Does Compression Clothing Work?

Compression clothing is sort of a fixture at endurance events. Athletes wear them during training, while competing and during recovery. All this is done based on the belief that those skin-tight socks or stockings or sleeves or cuffs will help improve performance and speed up recovery. But, is there any truth to this? Does compression clothing work?


The Short Answer and Slightly Longer Answer

In short, the answer is a resounding “Maybe.”

Research regarding the effectiveness of compression clothing is confusing and the results are mixed. Part of the problem with deciphering all this information is due to the fact that compression clothing was intended as therapeutic device for treating edema, varicose veins, thrombosis and other vein disorders.

Since the original purpose of compression clothing was to help unhealthy individuals, most of the definitive research out there is focused on that specific application. When it comes to athletes, though, the issue gets complicated even further depending on when you’re thinking about using compression clothing.


Compression Clothing for Performance

There are very few studies out there that have tried to answer the question about whether or not compression clothing can improve performance in healthy individuals. Keep in mind, though that “athletes” and “healthy individuals” are two very different populations in the lab. The circulatory and cardiovascular systems in these two groups will very likely responded differently to stimuli.

So far, we have no solid answer. A few studies have found that wearing compression clothing during exercise improved blood flow in patients with unhealthy veins, while other studies produced conflicting results.

The good news is that no study has shown that compression clothing produces bad results when worn during exercise. So, if you want to wear it while training or competing, there’s no reason not to.


Compression Clothing for Recovery

A recent study, however, offers a glimmer of hope. This study, in a unique turn, tested compression clothing worn after high-intensity running workouts. Experienced runners performed a series of intense running drills and then were given either compression clothing or a placebo.

The placebo outfit was made out of similar materials to simulate the feel of real compression clothing. Both of these groups wore their garments overnight.

The next day, each group was asked to perform more drills. Surprisingly, the compression group put in improved times after wearing the clothing.

This study not only suggests that, when used properly compression garments can actually speed recovery but it also hints to a particular use in multi-day events. If you take part in competitions such as tournaments, which require you to push yourself day after day, wearing compression clothing while your sleeping might give you an edge the next day.

As a word of caution, though, remember that this is just one study. The researchers behind these findings don’t fully understand the mechanics at work and, as we discussed, other studies have produced conflicting results. Ultimately, more studies are need to really know whether or not compression clothing works.

That being said, there’s no harm in trying!

Do you have any experience with compression clothing? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments.