Sweaty Study Surveys Socks

Synthetics beat cotton in keeping blisters away, research suggests

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MONDAY, March 6, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to keeping blisters at bay, all socks are not created equal, a new study finds.

In fact, 100 percent cotton athletic socks usually fared the worst, and expensive brands aren't necessarily the best, according to a study by engineering students at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Besides being of help to athletes, the data may be important for diabetics with serious circulation problems and people who wear prosthetic devices, the research team noted.

The research team tested 10 popular brands of athletic socks using a device they developed that calculated the point at which the sock material slipped against a platform -- the coefficient of friction (COF). The higher the COF, the more likely that blisters will develop were feet and socks are in contact. Moisture can exacerbate the problem, so the sock tests were conducted in a humidity chamber.

"We found that 100 percent cotton socks were usually the worst, especially when a person started to sweat," student Robert Mooney said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues also concluded that expensive socks tested no better than inexpensive brands. It was the sock material that made the difference, with nylon producing better results than cotton.

The team said their device could be used to help develop sock manufacturing standards.

"This is about helping diabetics who have circulation problems and figuring out where they need specific materials in their socks," team member Lisa Huhman said in a prepared statement. "We find out where diabetics have skin trauma and target those areas. This isn't just about helping athletes prevent blisters."

"If I were a jogger or a runner looking for a pair of socks, I would look for a pair that had different compositions of material in different parts of the sock. I would not want a sock that was overall cotton. I might look for a sock that had some of those synthetic materials that were proven to be better," Huhman said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about diabetes foot care.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, news release, Feb. 21, 2006

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