Compression garments have been used in the medical community for more than 60 years to promote blood circulation and help treat a variety of vascular issues and post-surgical complications.
It has been used to prevent blood clots, reduce chronic swelling and lymphodema, and treat the symptoms of painful varicose veins.
Because of these positive results, in recent decades more attention has been given to the non-medical applications of compression, namely as fitness and athletic gear. In this arena, compression gear has been observed to reduce lactic acid levels, increase muscle stability, and improve recovery time.
How Does Compression Work?
The cornerstone of compression is the way it affects blood circulation.
Proper circulation is critical to both good health and athletic performance. Blood is circulated through our bodies by our arteries and veins. First, the arteries pump oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the extremities, where our cells utilize the oxygen and nutrients.
Then, deoxygenated blood and waste products are carried back to the heart through the veins to be reoxygenated by the lungs, and the process begins again. The ability to increase circulation in a simple, affordable, and non-invasive way makes compression gear extremely beneficial in several ways.
What is Compression Gear Used For?
Poor circulation can lead to several health problems from varicose veins and chronic swelling to more severe issues like deep vein thrombosis and severe lymphodema.
Because the legs are far from the heart, simple things like sitting or standing too long, being bedridden post-surgery, or the extra pressure created by pregnancy can slow circulation and lead to painful or even dangerous symptoms.
Compression gear – specifically compression socks or stockings – provide a mechanism that helps dilate the arteries to increase blood flow and spread oxygen and nutrients through the body faster.
While compression gear is not explicitly designed to cure any medical conditions, it is recognized as an effective tool in both treating uncomfortable symptoms and preventing further damage. In a medical setting, compression gear has been found to:
Decrease the painful symptoms of varicose veins
Prevent swelling of the extremities
Lower the risk of blood clots during long flights, post-surgery, and during pregnancy
Reduce post-surgical swelling following cosmetic and other procedures
Fitness and Athletics
The improvements in circulation produced by compression gear in the medical field have also been harnessed for the benefit of athletes. When it comes to athletic compression gear, many claims have been made regarding what exactly it can do.
In this setting, there are two primary objectives: improve performance and reduced recovery time.
In terms of performance, the thinking has been that increasing circulation means more efficient oxygenation of the blood and muscles and thus better performance.
While this makes sense, few studies have been conducted to prove the effectiveness of compression gear for either speed or endurance. In the few studies that have been done, little evidence was found to suggest that compression gear created any noticeable improvements.
Recovery time, however, is a different story.
In recent years, studies into the recovery benefits of compression gear have shown that the majority of athletes who wear compression clothing after completing a workout see a marked reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness and a decrease in the recovery time of their bodies post-workout.
The most likely explanation for these results is that compression gear aids in the movement of oxygen to the muscles and lactic acid away from them, reducing pain and inflammation and allowing for faster recovery.
What Other Benefits Are There?
Beyond its major benefits in improving circulation and preventing blood clots, compression gear has also been used to help reduce scarring in burn victims. Known as compression therapy, those who have experienced severe burns over large portions of their body often wear compression gear for long periods of time during their recovery.
In these cases, the compression garments are designed to put pressure on the damaged areas to reduce the amount of scar tissue that can form and prevent the thickening and hardening of scars. To get the maximum benefits, these items are specifically designed for each patient by an occupational therapist and are typically worn 24 hours a day for 12 to 18 months.
While the tangible benefits of compression gear and athletic performance are somewhat lacking, the increased comfort provided by these items has been shown to affect an athlete’s experience positively.
Some benefits include controlling muscle movement, wicking away sweat, and preventing chaffing.
From professional athletes to amateurs running their first 5K, the importance of feeling comfortable while working out cannot be understated. In fact, the one major benefit of compression gear associated with athletic performance is the positive psychological effects it can have.
If you feel good, you will perform better.
Compression gear has been noted to make athletes feel faster and more controlled. It makes swimmers feel more aerodynamic and keeps runners from experiencing painful chaffing.
Though not scientific, the comfort provided by compression gear can make a major difference in how an athlete performs.
Because of the simplicity of compression gear, its applications are vast. From treating or preventing serious medical conditions to helping an athlete feel more powerful and comfortable in their own skin, compression gear is a safe, affordable, and versatile tool that can be used by just about anyone.