Socks are often the last thing you think about when getting dressed, if you think about them at all. But treating socks as an afterthought is a mistake—for your feet, your fashion, and your fitness. Think about the benefits of investing in quality socks.
Socks Affect Your Foot Health
Perhaps the best reason to invest in quality socks is the health of your feet. With no socks or the wrong socks, your feet can suffer a variety of ailments, from blisters to fungus to fissures, and even associated infections. According to a review of several studies published by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, the type and quality of socks is important to foot health not only in diabetic and arthritic patients, but to performance in recreational and competitive athletes.
These studies found that acrylic fibers were better than cotton in protecting runners against blisters caused by friction. Other studies found benefits in hosiery for quadriplegic patients. One study found that over-the-calf socks reduce swelling in feet and legs.
Even the United States military has studied socks, in an effort to find out how to reduce blistering in recruits. These studies looked at various combinations of socks and sock fabrics and how they affected recruits’ feet during prolonged marching and running.
Collectively, the studies discovered that the kind of socks an athlete wears can impact a variety of foot injuries, including:
- Bleeding or bruising under the toenails, toenail fungus, or “ram’s horn nails,” where one side of the nail grows faster than the other and the nails become thick and curved
- Thickened skin, corns, and calluses
- Fungal, yeast, and bacterial infections, and warts
- Inflamed or weakened ligaments, and atrophy in the fatty pads on the bottom of the foot
- Bone and connective tissue issues, like heel spurs, tendinitis in the foot (sesamoiditis), bunions, shin splints, bone bruises
The force of the feet hitting the ground, as in running, and pressure or “shearing” (rubbing, friction, twisting, etc.) action from athletic shoes can cause or aggravate all of these ailments. Quality socks, made of a fabric appropriate to the activity and designed with the right kind of cushioning, protect against some of this potential damage to the feet.
The Importance of Wicking
Wicking is the absorption of moisture and the transfer of the moisture away from the surface of the skin. Some types of sock fibers are much better at wicking away moisture than others.
A common misconception is that cotton socks are good for athletic activity. This isn’t true—cotton absorbs a lot of moisture but is very bad at wicking it away from the skin. Cotton can get soaked and fail to hold its shape, causing friction and blistering. Natural fibers like wool and cotton, if not blended with acrylic fibers that have better wicking action, also swell up when wet and press against the shoe, making it harder still for air to circulate and let the moisture evaporate. Studies on marines and soldiers showed that a double sock system, with a synthetic liner covered by a wool/synthetic blend sock with heavy padding worked much better to wick away moisture and prevent the type of friction that causes blisters.
Finding the Right Fit
It seems like a no-brainer, but if you’re buying new shoes, especially athletic shoes, try them on with the socks you intend to wear with them. The thickness and design of the sock will affect the shoe size, so your regular size may not be the right size for athletic shoes with the right kind of socks. According to Dr. Douglas Richie, who presented the summary of the sock studies to the AAPSM, traditional ways of sizing shoes are ineffective and often significantly inaccurate, especially when a fitter takes measurements when the shoe customer isn’t wearing the sock they’d wear with the shoe they would ultimately choose.
Beyond Foot Health
There are many additional benefits to investing in quality socks that have less to do with foot health and more to do with practicality, performance, durability, and fashion. A growing variety of styles, fabrics, colors, and options for customization for different sports, like TCK custom stirrups for baseball, provide more choices than ever. Quality, however, should always be a primary consideration. Look for quality in:
- Fabric: cashmere and merino are top of the line for wool socks; merino wool has natural odor-fighting characteristics; wool and cotton both blend well with various synthetics that provide greater wicking and durability; wool maintains its ability to keep your feet warm even when it gets wet. Synthetic fibers like polyester, rayon, spandex, acrylic, and nylon will have better stretch and will maintain their shape better. Most synthetics have far superior wicking ability than wool or cotton.
- Weight: socks for running will be different than socks for hiking in cold weather; some socks provide cooling and extra wicking ability; cushioning is also a factor, and some socks provide special cushioning depending on the sport they’re designed for.
- Length: soccer requires knee-length or over-the-knee socks that accommodate shin guards, whereas tennis players prefer crew socks or shorter.
- Color and design: the range of fabrics and fibers available for sock manufacturers has expanded the ability to create colorful, custom designs. Custom socks build team spirit and keep fans in the family by helping them show team spirit from the ground up.
Whether you are complementing a business suit or suiting up for your football, baseball, or basketball team, socks are an essential part of your wardrobe. Quality socks provide features of wicking, cushioning, protection, warmth, or cooling for active feet. On any given day, you may go from pavement to playing field, and the different surfaces you tread upon play a role in the socks you select for dress, casual, or athletic shoes. Podiatrists take socks seriously for their patients’ foot health and for preventing injury and infection. Take good care of your feet by investing in quality socks made especially for your sport and customized for your team.