Every year, I like to recognize the piece of gear that has the biggest impact on my hiking and backpacking experience by giving it the Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award. This years winner are CEP Compression Socks which have helped me manage and cure a nagging overuse foot injury, Achilles Tendinitis, while keeping me on the trail during one of my most active hiking and backpacking years to date.
Past winners of the Section Hiker Gear of the Year Award include:
- 2015: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Backpack
- 2014: Casio PAG240-1CR Pathfinder Triple Sensor Multi-Function Sport Watch
- 2013: Solo Wood Stove
- 2012: Therm-a-Rest Alpine 35 Blanket
- 2011: Pacerpoles (Trekking Poles)
- 2010: Mountain Laurel Designs Superlight Bivy Sack
If you hang out with any marathoners or runners, chances are you’ve seen them wearing compression socks or compression sleeves on their calves. They’re also popular in the trades where people who have to stand all day at work for reducing leg fatigue and muscle soreness.
If you’ve never tried a compression sock or a compression sleeve, they’re designed to squeeze the body part they cover in order to improve blood flow and reduce swelling. They’re available in different levels of tightness or compression, with a diminishing or graduated level of tightness as they get closer to the heart.
Compression socks provide three benefits to hikers: blister reduction, swelling reduction, and improved blood flow.
Blister reduction: Compression socks fit skin-tight, eliminating the sock-to-skin friction that can lead to blistering. They’re also highly wicking, moving moisture away from your skin to prevent fabric bunching and hot spot formation.
Swelling reduction: Overuse or mis-alignment injuries such as plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis can result in significant swelling in the foot, ankle, or lower calf. Compression of these areas prevents fluid from accumulating in them and relieves the pain associated with swelling.
Increased blood flow: Compression helps blood flow from the extremities back to the heart through the venous system, increasing the flow of fresh oxygenated blood through injury sites, particularly where blood flow is normally poor like the achilles tendon and foot fascia.
Achilles tendinitis is an overuse injury commonly experienced by runners, particularly as they age in their 40’s and 50’s. It’s an inflammation of the achilles tendon which runs down the back of your foot connecting your calf muscles to your heel bone is used in walking, running, and jumping. Symptoms include heel pain, tight calves, and swelling in the ankle and foot.
The causes of achilles tendinitis can be hard to pin down but I think my case was caused by excessive pronation from using worn out hiking shoes. It also took me a while to realize that I had achilles tendinitis because I was also suffering from plantar fasciitis, another common hiker injury, which causes heel pain and arch cramping. It was only when that condition cleared up, that I realized I had a lingering case of achilles tendinitis. (My physician proved worthless in diagnosing any of this, shaking head.)
After my plantar fasciitis cleared up, I still suffered from an alarming amount of liquid buildup in my left and ankle. It’d get so swollen by the end of the day, that it looked like my ankle has been sprained, only it hadn’t been. The liquid buildup and swelling would go down at night when my legs were raised in bed, but the swelling would occur again by mid-afternoon, each day. It was unnerving. Really.
When I tried CEP compression socks, I wasn’t a complete “compression sock virgin.” I’d used another company’s ankle compression sleeve to help manage and ultimately cure my plantar fasciitis. That compression sleeve improved the blood flow to my plantar fascia, the thick band of tissue running under my foot that had been inflamed, which also has a poor blood supply. Based on that success, I figured I try the same with a sock which would run farther up my leg and cover the rest of my foot, in order to control the swelling and accelerate the healing of my achilles tendinitis.
I got on Amazon Prime and searched around looking for the compression sock that wasn’t too expensive, and ordered the CEP compression socks because they were so highly rated by other customers. Overnight shipping and the Amazon return policy makes these product experiments fairly painless. Perhaps too much, judging by the sea of boxes cluttering my house.
It took a few weeks to get used to wearing the CEP compression socks which are a lot tighter than the ankle compression sleeve I’d used previously, but they did a marvelous job at preventing the buildup of fluid in my calf, ankle, and foot. I’d take them off each night to let my foot relax and lying horizontal on the bed didn’t result in further swelling while putting them on again first thing after waking up, even before my morning coffee.
Meanwhile I continued hiking and backpacking in the White Mountains about 40 miles each week and along with my twice a week strength workouts. I wore those CEP compression socks for 8 weeks, every day, even when I was hiking, and the swelling is now gone.
It’s hard to believe that such a simple thing as wearing CEP compression socks would help clear up achilles tendinitis when nothing else seemed to be working and that I could still hike at my normal frenetic pace without slowing down. I’ve been suffering from foot pain for 6 months (since May), so it’s a great relief to back on my feet again and healthy. If you suffer from achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis, I recommend you give compression socks or ankle sleeves a try to help control the pain and the swelling. I’m convinced that it cured me and I hope it can help you too.
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