Around where I live, I see people in compression tights more often than jeans these days. I don’t remember when they became so fashionable but personally, I am all for active wear being a staple item of clothing – I love my track pants! However, the questions I often get asked about compression clothes include: are they good for you? Do they make you run faster or further? Will they help my recovery? And how tight should they be? So, in this article I will do my best to answer these questions and more.
First point to note is that the term ‘compression’ is overused in clothes marketing. There is a difference between an item of clothing that is designed to compress certain tissues by a certain amount and in a specific way, and clothes that are just tight all over. The tight clothing may be flattering, but they’re unlikely to provide the same benefits that a true technical compression garment will provide.
Compression garments have been used in medicine for a very long time. They have been used commonly for vascular issues, lymphedema, DVT risk reduction, and post-surgery to help prevent blood clots.
Medical compression garments are classified into levels or classes. The standard compression levels for over-the-counter compression stockings (like the ones we often use when travelling in an aeroplane) are 15-20 mmHg. This increases to 20-30 mmHg for medical class 1 garments (often used for leg swelling, varicose vein support and in some sporting circumstances), 30-40 mmHg for medical class 2 garments and 40-50 mmHg for medical class 3 garments. If you’re unsure which level is right for you, it's important to ask your doctor. There are other levels of compression, but these are the most commonly used.
Although they are very widely used by all levels of athletes, there is conflicting research as to their benefits. This is likely because reporting how something makes us feel is quite subjective and we naturally have our good and bad performance days for a multitude of other reasons. Debate runs (pun intended) on other factors, but some claim that performance compression clothing can also support muscle movements and reduce vibrations, therefore minimising muscle fatigue and soreness, helping recovery, and (potentially) improving performance. My opinion is this: if it works for you, go for it!
Compression performance garments (not just tight clothing) are designed to graduate pressure, with greater pressure on the muscles further from the heart compared to those closer to it. So, a pair of compression leggings, for example, will usually provide more compression around the ankle than around the thigh, thus squeezing the calf muscles and giving veins a helping hand to push deoxygenated blood back up the legs and towards the heart. This is to help speed up the process of delivering oxygenated blood to the muscles and removing biproducts of muscle use. This works the same in arm compression garments (sleeves) and single body region sleeves such as calf sleeves.
Many people flying overseas will wear standard compression stockings or knee-high compression socks to help reduce the chance of blood clots in their legs. Over-the-counter ones will offer some compression for this, but if you have suffered any cardiovascular issues or have abnormal blood pressure, you should talk to your doctor before using any compression garment.
Whether you are wearing compression garments for athletic performance, fashion, or medical reasons, a good fit is critical. If they are too tight, you may compromise blood flow to your hands or feet, and if too loose, they offer no benefit. Plus, we all come in different shapes and sizes, so some brands will simply feel better for you than others. Shop round and find the ones that feel the best for you.
We've got some recommendations from Dr Paul Hermann and the Casper team.
ABOUT DR PAUL HERMANN
Dual Titled ‘Advanced Sports Osteopath’ & ‘Advanced Exercise Rehab Osteopath’ and Exercise/Sports Scientist. B.Sc.(Cli.Sc.), M.H.Sc.(Osteo), M.Ex.Sc.(S&C), Member O.A.
Dr Paul Hermann is the founder and director of Stay Tuned Sports Medicine. He believes it is our responsibility, and privilege to help everyone we interact with, to feel as good as possible.
His motto: 'Everybody Deserves to Feel Good'.
While studying Osteopathy, Paul completed his Master's research investigating the 'Effectiveness of Swiss Ball Training on Lower Back Stability', before authoring the popular book 'Effective Swiss Ball Training'. Paul's thirst for knowledge, and passion for finding more ways for people to "feel good", lead him to complete a Masters in Exercise Science additionally.
As a therapist, he has applied this principle to his clinical work with patients. As a lecturer, teaching Exercise Science and Rehabilitation at RMIT and Victoria University, and international presenter he has been able to pass on this principle to many thousands of students and other allied health practitioners and Doctors.
Paul travels nationally and internationally as a speaker and lecturer and manages a variety of professional athletes and teams. Continuing to mentor many practitioners, write articles about health and fitness, and advise many practitioners, he shares his passion at his Stay Tuned clinics.
Follow Paul @paul.osteo.staytuned