Is compression gear effective in sports recovery?
It is widely thought that compression wear helps with sports performance and recovery, as there are many different brands out there in the market and many athletes wearing them. It is known that exercise can cause muscle damage often referred to as DOMS – delayed onset of muscle soreness which can cause temporary reductions in muscle strength, power, range of movement, increased swelling and soreness. These symptoms often last for a few days and in many cases are worst on the second day post training which can have a negative impact on subsequent training sessions.
After doing some research there is in fact evidence to support the use of compression wear in aiding recovery. There are many randomised control trials and one systematic review collated the information from 12 of the best-designed trials.
Results from an Evidence Review– Compression Garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage (Hill et al., 2014):
- Compression garments worn after or during and after intense exercise have a moderate reduction in severity to DOMS (muscle soreness), improved strength and power.
- CK levels (creatine kinase) were reduced in the blood stream, which is usually a sign of muscle damage.
- It is thought that improved blood flow and clearance of metabolites may be a result of the compressive garments improving circulation likely from the enhanced muscle pump action.
- The other theory for how the compression garments cause these improvements in recovery is due to the external pressure gradient reducing the space available for swelling. Both these reasons are only theory based, as there is no evidence as to how the compression garments do improve recovery.
For further reading of this review it can be accessed from The British Journal of Sports Medicine. Full reference at bottom of article.
Compression Wear & Performance:
It is also thought that compression gear helps with performance by increasing blood flow and possibly providing stability however there is minimum evidence to support these claims.
I was able to find one study that found that performance in running endurance specifically with runners was slightly improved with compression garments. It was found that the garments worked by:
- increasing the time to exhaustion
- better clearance of blood lactate
- better perceived exertion
- Maximum leg strength at the end of the run.
However, these findings were only of small effect size.
It is possible that proprioception (joint awareness), reduction of muscle oscillation and improved ability for oxygen to get into the muscles could be improved by compression wear but there are not yet enough studies to scientifically prove this. It also makes sense from a logical perspective that in the winter months with athletes training outdoors like football and soccer the extra warmth the compression wear provides would likely help keep the muscles warm and therefore be beneficial in injury prevention.
My Experiences with Compression Wear:
I have been more of a fan for using compression wear during performance especially when i was a younger netballer and training was outside in the winter months. The compression leggings I wore were very effective at providing warmth but with a material that can still breathe. I now prefer to train in either compression shorts or leggings for comfort and the feeling of compression is nice on the muscles. I also have a history of shin splints which I found the compression leggings to be quite helpful in keeping the muscle warm which helps reduce the pain. Now that I am aware of the recovery benefits I try to implement a routine after games which is ice baths post match and then after showering leave the venue and or sleep in my compression leggings to get the full benefit of recovery.
My favourite compression wear brand: Six30 – as featured in the photos throughout this blog!
For a 15% discount use the code on the website – “athleteadvantage”
Prevention of DVT’s with flying:
What is a DVT? Deep vein thrombosis in the legs is basically a blood clot often caused by poor circulation causing the blood to form a clot. Often they are caused in hospital patients post operatively as they are resting in bed and not mobilising as much as normal. The other common time is with flying especially on long haul flights where people don’t get up and move about.
Signs & Symptoms: Symptoms can vary from none to pain and swelling in the legs. They are most common in the calf which often presents as a tight, hot, painful and swollen calf. The risk with DVT’s is that they can dislodge and travel to the lungs which can cause a pulmonary embolism leading to death.
Can Compression wear reduce the risk of DVT?
It has been thought that compression wear is good for reducing DVT’s but what does the evidence actually say?
YES – IT IS EFFECTIVE!
A systematic review study from 2006 compared all the results of 10 smaller studies which looked specifically at compression socks in reducing DVT’s in long haul flights over 7 hours. It was concluded that airline passengers can expect a substantial reduction in the incidence of DVT and leg oedema (swelling) if wearing compression socks. Now this study and another reviewing the effect of preventing DVT’s in hospitals both used compression socks but it can be assumed that full length compressive leggings would have the same effect as long as the pressure is relatively similar.
To read more on this article it can be accessed from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625594
My Experience with Compression Wear Flying:
I have recently been travelling a lot as team Physio with Elite Netballers this year and I have found my compression tights to come in handy on these trips. It is compulsory for the athletes to wear their compression tights on our interstate flights so I have found myself getting into a routine to wear my tights even when they are not long haul flights. Certainly on long haul flights I wear either my compression leggings or long sleeve calf compression socks which are great especially when you are cramped into a window seat which are often makes it more difficult to get up and walk.
Other Benefits of Compression Wear:
- Great for post muscle strain injury – helps to provide the compression component of the famous RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). As a physio it is the easiest way for me to get patients compressing their acute injuries. It is more comfortable and I often suggest athletes wear their compression to bed especially when they have acutely strained a hamstring or quad for example.
- Aside from acute injuries – injuries that improve with muscle warmth such as the ever annoying “shin splints” or compartment syndrome for example often feel better when they are warmed by massage or in fact wearing compression. This means that training in them can reduce the impact these injuries have on your training.
- Great for patients with blood circulatory problems such as lymphedema which can be helped by increasing the blood flow back up to the heart by wearing compressive gear.
- Similar benefit to pregnant woman who get some cases of Lymphedema and sometimes if the compression leggings come up high enough they also help to support the lower back and pelvis which often becomes sore and unstable in pregnancy.
References for Extra Reading:
Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48, 1340-1346. Hill, Howatson, Van Someren, Leeder & Pedlar. (2014).
Effect of compression garments on short-term recovery of repeated sprint and 3-km running performance in rugby union players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. (2012). Hamlin, Mitchell, Ward et al.
Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing? Sports Medicine, 2016. Engel, Holmberg & Sperlich. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27106555
Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance. Sports Medicine Journal. 2011
MacRae, Cotter & Laing.
Elastic Compression stockings for prevention of deep vein thrombosis – 2010
Sachdeva, Dalton, Amaragiri and Lees.
Link to Article below:
Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (2006).
Link to Article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16625594