It's a mistake to overlook your socks, Axman says, because quality socks will prevent bacterial growth by wicking away perspiration and keeping the feet dry. Socks can also cut down on blistering and protect the feet from painful corns and calluses.
"Pro basketball players used to have horrible feet," says Tom Hoffer, former equipment manager for the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks. "All that running took its toll. In years past, I've seen players with calluses on the balls and heels of their feet that were almost three-quarters of an inch thick."
Hoffer has witnessed a dramatic change since the introduction of a new type of athletic sock in the NBA last season. These socks are made of Ultratech orlon, a new DuPont acrylic fiber developed for use in athletic socks by Burlington, Ridgeview, SAI and Thor-Lo, each a top athletic sock manufacturer.
Not only has Ultratech been proved to wick perspiration from the foot three times faster than cotton, Hoffer says, but it also offers exceptional spring- like cushioning as well because of the high-bulk knit process used in its manufacture.
When looking for socks for sports or exercise, check the label or hangtag first for material content. Cotton and wool, two other popular sock materials, each has drawbacks.
Once cotton socks become saturated with perspiration, they stay wet. This can cause the sock to bunch up, ultimately leading to blistering or possible fungal infection.
Wool, which many people find to be "scratchy," is an excellent material for winter use, but may prove to be too warm during the other seasons. Also, after repeated machine washings, it tends to lose its bulk.
"For my money, the best sock for sports is one that offers the best absorbency, comfort and durability. This is one made of turbo, high-bulk, orlon acrylic," Axman says.