries in runners has been largely overlooked by the medical profession and athletes alike, until recently. Ingrown toenails, black toenails, deformed toenails, friction blisters, corns and calluses, fungal infections, warts and even heel bursitis and bruising can be attributed to poor sock choices. Most of these foot problems are a result of shearing forces occurring while running. Shearing forces are a result of forward or side to side motion of the foot within the shoe. Shearing forces increase with improper shoe and sock fit and excess moisture.

Sock Materials

The socks should be composed of a wicking material. Cotton is about the worst choice you could make. Cotton absorbs water like a sponge and then doesn’t let it evaporate. Wool is a better option, but like cotton it does not wick well. Wool blends and small fiber wool, like Smartwool designed for wicking and evaporating moisture, can be a good choice. Polypropylene is a better choice than cotton or wool, because polypropylene resists absorbing water. It is not as good of a choice as small fiber wool, because it’s water resistant material is so good,  it may do a better job keeping water in the shoe than allowing it to wick out. A polypropylene blend can be a good choice, depending on the fiber it is blended with. Acrylic socks tend to wick moisture well and they do not swell much when wet. Cotton swells almost 10 times as much as acrylic when wet.

The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends socks made with CoolMax. Coolmax fabrics use polyester fibers and are uniquely engineered with gradient fabrics to move moisture from your feet. To achieve this wicking gradient, the running shoe should have a breathable areas built into the shoe, like a nylon mesh or other type of material, which encourages wicking.

Sock Fit

Socks that bunch up at the heels or the toes are bound to cause problems. Socks that are too large will sit up on the heel, instead of around the heel. This leads to more friction and shearing. Socks that are too small squeeze the toes together, increasing friction and pressure between the toes. Cotton socks do not retain their shape as well as acrylic, polypropylene or socks made with CoolMax fibers. This results in improper fit, bunching and blisters. If you notice thinning of your socks, especially in the heel area, it's time to throw them away!

For information on shoe fit, click here.


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last updated 4/22/15

Disclaimer: The advice on this website is not intended to substitute for a visit to your health care provider. We will not be held liable for any diagnosis made or treatment recommended. Consult your doctor if you feel you have a medical problem.