runner in compression calf sleeve

Basketball players have the sleeves, runners have the socks, volleyball players have the shorts, and baseball players have the long-sleeved shirts. In almost every sport you can find examples of compression clothing.

Everyday athletes and weekend warriors have also made it commonplace, with bright-colored compression clothing popping up all over the gym and the running trails.

Sure, it can look sleek. But does compression clothing have any real benefits? Furthermore, does it actually improve athletic performance?

What Is Compression Clothing?

Compression clothing is a type of tight-fitting garment that applies pressure to the area of the body it covers. It can be made from a variety of different materials, often blending spandex and nylon.

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Benefits of Compression Clothing

Compression stockings and wraps have been used medically for decades to alleviate pain from swelling, inflammation, and varicose veins. They can reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot usually found in the leg, by preventing swelling and improving proper vein function.

Compression clothing works by accelerating blood flow and oxygen delivery to specific muscle groups. Compression clothing typically comes in two different types:

  • Compartmental compression: localized pressure targeted to one specific area, generally used for sport/exercise/activities.
  • Graduated compression: pressure targeted to the extremities used to increase blood flow to the core, generally used for those who spend extended amounts of time in a stationary/sitting/standing position to improve blood follow when one is unable to move around.

How Compression Clothing Benefits Athletes

It is established that compression clothing helps increase blood flow, but does it provide a real benefit to athletic performance?

In short, yes. The acceleration of blood flow and increased oxygen delivery to specific muscle groups allows athletes to work at a higher rate for a longer period of time. Circulation improvement helps the body recover faster by reducing the build-up of lactic acid.

Reduced Injury

In addition to increased performance, compression garments can reduce the injury risk of athletes. Benefits include:

  • Reduced muscle oscillations and vibration in skeletal muscles during training and competition.
  • Reduced damage to muscles after impact.
  • Reduced muscle fatigue and soreness during and after workouts.

Other Benefits

Outside of performance and injury prevention, there are some additional benefits for weekend warriors.

Compression garments typically have a higher SPF factor than other athletic apparel, giving extra protection on those Saturdays spent on the bike trail or baseball diamond.

Compression garments are frequently used to help reduce chafing in sensitive areas. Most runners understand the need for maximum protection against chafing, which can negatively affect athletic activity for days at a time.

What Should I Look For When Buying Compression Clothing?

Whether you’re buying compression gear for a specific activity or just for general use, there are different attributes to look for.

In general, you want to make sure the sizing is right. Ill-fitting clothing can cause friction that can lead to skin chafing.

The fit is even more important when you’re using garments with compartmental compression for specific activities. You want to ensure the compression is applied to the right muscle group.

Examples of specialized compartmental compression clothing include calf guards, used to help with shin splints in runners, and knee sleeves, which have varying degrees of compression on the knee and surrounding muscles.

No matter your level of activity, UPMC Sports Medicine has comprehensive expertise/services to help people of all ages and skill levels learn how to prevent injuries while focusing on nutrition, conditioning, and sport-specific performance training.

To make an appointment or learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine, visit our website or call 1-855-937-7678.

Sources

How does the blood circulatory system work? - InformedHealth.org - NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)

Compression Garments for Medical Therapy and Sports (nih.gov)

Benefits of Compression Gear | UPMC HealthBeat

How to Treat Varicose Veins | UPMC HealthBeat

Lower-leg compression, running mechanics, and economy in trained distance runners - PubMed (nih.gov)

Skin Health: Prevention and Treatment of Skin Breakdown (wearesrna.org)

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.