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Compression Garments: Should You Be Using Them?

The potential benefits of compression garments are numerous and the downsides seem to be few and far between

I’ll admit–I’ve always been put off by compression garments. They’re for ‘old people’, people with circulation problems, people with underlying health conditions–not for young-ish, healthy-ish people like me!

But as I did more research, I realized that I may have been doing myself a serious disservice. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that healthy, active, and/or athletic people may have much to gain from using compression garments.

Not only do compression garments help to improve leg achyiness and pain from standing for long periods, (varicose veins), DVT, and other circulation-related health conditions, but there are some sources that claim that compression garments may help to reduce muscle fatigue during training, improve muscle recovery, alleviate DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), increase power and jumping ability, and prevent muscular injury. But does the science back these claims?

Better, Faster, Stronger?

Another popular claim is that compression garments improve muscular performance, helping an athlete to jump higher, run faster, and lift heavier. Except for a few notable exceptions, this claim, sadly, seems to be largely unsupported by science. Interestingly, however, there has been some research into the effect of using compression garments around joints. Many powerlifters, for example, wear compression garments around their knees, which, according to one study, may help to protect the integrity of these joints.

Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (Doms)

One meta-analysis reviewed over twelve scientific studies done on the efficacy of compression garments in aiding in muscle recovery and improving DOMS. The researchers concluded that the results “indicate that compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage.” But how does this work? In this area, the science seems a little vague, but some experts postulate that it is the circulation-promoting effects of the compression garments that help with muscle recovery. Blood is guided to the affected area and, thus, the tissues recover more quickly.

Injury Prevention

Related to the potential joint-protective powers of compression garments, there is also some belief that they can help to prevent muscular injury. In one study, researchers had nine runners put a compression garment around just one leg and had them perform a 40-minute run. They found that the garmented leg retained less muscular damage than the un-garmented one, which suggests that compression garments may have a protective effect on muscle fibres. Pretty cool!

Conclusions

So, are compression garments for you? The potential benefits of compression garments are numerous and the downsides seem to be few and far between; I could find no research that indicated compression garments having an injurious or harmful effect, so make of that what you will! Even if you are not an athlete or regular exerciser, compression garments can help to reduce pain and promote circulation for many conditions, such as Lymphoedema and deep-vein thrombosis–or even if your legs are just tired and achy from spending a lot of time on your feet.

Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!

Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer, and Infofit fitness blog writer.

Works Cited

Brown, F., Gissane, C., Howatson, G., van Someren, K., Pedlar, C., & Hill, J. (2017). Compression garments and recovery from exercise: A meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 47(11), 2245–2267. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0728-9

Davies, V., Thompson, K. G., & Cooper, S.-M. (2009). The effects of compression garments on recovery. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(6), 1786–1794. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181b42589

Duffield, R., Cannon, J., & King, M. (2010). The effects of compression garments on recovery of muscle performance following high-intensity sprint and Plyometric Exercise. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 13(1), 136–140. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2008.10.006

Higgins, T., Naughton, G. A., & Burgess, D. (2009). Effects of wearing compression garments on physiological and performance measures in a simulated game-specific circuit for Netball. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 12(1), 223–226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2007.08.018

Hill, J. A., Howatson, G., van Someren, K. A., Walshe, I., & Pedlar, C. R. (2014). Influence of compression garments on recovery after marathon running. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(8), 2228–2235. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000469

Kraemer, W. J., Bush, J. A., Bauer, J. A., Triplett-McBride, N. T., Paxton, N. J., Clemson, A., Koziris, L. P., Mangino, L. C., Fry, A. C., & Newton, R. U. (1996). Influence of compression garments on vertical jump performance in NCAA Division I Volleyball Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 10(3), 180–183. https://doi.org/10.1519/00124278-199608000-00009

SAYERS, S. T. E. P. H. E. N. P., HARACKIEWICZ, D. A. V. I. D. V., HARMAN, E. V. E. R. E. T. T. A., FRYKMAN, P. E. T. E. R. N., & ROSENSTEIN, M. I. C. H. A. E. L. T. (1999). Cross-validation of three jump power equations. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(4), 572–577. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-199904000-00013

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