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Compression sportswear: the science

As the popularity of compression sportswear continues to soar, you may well be wondering what all the fuss is about. Sure, the garments certainly look good, and both amateur and professional athletes tell us that they are exceptionally comfortable to wear; but is there actually any truth behind the claims made by retailers about the performance and benefits of compression clothing?


In fact, recent research has demonstrated that compression clothing may have a positive effect on reducing swelling and muscle oscillations, and also promoting recovery from injury. It may enhance local blood flow and joint awareness and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Running economy can be improved, and there is no negative impact on performance. Having said that, there have been some inconsistencies in findings across various studies, so it’s worth looking into the science behind how compression sportswear functions.


Muscle damage


Athletes embarking on intensive training regimes – for instance, in preparation for a sporting competition – can suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This a disorder that occurs as a direct result of the exercise they take during training. To address DOMS, a number of different therapies have emerged over the years, including those using massage, water immersion, and hyperbaric oxygen. Other remedies include the application of electrical stimulation, whole body vibration, and foam rolling. The use of compression garments has risen through the ranks because they can be used to prevent injury as well as aid recovery.


Improving performance


There have been several studies of compression garments to examine particular features. One research review indicated that compression garments can have a number of positive physical and psychological effects on both sports performance and recovery from extreme exercise. It was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013 by a team of scientists, J Hill, G Howatson. K van Someren and C Pedlar, and entitled “Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis.” This is a useful study because it analyses findings from a number of other research projects on the topic of compression clothing.


Among the effects noted by the research team were the impacts of wearing compression garments, which are tight, in order to apply external pressure to the human body. This decreases osmotic pressure and decreases the space available for swelling and hematoma. Lessening osmotic pressure may also decrease the degree of chemotaxis, or the movement of organisms, which in turn reduces inflammatory responses and pain. The study also found that compression garments are an effective recovery tool for reducing the concentration of creatine kinase (CK) after exercise. CK is a biomarker of muscular damage: on balance, muscle power and strength recover more quickly with the use of compression garments.


Of course, compression garments are worn not only to improve recovery from things such as muscle or other damage that may be experienced between training sessions, but also as a method to enhance recovery during training sessions.


Choices available


Compression clothing is designed for men, women, and children, and there are a range of uses for different garments. For example, there is a wide variety of comfortable compression sleeves for ankles, knees, wrists, arms, and elbows that provide compression and relief to these specific areas. You can wear these sleeves under clothing if you prefer.


An ankle sleeve moves with the wearer. Made from lightweight stretch fabric for kids and heavier grades for adults, it supports the ankle and the foot. Odor protection is built in to keep feet comfortable and dry. Ankle sleeves are ideal for running and also for sports requiring agile movement, such as tennis or basketball.


Knee sleeves are also ideal for lots of activities, and thanks to ergonomic paneling, they sit comfortably above, on, and below the knee to provide support alongside freedom of movement. Elbow sleeves behave in a similar way and are ideal for workouts as they protect your joints from strain or other injuries.


For activities such as lifting weights or doing pull-ups, a full arm sleeve offers additional support. This heavyweight sleeve compresses the entire arm and molds itself to your body contours, hugging your arm from the biceps to the forearm.


Wrist sleeves are useful for sports activities such as badminton and squash, and also have applications for day-to-day work. Whether you want to be careful when sweeping or mopping the floor or protect yourself if you spend a lot of time tapping a screen or a keyboard, wrist support can be a real blessing.


Back and leg support


The top grade 4D compression technology is ideal for lumbar support and can be worn for workouts or as a base layer for everyday use, bringing relief and benefiting muscle recovery after exercise. A back brace targets the lower back area, while the full core compression shirt comes in a range of styles and sleeve lengths, depending on your personal preferences. These are recommended for both men and women, depending on the activities in which they engage.


In addition to providing leg support during sports activities and on long-haul flights, compression stockings have a number of medical uses – for example, for the prevention and treatment of aching, heavy, and tired legs; swelling of the leg and ankle (edema); and varicose veins and spider veins. Compression therapy is additionally used for other vein diseases and disorders following interventions, including lymphedema, deep vein thrombosis, and chronic vein insufficiency (CVI).


Hands and feet


As with wrist support, specialist compression gloves are ideal for repetitive hand movements, and you can choose full-fingered or half-fingered versions. Foot supports are useful for everyday use or specialist sports use and cushion your feet and legs during normal activities, such as walking, as well as during sports workouts and games. Look for orthotic shoe inserts when searching for the appropriate type.




On balance, then, it would seem that compression clothing can improve the quality of life for everyone in need of additional physical support and comfort during work, exercise, sporting activities, or in relation to preventing and treating medical conditions. As science research programs continue to examine the pros and cons of claims about compression garments, undoubtedly more facts will come to light.











About the Author

Amanda Acuña an influential Mom Blogger created MommyMandy as an online resource to the parenting community. She has four children and they currently reside in Texas.

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