Why Your Running Socks Matter

By Lisbeth Hoyt, PT, DPT, CSCS


It's been a busy summer of running, dinner with friends, weekends away, and maybe even a much-needed vacation. The laundry pile in the corner of your room keeps growing, but who has time? By the time you get to your long run, all your clean running socks are dirty, so you just grab any old pair.


Anyone who's been in that position before can tell you how that run ends; in blistered feet, chafing, and calluses, just to name a few. That's because a pair of plain old cotton socks aren't meant for high level performance. Cotton doesn't wick away moisture, essentially allowing sweat to pool in your shoes. Anyone who's suffered a foot blister or two can tell you that blisters can derail some important training miles. 


Not surprisingly, there are very few studies on running socks, but I did come across one that looked at the effects of socks on ground reaction forces in walking and running. The study used a very small sample size (only 5 people) and looked at multiple walking and running trials. Participants were either barefoot, in non-specialist socks, or specialist running socks (brand not specified). They found that the trials with running socks had a small effect on ground reaction forces in the foot, indicating that this may contribute to some shock absorption during running and walking.

We spend so much time finding the right pair of shoes that sometimes we forget about the protective layer between our shoes and our feet. So before you reach for any random pair of socks, keep these things in mind:

  • Your running socks should not contain cotton in the material. Look for synthetic fibers like polyester, wool, spandex, and even bamboo.

  • Look for a sock that is designed for running. The cushioning is specialized in a running sock to be tighter in the heel and mid-foot and looser around the toes. 

  • Pick a sock for the terrain and weather you'll be running in. Have a trail run coming up: grab a knee or calf high pair. A tight fitting track shoe: aim for a thinner sock with no cushioning in the heel!

If you're anything like me, once you find a brand you like, grow your sock collection with fun colors and designs... Or just all buy black because we do run in NYC after. Whatever the color, great socks mean happy (and healthy) feet!

Blackmore, T., Ball, N., & Scurr, J. (2011). The effect of socks on vertical and anteroposterior ground reaction forces in walking and running. The Foot,21(1), 1-5. doi:10.1016/j.foot.2010.10.002