Compression Clothing: Is it Worth It?

In the last few years, compression clothing has become increasingly more popular, particularly among athletes. Used in conjunction with exercise and recovery, compression garments stabilize the soft tissue and are used in hopes of improved performance and reduced risk of discomfort or injury. To do so, they aim to alter intramuscular pressure through stress and strain to increase blood, and therefore oxygen, circulation. However, while some athletes find it helps during exercise or recovery, the actual benefits of compression clothing are debatable and require more research.

Current research focuses on the type of exercise performed while wearing the compression garments. For endurance athletes such as long distance runners, compression clothing had no significant changes in blood-oxygen concentration or blood lactate levels. However, for cyclists the compression clothing increased cycling performance along with StO2 output. The variance in success rates could be due to the motion of the athlete or the amount of time the clothing is worn. It also raises the question, how does the material impact the effectiveness of the garment?  The stress/strain forces between the garment and the skin creates a difference in pressure that only works when the compression is properly fitted. For the clothing to increase blood-oxygen levels there should be enough restriction to increase blood flow, but not so much that circulation could decrease. Finding the perfect material and fit for each athlete impacts effectiveness.

While there was no significant improvement in performance when wearing compression clothing during exercise, it may have a positive impact on an athlete’s recovery time. Many athletes saw benefits in wearing compression clothing after exercise to decrease muscle soreness. While this is not directly increasing oxygen intake, decreasing soreness can help athletes recover faster after exercise. Compression clothing is often used for medical purposes such as decreasing inflammation, which could explain why it works for sore muscles.

Based on current research, there is a lack of proof that compression clothing is beneficial during exercise.  The results can be impacted by the type of material used, fit, duration and type of exercise, or even the placebo effect, but there is still a lot to discover through measuring blood oxygen levels and recovery times in athletes wearing the garments.  Additionally, there does not seem to be a negative effect from wearing compression clothing.  If you are an athlete looking for a change in performance, compression clothing may not be your answer.  However, if you struggle with soreness or inflammation after exercise, you may benefit from wearing compression clothing.

Questions to Consider:

Have you used compression garments in conjunction with exercise? Recovery/injury?

If yes, did you find that they improved your experience compared to times when compression garments were not used?

Is there a potential health risk from using compression clothing?

Do the negatives of compression clothing (comfort, thermosensitivity, ergonomics) outweigh the positives? Is it worth wearing compression clothing for a slight change in performance?

How long does an athlete need to wear compression clothing to see a difference?

Further Reading:

Beliard S, Chauveau M, Moscatiello T, Cros F, Ecarnot F, Becker F. Compression Garments and Exercise: No Influence of Pressure Applied. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine. 2015;14(1):75-83.

MacRae B.A., Laing R.M., Partsch H. (2016) General Considerations for Compression Garments in Sports: Applied Pressures and Body Coverage. In: Engel F., Sperlich B. (eds) Compression Garments in Sports: Athletic Performance and Recovery. Springer, Cham

Engel F., Stockinger C., Woll A., Sperlich B. (2016) Effects of Compression Garments on Performance and Recovery in Endurance Athletes. In: Engel F., Sperlich B. (eds) Compression Garments in Sports: Athletic Performance and Recovery. Springer, Cham

Boucourt B, Bouhaddi M, Mourot L, Tordi N, Menetrier A. Changes in Tissue Oxygen Saturation with Calf Compression Sleeve: before, during, and after a cycling exercise. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015 Dec;55(12):1497-501. Epub 2014 Oct 6.

Ali A, Caine M.P., Snow B.G. Graduated Compression Stockings: Physiological and Perceptual Responses During and After Exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences. 20 Feb 2007. 25(4): 413-19.

MacRae, Braid A., Cotter, James D., Laing, Raechel M. Compression Garments and Exercise. Sports Medicine. 07 Oct 2012. 41(10): 815-43.

Dermont T, Morizot L, Bouhaddi M, Ménétrier A. Changes in Tissue Oxygen Saturation in Response to Different Calf Compression Sleeves. Journal of Sports Medicine. 2015;2015:857904. doi:10.1155/2015/857904.

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Compression Clothing: Is it Worth It?

  1. The proposed mechanism of action of compression clothing is increased pressure to increase blood flow. At the most basic level, is there evidence that circulation is indeed increased (or pooling is decreased) with compression clothing (regardless of whether this change in circulation results in changes to performance or recovery)?

  2. If there is a benefit to wearing compression clothing during recovery to reduce the level of soreness and inflammation the athlete experiences. Do you believe if an athlete were to experience a injury or increased inflammation in the middle of an event (game or race) that they could put a piece of compression clothing on the affected area and continue to preform at peak levels despite their new injury?

    • I think that the athlete wouldn’t be able to perform at peak performance if they wore compression clothing, but I do think it could help decrease inflammation during the event. When compression clothing is worn during recovery, it is often worn for more then a few hours. I think the athlete would have to wear the compression clothing for longer then the event to see any significant results, but in a pinch it could let the athlete continue in the event until they could further treat the injury.

  3. If compression clothing can be used to decrease muscle soreness and inflammation, would it be beneficial to wear outside of training? Or is it only effective while actually exercising? I have worn compression clothing before, but not enough to know whether or not it improves my performance. I think that for non-athletes it may be more beneficial to wear comfortable rather than compression clothing for exercise.

    • I think for athletes they would benefit more from wearing the clothing during training, but to help with soreness and inflammation it could also be worn outside of training. The effects may not be as noticeable, but it could still benefit in terms of recovery. Also, I agree that non-athletes would benefit more by wearing comfortable clothing. Compression clothing is really only proven to work for injury, so it wouldn’t do much for anyone not training.

  4. Also adding to what Kathleen said about compression clothing potentially being beneficial outside of exercise. If the benefits are not consistent for during workout use, they could be marketed as a recovery product. Even though the data on that is also limited, I know I hurt my knee diving in high school and wore a compression leg sleeve while it was healing. Maybe compression clothing could be marketed as more of something to use in tandem with anti-inflammatories like Advil.
    Is there any data or studies that indicate the majority of people wear the wrong size compression clothing. If buying compression clothing is just a s/m/l system I feel like it would be easy to get the wrong size. Correctly fitting clothing could perhaps increase effectiveness in recovery. In contrast to the athlete buying a piece that is slightly to big or small (which could harm them instead of maximizing what benefits it does have). Also, was there any difference in swelling if the user is wearing the compression clothing through the workout and after, rather than just after?

    • Many people often get the wrong size of compression clothing which would definitely impact the effectiveness of the garments. If the clothing is to small, it would do more harm then good. If the compression clothing is large, you would expect to see no results without a small amount of pressure applied to the area. To answer your other question, wearing clothing during the workout can help lessen the inflammation while training along with wearing it afterwards. However, the athlete has to make sure they don’t wear the clothing for to long because they could begin to see negative effects.

  5. I have used compression clothing before and personally I can agree that compression clothing may not actually increase athletic performance. I would wear compression shorts when playing soccer and to me it was more of a placebo effect than an actual increase in my performance. I would be interested to more studies done on compression shorts but honestly, it seems as if it isn’t needed. If compression clothing works for you, great and if it doesn’t, great but I wouldn’t go as far and say that simply wearing compression shorts would be able to increase performance.

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