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Fri 9th Dec 2016
Physio Corner: do compression garments really work?
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Tuesday 17th February 2009

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Our physio corner has been a little quiet for a few months, but thanks to the South London based physiotherapy clinic, Physio4life, we will be bringing you a new series of articles ranging from; how triathletes can benefit from massage, to articles on the different types of sporting injuries that can affect triathletes.

Today we kick off with an article on compression garments and find out if they do really work. There is strong evidence to suggest they do - marathon world record holder, Paula Radcliffe is never seen running without them and the same can be said for several high profile triathletes including Great Britain's Bella Comerford. But to make your own mind up, read on.

Compression garments in sport: Do they really work?

What they claim to do

1) Improve performance by:

  • Reducing the oxygen expenditure
  • Enhance circulation
  • Decrease muscle oscillation

2) Improve recovery by:

  • Reducing muscle soreness
  • Accelerating the muscle repair process
  • Improving the clearance of Creatine Kinase (which is a marker of tissue damage)

If these factors are true, surely wearing these compression garments will help athletes train harder and recover quicker?

What is the proof?

1) Reducing oxygen expenditure:

A study was performed to assess the aerobic energy cost during submaximal running while examining the effects of wearing compression compared to elastic tights and shorts. Results showed a significant lower energy cost (measured by differences in VO2 values) in those wearing compression tights. There were no differences in sweating, comfort sensations or the rate of perceived performance. From the results of this study it has been suggested that wearing the compression tights may also enhance overall circulation and decrease muscle oscillation to help promote a lower energy cost during submaximal running.

2) Improve Recovery

Reducing muscle soreness:

A study was performed where runners wearing knee length compression stockings and runners in a control group wearing regular ankle length sports sock, ran a fast paced 10km road run. The results showed that there was a significant difference in the reduction of muscle soreness after a period of 24hr for those wearing compression stockings, thus proving a reduction in delayed onset of muscle soreness after exertion.

Accelerating the muscle repair process:

In a study using 23 elite rugby players, creatine kinase (CK) readings were used to measure the rate and magnitude of muscle damage recovery. The CK was measured before and after the match (immediately after, 36hrs after and 84hrs after). The players were assigned one of four post match recovery strategies: compression garments, contrast water therapy, low intensity active exercise and passive recovery. All CK values were high immediately after the match but the reading at 36 and 84hrs after showed a significant difference in CK readings between the different strategies. Results showed an improved rate and magnitude of recovery in all strategies except that of passive recovery.

Lower Creatine Kinase (CK) values:

A study was done evaluating the effect of compression garments on throwing and repeat sprint performance in cricket players. There was a significant difference in the 24hr post exercise outcomes, showing lower CK values and better perceived muscle soreness ratings compared to those without compression garments. From this study it has been concluded that compression garments when used as a recovery tool may be beneficial reducing post exercise trauma and muscle soreness.

What people have said:

RunnersWorld: Last February, four of the top ten finishers in the U.S Marathon championships wore knee-highs, including third and fourth place finishers Clint Verran and Clint Campbell. Campbell improved his marathon personal record from 2:19:18 to 2:16:26. “I use them after hard workout days to help flush out my legs,” he says. “ after my 2:16, my lower legs definitely felt better than the rest of my body. The socks really work for me.”

Chris Stanton – Triathlon: 2006 Long Course Triathlon World Champion Male 20-24 Years, 2007 Long Course Triathlon Australian Champion Male 20-24 Years, 2007 Ironman Triathlon Australian Champion Male 20-24 Years:

‘In the sport of Triathlon there is plenty of training sessions to cover in a limited amount of time. itsportstights have enabled me to recover and stabilize my muscles in a reduced time period, which in turn enables me to back up for my next session in a shorter amount of time. They have also increased my awareness of which muscle groups are working effectively and which ones need improvement.’

For more information on UK suppliers of compression kit click here.

physio4life Physio4Life is an award winning physiotherapy clinic priding itself in providing the very best diagnosis and treatment to ensure that athletes are able to return to everyday life with minimal disruption. Services on offer include sports injury specialists, sports massage, running biomechanics and video analysis, orthotics and footwear recommendations, core training and Pilates classes, and fitness testing. The long opening hours ensure appointments are available for even the busiest patients. Please contact them on 020 8704 5998 or see their website for more information.

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