Compression helps squeeze away exercise-related aches

As society struggles to combat inactivity, weight gain and aging, it’s natural that warm weather reminds us to get moving. But even modest couch-to-5K dreams can be derailed by the inevitable aches and pains. Most of us expect the hurt-so-good tension and tenderness that comes 24 to 48 hours after you’ve worked out a new muscle group, but anything that lasts longer than that should be addressed.

Targeted compression items might be a great place to start.

Compression helps decrease pain, increase endurance and maximize recovery by applying steady pressure to an inflamed joint or muscle group.

“It relieves symptoms by helping to push the blood, fluid, inflammation out of a certain area and get blood circulating,” said Dr. Matt Tanneberg of Arcadia Health and Wellness Chiropractic in Phoenix. He said that it works for athletes and nonathletes alike if they are looking to solve the problem of aches and pains that come from inflammation.

Compression is typically more useful on lower extremities because it helps counter the effects of gravity, which cause inflammation or blood to pool lower in the body when there’s inactivity, Tanneberg said.

Michelle Huie, founder of the Vim & Vigr fashionable compression sock company, said that she launched her business in 2013 when she realized that compression wear could give her the relief she needed after workouts. She was grappling with long-term residual aches on the days she returned to work and spent hours seated or in meetings while traveling on sales calls.

“I work out and I try to stay healthy, so it seemed counterintuitive to wear compression socks when I wasn’t moving as much,” Huie said. Like many, she said that she had the impression that compression socks were for elderly, sedentary people or hardcore athletes prone to injury.

And when she looked around, she said that the styles she saw confirmed that the market was skewed toward very athletic looks and boring medical grade options that looked as stylish as black knee high socks and sandals.

Huie, who currently lives in Missoula, Mont., is one of a small niche of entrepreneurs catering to younger weekend warriors, as well as workers who spend a lot of time on their feet (nurses) or in their seats (office workers) and have been advised of the benefits of compression to prevent or lessen swelling, alleviate aches, energize legs and aid muscle recovery.

St. Louis-based Funkxion socks, founded by three business executives who spend their leisure time clocking many miles with their cycling club, also marries compression and style in men’s business sock styles.

“Compression can help almost anyone, if they have symptoms” Tanneberg said. “But it won’t do you any good to wear them if you really don’t have a problem.”

However, he said it probably won’t cause any harm, unless someone is dealing with an active cancer diagnosis. This is a counter-indication he said because you don’t want the increased blood flow feeding or spreading the cancer.

Otherwise, he offered these tips.


—Compression socks or sleeves can’t just be compression in name only. The items have to live up to the name. “You can’t go by the brand, price or anything else. It’s about the feel. It should be hard to get on,” Tanneberg said. “It shouldn’t just slip on like a sock. For compression it should be a struggle to get it on.”

But, he said, it shouldn’t cause any numbness. So really tight, but not too tight is key and different people will tolerate different levels of compression. He said most places have return policies for garments in this category because they can be pricey and you might have to experiment.

—A little compression will go a long way. A compression T-shirt or leggings or bodysuit might make you feel better and more stable, Tanneberg said, but it won’t necessarily help with specific aches and pains from joints and inflammation. The trick of compression is to squeeze blood and inflammation out of its resting place in a certain body part, if you compress a larger-than-necessary area you are lessening the effect on the intended region. If you were bleeding, would you apply pressure to your entire leg or just the wound?

—Soreness may still be inevitable. But compression can help reduce, if not eliminate recovery time. “The most important time is after a workout for most people,” he said. Long distance runners and those in endurance sports may notice that it takes longer for them to fatigue when wearing compression gear on lower extremities, he said, but circuit trainers and sporadic gym goers will do better tackling targeted areas of inflammation after the fact. Ice and compression can be a powerful team, he said, to get you training again without down time.

—One less excuse. Tanneberg said that acute pain should be addressed strategically with the help of a health care professional, but general aches and swelling are a great target for compression. Exercise requires consistent motivation, discipline and willpower, whereas human nature is prone to come up with excuses for avoiding activities that give us discomfort. Adding compression to your workout or post-workout routine means that you’ll probably have one less excuse.