Q: Do compression sleeves help with muscle recovery?
A: Compression sleeves and garments probably do help muscles recover after exhausting exercise, new research suggests. But they also have certain downsides that may discourage some of us from wearing them.
When the Summer Olympics start, viewers will see many track-and-field and other athletes sporting stretchy tubes of fabric on their arms, thighs or calves. These garments fit like sausage casings and are said to increase the flow of blood through muscles, potentially improving athletic performance and speeding recovery after workouts.
The evidence to support some of the claims for compression sleeves is scant, however. Most recent studies indicate that compression sleeves do not boost blood flow through muscles during exercise, probably because the movement of blood when we are exercising is already at its peak.
Similarly, while many athletes report that exercise feels easier when they wear compression clothing, those athletes perform about the same whether they wear the garments or not, according to a new review of studies of compression clothing and running that was published in April in Sports Medicine.
On the other hand, compression garments do seem to significantly aid muscles’ recovery once strenuous exercise is over, says Billy Sperlich, a professor of sport science at the University of Wurzburg in Germany who was a co-author of the new review.
The garments can augment the movement of blood through muscles after exercising, when blood flow would otherwise slow, he says. This increase in circulation may help flush away some of the biochemical byproducts of hard workouts, like lactate, he says, reducing inflammation and muscle aches.
But to provide these benefits, compression clothing must be quite tight, which some people find uncomfortable, Sperlich says. The garments must also be worn for several hours after a workout, even if they become clammy and malodorous.
The upside is that when finally freed from these casings, he says, your muscles should “have less pain” than if they had not been squeezed at all.