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Do Compression Sleeves Help a Faster Recovery After Exercise?

We look at a meta-analysis of research by J Hill et al. Their paper entitled Compression garments and recovery from exercise induced muscle damage was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013.

The short answer is YES. The results of their detail analysis indicate compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from exercise induced muscle damage.

Compression garments such as sleeves, stocking and tights appear to reduce the severity of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). They also appear to accelerate the recovery of muscle strength and muscle power and limit levels creatine kinase (CK) – an enzyme that appears in the blood when muscles are damaged.

BUT… there are other considerations.

  • The physiological mechanism for these improvements is yet to be understood; and
  • More research is needed into the level pressure exerted by the garments and the importance of fit.
  • These measures were excluded or undisclosed in some of the research and the authors feel they are relevant data points

 (some research for pressure levels and fit now exists – click the links for summaries)

Let’s dig into the findings.

By reviewing all studies published the research team sought to understand the effects compression garments had on recovery from intense bouts of exercise that caused muscle damage.

Studies were extracted from all available databases and filtered for the inclusion criteria:

  • Randomised into compression garment or control group
  • Measured at least one of the outcome variables (muscle strength, power, soreness or CK)
  • Measured the outcome variables of interest at baseline
  • Measured outcome variables again at any of 24/48/72 hours

If studies met the above criteria but the compression garments were not applied within 2 hours they were excluded. Studies were also omitted if there were other recovery modalities applied or if the control group undertook any practice which could be perceived to improve recovery.

There were 12 papers that met the standards to be included for analysis.

The authors note that there is a wide variety in the design of the methodology used to induce muscle damage as well as differences in the timing and duration of compression application and differences in techniques of measurement.

The goal of compression garments worn during recovery is to improve subsequent performances.

This review demonstrates the efficacy of compression garments to alleviate DOMS in at least 66% of the population and so improve an individual’s readiness to participate in physical activity again.

Also, that measures of muscle strength and muscle power recover at a faster rate with the use of compression. They judge that 69% and 66% of the population will benefit respectively.

Measures of CK as an indication of muscle damage is reduced in populations who recover using compression garments. The mechanism for this is not clear but it is thought that the compression garment improve circulation, the clearance of metabolites and enhances repair of the muscle.

Limitations of some of the studies

  • Small sample sizes in much of the research
  • None of the included studies were able to “blind” their subjects and so the placebo effect can not be eliminated. 
  • Some studies do not outline the method to randomise subjects
  • The specification of the garments used vary widely and focus on different body parts

The authors promote more research of the level of compression and fit of garments and the training status of athletic abilities.

[Links to other Blogs]

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