You can’t escape them. Try watching a college or pro basketball or football game, or a race starting line as well without spotting compression garments. Betcha can’t! Full-length leggings, knee-high socks, tight sleeves in a multitude of colors on almost every competitor.
The claims are very impressive. According to the manufacturers, compression garments can perform a variety of functions, including increasing blood flow, speeding recovery, and the biggie…improving athletic performance! But what does science say? And is this type of clothing really advantageous for the casual gym-goer?
Ok–so what do we know? We know that compression clothing is most often made of a blend of nylon and spandex. It is designed to be stretchable while maintaining a specific structure. I know from being a Physical Therapist that compression garments have been used for many years in the medical field, most notably post-surgical patients to help promote blood flow, reduce edema, and assist in preventing blood clots. With compression stockings, for example, the aim is to apply more pressure lower on the leg and less further up toward the hip. They aid in pushing blood along for those who have undergone surgery and don’t have the muscle strength yet, as well as for individuals who have vascular disease or circulation problems.
The compression garments used in the medical field created a whole new thought process, as researchers and manufacturers pondered the following thought–If compression garments increased blood flow, then maybe, just maybe, they could help athletes to perform better. Going back to Anatomy 101, we know that muscles must have oxygen to perform–and they get that oxygen by way of blood flow. So it stood to reason, they claimed, that increased blood flow equals increased oxygen which therefore equals better athletic performance…right?
Not so fast! As with many research topics there are often conflicting reports. Some studies said that compression garments improved jumping and sub maximal running, while others reported them to be of little or no help to endurance athletes. Bottom line? There’s no clear verdict!
Then there are those that claim compression garments have a placebo effect–if you truly believe that they are positively impacting your performance, then they’re probably worthwhile. What I haven’t seen are studies stating negative effects on the body, so if you want to wear them, they’re not going to be detrimental.
There does seem to be one area where the science of whether compression garments are beneficial seems to be a little stronger, and that is in regards to recovery day. Since compression garments do push more oxygen through the body, several research studies have concluded that they do indeed aid in faster recovery, yet also states that further research was probably a good idea!
If you’re looking to see whether or not compression garments are for you, you don’t need to cover yourself from head-to-toe. Try starting out with a pair of compression socks, and keep an open mind. Remember–they’re not for everybody. Just make sure they’re not uncomfortable. From my Physical Therapy perspective, it’s critical that your compression garments are not too restricting and you certainly want to make sure that they don’t limit or compromise your range of motion. But in the end, nothing beats good old hard work, determination, and effort.
Do you or someone you know have questions on performing an individualized exercise program, as well as strategies to make sure you properly recover in the most effective way? Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!