by Caitlin Bentley, Sports Rehab Therapist Compression garments have been around for years, particularly for use in post-surgery recovery and as part of the RICER (Rest | Ice | Compression | Elevation | Referral) principle due to its benefit on haemodynamics, preventing blood pooling and oedema that can occur with various pathologies. Recently, they have been marketed as a means of improving performance and recovery in sports, predominantly in those that require large endurance capacities. Its popularity among runners and triathletes has significantly increased over the years, with big name brands getting on the band wagon and making them a fashion statement. Well, that’s what I thought they were for, but what do they actually do? Research in this field is lacking and is often contradictory in regards to their effect on performance and recovery. How much compression is right for you? Do you need a full-body compression, or does a sleeve do the trick? How can you compare compression in people of different body shapes and sizes? These variables, and the difficulty of implementing a blind study, means that there are very few high-level study papers that truly measure the effect of compression garments on performance, fatigue, and recovery in runners. Physiological variables such as oxygen uptake, blood lactate (lactic acid) thresholds and concentrations, venous return, body temperature have all been studied due to their potential effect on overall performance. Literature reviews on the subject have found that although sleeves can enhance running economy (I.e. time to exhaustion) by changing your natural running biomechanics, but overall performance did not change (I.e. time to complete a marathon or a sprint). The effect on muscle recovery, however, is a lot more promising, with benefits not only in endurance athletes, but sprinters as well. It has been shown to decrease lactic acid build-up, increase venous return and therefore enhance our body’s ability to recover after a workout (Engel et al 2016). Unfortunately for us, even though it does help with post-race inflammation, pain and damage, it doesn’t fully prevent the dreaded DOMS that (delayed onset muscle soreness) that we all know and ‘love’ (Kerheve et al, 2017). Calf sleeves, in particular, have also improved symptoms in those suffering from perceived Achilles pain, allowing them to recover faster and maximise their training loads. This is thought to be due to compression reducing the amount of muscle movement and minimising impact forces. Although there is some evidence based on quantifiable data, the majority of the research collected on the effect of compression garments on performance and recovery is based on people’s perceived changes in pain, soreness and recovery time. The question remainstherefore, whether compression garments are merely another placebo. The research continues…. My thought on it is that if your healthy and uninjured and it helps your training…then go for it. If you have an injury…. they may help along the way, but it won’t be a cure. Visit your Physio or Sports Therapist to help you with that… see you in clinic!