Compression garments: do they actually work? 

Athlete, Compression, Compression garment, Compression tights, Fitness, Flying, Health, Pregnancy, Pregnant, Sports, Travel, Wellbeing

What do pregnant women, athletes in training and people on long haul flights have in common?  Apart from the likelihood of suffering nausea along the journey, the link is compression tights – wearing compression tights specifically.  So are compression garments healthful, or are they merely overpriced, ultra-tight pants that would make the most groin grabbingly restrictive jeggings blush?  Well this might depend on who you are.


Athletes: 

Compression garments reduce post-exercise muscle soreness (DOMS), increase muscle strength and power moderately for 72-hours following exercise – meaning they do not directly improve performance during sport (1).  However, the moderate effect on post-exercise recovery may enhance training performance during this time, thus indirectly improving sport performance in the future. Get it? So do I.

Pregnant women:

Compression tights improve leg symptoms, such as heaviness, pain and numbness experienced during pregnancy, but do not alter leg swelling or the presence of varicose veins(2, 3). Compression tights may also slightly reduce cellulite in women (pregnant or not), which appears to improve wellbeing (4).  Despite manufacturers’ exorbitant claims, there are no studies examining the effects of compression garments on: low back pain; abdominal muscle rupture; or other pelvic organ issues.  As a practicing physiotherapist myself, I would say these garments have a slight positive effect on these issues through clinical experience.


Long Haul Flights: Medical grade compression garments (really tight ones) appear to decrease the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) on flights longer than six hours and in travellers who have an identified risk factor for DVT (5). If this doesn’t describe you, you’re probably looking silly on a plane for no reason. Also, a pair of (TED) stockings from the chemist would more effectively do the job than expensive compression tights for a portion of the price.

So, do I buy those tights in shining armour?

Maybe.  See below:

Athletes, you’ll be paying AU$90-150 (cost of sporting specific compression tights) for a moderate improvement in the way you recover from training and perhaps train in the future.

OUR RATING: moderately healthful.

Pregnant ladies (and men?), you’ll be paying AU$190+ (cost of pregnancy specific compression tights) to slightly reduce your leg pain (heaviness, numbness, swelling) and cellulite.

OUR RATING: slightly healthful.

Flyers, you’ll be paying around AU$30 (flight socks) to reduce your risk of DVT, only if you’re flying more than six hours and have a risk factor for DVT.

OUR RATING: moderately healthful.

Thanks for reading, I hope this has been healthful.

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20 thoughts on “Compression garments: do they actually work? 

  1. Great blog entry; I like seeing information like this. There is on aspect of compression garb the would be interesting to read about; post injury and prevention of. Like post calf injuries and to prevent things such as shin splints.

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    1. Thank you very much! Great blog also – congratulations on getting back to running.

      A couple of studies have been conducted demonstrating that compression garments improve joint awareness in the joints the garment is covering. There is no study that has demonstrated directly whether this then reduces injury incidence or improves injury recovery, but my guess is that it would.

      In the case of shin splints wearing compression tights, might decrease side to side movement at the ankle and in turn enhance recovery. In the case of back pain, a garment covering the back may also enhance recovery. It’s not certain, but it’s likely.

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  2. I feel that compression garments may even lend a psychological aspect from there use. Just for the fact that the material feels like it is providing support, the wearer may feel much more confident when using them while exercising or just moving throughout the day.

    I am using my powrrlifting background and the use of support bench shirts and wraps and squat and deadlifting suits. I had many suits and wraps that provided extreme rebound and cushioning effects, however, even the most generic gear gave a psychological feeling of extreme power when they were incorporated into training.

    Nice post. Made me think back to a time I was quite fond of.

    Keep cranking,

    Robert the DividendDreamer
    AKA–Seeking Dividends

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was told a long time ago that pressure garments were meant only for large burn areas and for extremely low weight persons with wasting issues, i.e. actual problems with standing up, that for anyone else they were largely a waste of money…Now of course research may show new things with time, but it does not seem that this is truly the case, except in the psychological arena? Did I miss something here? Of course, the psychological benefit is not nothing…I heartily agree!

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    1. Hi Pamela,

      Thanks for the comment. The majority of good quality research on compression tights has been conducted in the last few years – since compression garments have become more popular – so what you were told is no longer necessarily the case.

      Compression garments appear to help athletes with recovery, which could in turn improve performance and they may have that added psychological effect. If you’re competing, training at a high level this may make them worth the cost.

      In pregnancy they aren’t particularly useful – especially considering the price of pregnancy compression garments.

      They might decrease DVT risk on long flights, in those with risk factors for DVT.

      Like

  4. Oh, I wear compression tights almost every single day. As a lazy student, I find them quite comfortable and helpful in keeping my form 🙂 Thankfully, I have not spent that hefty a penny on them, so in spite of the paucity of convincing studies, I think I’ll still wear them for comfort~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there,

      If you have an abdominal separation, or back pain recovery shorts might be slightly beneficial. However, it doesn’t matter if they’re the SRC brand, or just a high compression short like those produced by Target like the Tummy Tucks ($30 versus $165). The compression is equivalent and even a slight difference in compression levels between shorts doesn’t seem to amount to any change in clinical outcomes.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. May be useful to woman in menopause experiencing bloated tummies, legs, back pain, etc. I think I will give it a try!!
    thanks for the info.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ok ok. I wear yoga pants/tights in all things athletic right now, because I’m the horribly uncomfortable size that a tiny portion of my thighs rubs together when my legs are fatigued (gotta work those glut meds!). Then I get an awful rug burn basically. Hopefully, I’ll get well and back to my fitness plan soon and get out of this size/strengthen those glut meds. :-p HATE it!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sometimes you have to wonder whether technology is based on safety and athletic performance or simply marketing and advertising resulting in improved FINANCIAl PERFORMANCE (for the developer.) I have told my patients to focus on incorporating an improved healthy lifestyle that can be maintained on a regular basis for the long haul rather than focusing on the latest and greatest technologies that come and go. I believe that compressive garments worn on athletic bodies create the most motivation to others in the gym that observe the details. (LOL)
    Always enjoy your wit as well as your professional analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, the amount of gimmicky junk we get through my practice and sales reps promoting sponsored studies and false science is unbelievable. It’s such an unethical industry in so many ways.

      Hah yep, tights have certainly made the gym more enjoyable for me. Thanks, Jonathan!

      Liked by 1 person

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