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Posted 02.21.06

Research Finds Some Sweaty Socks Better Than Others

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A painful blister is often the by-product of a sweaty sock. But, that is not the only reason a team of University of Missouri-Columbia biological engineering students 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 could be meaningful information for diabetics with serious circulation problems and people who wear prosthetic devices.

Biological engineering students with their sweaty sock device.The team started by developing a device to test 10 popular brands of athletic socks. The testing 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, which reveals its coefficient of friction (COF). Blisters are more likely to develop the higher the COF where the sock and shoe meet. Moisture makes the problem worse; that's why 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," said Robert Mooney, MU biological engineering student.

The team also found that money doesn't matter. The higher priced socks did not test any better than the inexpensive brands. The material that composed the sock is the key. All cotton performed poorly while nylon faired much better.

The benefits of the research are not aimed solely at athletes. The students said the research can help diabetics and those who wear prosthetic devises. The team is hopeful their device could help develop standards for use in sock manufacturing.

"This is about helping diabetics who have circulation problems and figuring out where they need specific materials in their socks," said Lisa Huhman, biological engineering student at Mizzou. "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 materials in different parts of the sock," Huhman said. "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."



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