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Does Wearing Compression Clothing Really Help With Recovery?

Does Wearing Compression Clothing Really Help With Recovery?

You may have heard of various ways to recover from hard training sessions or matches. Being able to recover properly means that you’ll be able to train and compete better, as well as avoid unnecessary injuries along the way. But what is the best method of recovery, and how should you go about applying it? 

We’re going to look at one easy method that you can apply almost anywhere and what the science has to say about it.

The Science of Compression

The scientific community has been researching and reporting the benefits of compression garments for years. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Reducing DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness)
  • Aiding in removal of Lactic Acid
  • Increased venous blood flow (from muscles, back to the heart)
  • Reduced muscle oscillation/vibration
  • Improved running economy

But what does the science actually say, and how does this all affect your ability to recover?

During intense, prolonged exercise your body produces a substance called lactic acid (created when your body isn’t taking in enough oxygen to support the normal exercise-related functions in the muscle). Your body naturally removes the lactic acid through the blood flowing through your muscles and back to your heart.

However, when this high intensity exercise continues for a longer period, the amount of lactic acid produced in your body exceeds the amount being removed in the blood. This increased level of lactic acid exceeds your body’s “threshold” and interferes with your muscle’s ability to contract properly. This results in your legs feeling heavy or like “jelly’.

Compression garments are thought to improve the removal of lactic acid from the muscles and blood by improving the blood flow from the muscles back to the heart. This means that you will be able to work at a higher intensity for a longer period with only minimal recovery. It also means that you will be able to perform these high intensity sessions multiple times within the week.

Hard training and competition can also create small amounts of muscle damage and can leave you feeling extremely “stiff” and “tight” 24-48 hours later.

Previously it was thought that this was caused by lactic acid being left in your muscles. However, we now know that this isn’t true and, in fact, this is caused by DOMS. Small micro-tears in the muscle result in inflammation within the muscles and as a result we experience muscle soreness 24-48 hours later.

Research conducted in 2017 assessed the effects of wearing compression tights during a football match, and during the recovery period afterwards, on muscle soreness and recovery.

They found that wearing compression tights during the game, and for 24-48 hours post-match, had a positive effect reducing the severity of DOMS after strenuous exercise. This means that players are able to recover faster and be more effective when returning to training or competition.

Compression Items vs Other Recovery Methods – Which is better?

So we’ve established that compression garments have a positive effect on recovery post-training/match. But how do they compare to other recovery methods, such as massage, ice baths and balanced sleep cycles?

To make sure we’re recovering properly it’s best to employ more than one recovery method. Each method should address one or more areas of the recovery cycle. It is best to tackle this through two stages: Acute Recovery Strategy and Chronic Recovery Strategy. Acute recovery would target areas that you would want to employ immediately post-training/match. These include:

  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • Sleep
  • Compression
  • Rest

Chronic recovery would target areas that you would want to improve 24-48 hours post-training/match. These might include:

  • Ice Baths
  • Massage
  • Compression

By doing so we can ensure that we’re doing as much as possible to recover and reduce the risk of unnecessary overuse injuries over a longer period of time.

Although each method can contribute to your physical and psychological recovery, it is as important to know when and how to implement the method into your schedule.


Compression Garments: A Quick History

This simple, yet effective clothing item has been around since the early 1980’s where they were first designed to help create healthy pressure around patient’s limbs.

Originally used as compression “socks”, they were used in hospitals to help patients recover faster from various medical procedures and conditions and also to prevent harmful conditions from developing. The benefits of the compression socks were so good that scientific researchers began to experiment with compression gear in sports.  

In 1987, two researchers (Berry and McMurray) investigated whether compression garments would have the same positive effect on sports performance and recovery as they did in the hospitals. They found that, during intense exercise, the compression socks were effective in aiding the metabolic recovery of the test subjects who wore the compression socks when compared to subjects who didn’t. This led to further research being conducted, and the rise in the use and popularity of compression garments in the sporting world. 

When Should You Use Compression Garments?

Based on research conducted in 2017, we know that wearing compression tights during a hard football training/match will reduce the time needed to recover for the next training session. However, it has also been shown that utilizing full-leg compression tights immediately after the training session or game will have a positive effect on your recovery.

But how does this method of recovery change when you have a highly congested schedule?

Recovery time between trainings and fixtures may be greatly reduced, which will ultimately have a negative effect on your ability to recover. This period may also include away games, which may require long hours of travel. Therefore it is vital to utilize the time available to implement a strong recovery strategy. 

Use While Sleeping

A study was conducted to examine the effect of utilizing compression garments while sleeping on muscle recovery. The researchers found that, following fatiguing exercise, wearing compression garments while sleeping had a 10% improvement on muscle strength, 24 hours after the initial exercise. However, some players feel slightly lethargic the next day due to the continuous compression. Therefore it is important to experiment with this overnight process and see how it may work for you. 

Travel

Another study looked at the effects of wearing full length compression tights while taking a long-haul flight. Two groups of players were required to play a simulated match, following a long flight. The flight resulted in jet lag, poor sleep quality and poor physical performance in the group of players not utilizing the compression garments.

However, the group of players who did utilize the compression garments showed an improved physical performance, even with signs of jet lag and poor sleep quality. Therefore it is advisable to use full leg compression garments when traveling before and after a match.
 
Ultimately it is important to follow a recovery strategy that improves your performance. While this article does not guarantee optimum recovery through compression garments alone, it does promote utilization of them within a complete recovery strategy.

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References

Berry, M.J., McMurray, R.G. Effects of graduated compression stockings on blood lactate following an exhaustive bout of exercise. American Journal of Physical Medicine, 66(3): 121-32, 1987.

MacRae, B.A., Cotter, J.D., Laing, R.M. Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance. Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(10):815-43, 2011.

Perrey, S. Compression Garments: Evidence of their Physiological Effects. The engineering of Sport 7, 319-328.

Kim, J., Kim, J., Lee, J. Effect of compression garments on delayed-onset muscle soreness and blood inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation, 13(5):541-535, 2017.

Hill, J., Howatson, G., van Someren, K., Leeder, J., Pedler, C. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sport Medicine, 48:1335-1335, 2014.

Kraemer, W.J., Hooper, D.R., Kupchak, B.R., Saenz, C., Brown, L.E., Vingren, J.L., Ying Luk, H., DuPont, W.H., Szivak, T.K., Flanagan, S.D., Caldwell, L.K., Eklund, D., Lee, E.C., Hakkinen, K., Volek, J.S., Fleck, S.J., Maresh, C.M. The effects of a roundtrip trans-American jet travel on physiological stress, neuromuscular performance, and recovery. Journal of Applied Physiology, 121: 438-448, 2016.

Shimokochi, Y., Kuwano, S., Yamaguchi, T., Abutani, H., Shima, N. Effects of Wearing a Compression Garment During Night Sleep on Recovery From High-Intensity Eccentric-Concentric Quadriceps Muscle Fatigue. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(10): 2816-2824, 2017.

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