Compressive clothing and recovery

People running wearing compression garments
Author:  Angela Calder, Applied Sports Knowledge
Issue: Volume 8 Number 2

In recent years compressive sports clothes have become fashionable as a means to reduce injuries, benefit performance and enhance the recovery of athletes. Officials are also starting to use compressive clothes to help their recovery post-event.

Sports clothes versus clinical compressive garments

There are significant differences in compressive pressures between the clinical garments prescribed by physiotherapists and the commercial sports clothes sold in shops. Medical garments have greater compression, reflecting their different therapeutic grades, whereas sports garments are less compressive so they are classified as ‘mildly therapeutic’ only. For greatest benefit, both types of garments should be tailored to fit the size and shape of the body part to be covered. Specific measurements and compressive grades to suit individual needs are best identified by a physiotherapist.

Why they work

The reported benefits of compressive garments are almost identical to the accelerated recovery advantages reported for hydrotherapies such as pools and spas. Hydrostatic pressures perform a similar role to tailored compression garments, as the pressures for both enhance blood flow towards the heart.

Research findings

Research indicates that compressive sports clothes can reduce post-exercise oedema (swelling) in muscles and joints, reduce sensations of post-exercise muscle soreness and aid the recovery of soft tissue injuries. Athletes report feeling less fatigued when they use compressive tights or socks after training or a game. There is also an enhanced clearance of the biochemical indicators of muscle fatigue and muscle damage compared with passive recovery. However, there is no evidence that wearing such garments during training or competition improves performance. In fact one study claims external compression can reduce blood flow to working muscles if compressive pressures are greater than is necessary, so this would be counterproductive for recovery

Practical applications

A combination of hydrotherapy techniques, such as a light pool session, followed by the use of compressive garments is recommended post-training or event for those officials who have physically demanding roles. Compressive socks or full-leg tights can be worn afterwards for several hours, or even for sleeping in during the night after a match. Standing or walking on hard surfaces or sand for long periods can also leave legs feeling tired and heavy, even if the official is less physically active. For these types of roles, there are also advantages in wearing compression socks during the event. This reduces swelling significantly.

Hydrotherapy versus compression for recovery

The benefits of compressive garments over hydrotherapies lies in the former’s portability and availability, as officials can have ready access to their own recovery tool anywhere and anytime. However, the compressive durability of these garments is limited and will deteriorate with constant wear.

Summary

The use of compressive garments is no longer limited to clinical situations and air travel, as they frequently form part of the post-exercise recovery routines of athletes and officials.


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