Sweaty socks

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 27th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Have you been shopping for athletic socks lately? With so many different types and brands, it’s difficult to choose what’s best for your feet. A team of biological engineering students from the University of Missouri-Columbia recently decided to put athletic socks to the test, to find out what constitutes a good sock versus a bad one.

Knowing which socks are best might not only help athletes prevent blisters, but also people with diabetes who have serious circulation problems and are prone to foot ulcers, or others who wear prosthetic devices.

The engineering students developed a device to test ten popular brands of athletic socks. The device uses a stepper motor to tilt a Plexiglas form that holds the sock material against a platform at a set pressure. The device calculates the point at which the material slips against the platform, and measures the resulting friction. Blisters are more likely to develop at the highest friction points, where sock and shoe meet. Moisture makes the problem worse, so tests were conducted in a humidity chamber.

Tests showed that cost doesn’t matter. One-hundred-percent cotton socks were usually the worst, especially when a person started to sweat. Nylon, on the other hand, fared much better. The team also found higher-priced socks did not test any better than inexpensive brands. The team hopes their testing device could help develop standards for use in sock manufacturing. That’d be a step forward for athletes and diabetics alike.