There is a lot of questions surrounding compression wear, with many accompanying studies to try and answer them. Lets take a look at some of the claims made by compression wear companies and what the research says.
One of the most well known compression wear companies, CEP Compression, has these benefits listed on their website. CEP the intelligent sportswear will increase blood flow, get more oxygen to the muscles, and enhance performance. Other claims surrounding compression wear include the muscle vibration theory; the impact of your foot striking the ground forces vibrations into the soft tissues, which may be one cause of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). According to this theory compression wear can reduce vibration and therefore muscle soreness.
But does it work?
There is mixed research on the topic, due to the variety of compression wear available. Lets start with one of the most frequently discussed issues.
Will compression wear improve blood flow and performance during activity?
A 2007 study (Ali et al.) found no physiological changes for performance or blood flow during or after a 10k run. It did however note a reduction in muscle soreness – lending
to the muscle vibration theory. While a 2006 (Bringard et al.) and
2009 (Kremmier et al.) study both found improved performance while running with compression socks. Bringard even found improved running economy at 3 different speeds during a 5k run.
Although the research is mixed on compression wear during activity, the research is unanimous when it comes to the recovery aspect. Multiple studies throughout the years have found positive results in wearing compression following activity. Including improvements in muscle soreness, improved blood flow, and improved blood lactate clearance.
How does it work?
Research is still being conducted to answer this question with certainty. What we do know for sure is that the amount of compression directly effects the results. In a recent study, Byrne & Easton (2010) concluded that 20mmHg of compression at the ankle improved blood flow at rest, while 30 mmHg restricted it. It was also concluded that a gradual compression (more at the ankle) was most effective for muscle soreness and recovery following activity.
The research speaks for itself. Compression wear following activity will limit muscle soreness, provided you have the correct amount of compression. And when choosing what type, a gradual lower body compression is best. And just because research can’t agree on compression wear during activity doesn’t mean its ill-advised. Your body knows best, test it for yourself!