Post-Exercise Recovery: Do compression garments really work?

To answer the question: “Do compression garments really work?” researchers at St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, UK performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies that analyzed the effect of compression garments on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).

Training and athletic competition frequently result in exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD), which produces temporary reductions in muscle strength, decreased rate of force development, reduced joint range of motion, swelling, and increased feelings of soreness by the athlete (DOMS).  (It also produces an increase in the appearance of intracellular proteins in the blood.) The loss of muscle strength appears to be due to a reduction in voluntary muscle activation.

These effects of vigorous exercise or competition can last SEVERAL DAYS and may affect athletic performance and take away competitive edge.

A number of treatments have been investigated in search of a way to reduce the undesired effects of EIMD and accelerate recovery, including massage, antioxidant supplementation, ice bathes, the use of vasopneumatic compression, and compression garments.  All of these treatments are prescribed and/or available to the athletes we treat here at The Center for Spine, Sport & Physical Medicine.

The group from St. Mary’s University College found 12 studies on the use of compression garments, and included these in their meta-analysis.  Comparing 28 different data points they discovered that COMPRESSION GARMENTS HAVE A MODERATE BENEFIT IN REDUCING THE EXPERIENCE OF DELAYED ONSET MUSCLE SORENESS. In addition over 65% of athletes using these garments will experience accelerated recovery of strength and power.


Compression garments can be worn after training or competition, or during AND after training or competition. However, in literature these garments are principally worn AFTER competition, during recovery.


Compression garments may attenuate ultrastructural damage that often occurs 48 to 72 hours after eccentric muscle exercise. Further, these garments may provide  dynamic immobilization, reducing muscle oscillation, and in turn, enhancing neural input during recovery (and therefore more “juice” for more powerful muscle contraction). Also, from a chemical perspective, Creatine Kinase (CK) is released into the blood after intense exercise — it is regarded as a marker of muscle inflammation.  Wearing compression garments reduces the amount of CK released into the bloodstream, improving the clearance of metabolites and expediting the repair of muscle.  It is theorized but not proven that compression garments may improve circulation through an enhanced muscle-pump mechanism.  Bottom line:  YOU GET ENHANCED TISSUE REPAIR.

Our vasopneumatic compression boots, massage therapists and state-of-the-art line of compression garments also provide this circulatory enhancement and improved recovery.  Ice bathes provided immediately after competition can expedite recovery because they are anti-inflammatory.  These can be done in the training room, hotel room for traveling athletes (caveat: the country must have good supplies of ice!), or at home.

Ref: Br J Sports Med June 2013 / bjsports-2013-092456v2

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