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.




When Running Injuries Happen

I haven’t been too lucky in the injury department when it comes to exercise. While I count my blessings each day for having health and strength while others fight hard to survive, I do suffer from the perils of bad accidents, painful joints and cartilage damage. I wish I could say that running is an easy form of exercise every time I head out, but that is not always the case.

Today I found myself at the doctor explaining the difficulties I face each time I try to run even a quarter of a mile. I experience trouble breathing and endure extreme dry coughing and wheezing, and feel like someone is sitting on my chest. This obviously isn’t typical for me, otherwise I’d never have run another step in my life. But it is troubling.

After examining my breathing ability and asking copious amounts of questions, the doctor diagnosed exactly what I expected: exercise-induced asthma. He prescribed me my first inhaler and then pricked and prodded me with needles for blood work–just to make sure I wasn’t also suffering from hypothyroidism. I’m crossing my fingers the results are negative.

Part of me feels sadness it hurts to run, but the other part feels grateful for a diagnosis. Maybe this is the first step to healing and I can return to running marathons once again. Right now, even a 5K feels like a tremendous amount of work to make it to the finish line (when normally I sprint the entire distance.)

Throughout my endurance sports life, I’ve been plagued with a few other instances of injuries. I fell off my bike training for an Ironman race and lost consciousness. I ended up in the hospital with 15 stitches, a sprained wrist and a lifetime of scars. It was a teaching hospital and while I appreciate the value of a hands-on education, I don’t appreciate a Doogie Howser look alike learning to stitch on my face.

In a triathlon race, a very fast man crashed into my bike from behind shooting me six feet in the air. I landed on my side with a bike strewn into pieces across the road. I then spent the next three months in physical therapy for the first time, having to relearn how to hold a door knob. This same accident hurt my knee so badly I had to reenter physical therapy a few months later and almost delayed my participation in the Antarctica Marathon–something I waited years to complete.

But the most challenging injury of all is my plantar fasciitis. If I wear the wrong pair of shoes just for a few hours, I can’t walk for days. I’ve had my feet turn blue, feel like they’re on fire and seen many orthopedic surgeons over it.

Yet, I fill that inhaler prescription because I need to go for a run!