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Does graduated compression help recovery after exercise?

The answer is YES. Nearly all the qualifying research studies report positive effects from graduated compression on muscle recovery and the alleviation of DOMS.

We look at a systematic review of the research literature by Araujo et al in their study titled, Post-exercise effects of graduated compression garment use on skeletal muscle recovery and delayed onset muscle soreness. It was published in the sports science, human movement and health journal Motricidade in 2018.

Gradient compression garments exert increasing pressure as you move along the limb, away from the body.

These garments have been used in clinic settings for the treatment and prevention of a range of ailments (especially lymphatic and venous conditions). Their use can:

  • Reduce inflammation
  • Promote the drainage of metabolites
  • Increase blood flow
  • Decrease swelling
  • Promote the transport of oxygen to tissue

These advantages have prompted the use of gradient compression in sports to recover from exercise induced muscle damage (EIMS).

The goal of this study was to consider qualifying research that met an eligibility standard and consider whether graduated compression garments help muscle recovery and soreness.

To be considered for this systematic review, the articles had to be randomised controlled trials, written in English and published since 2005. They had to consider muscle recovery or DOMS after athletic exertions and had to give a thorough description of robust methodologies.

After the exclusion criteria were applied, the original population of 102 research pieces reduced to 9 robust studies that used compression garments periods of 12 – 72 hours (mean 33 hours).

Seven of the 9 studies found significant differences in recovery and / or DOMS after using the garments. They found benefits in the speed of recovering muscle strength, muscle power, muscle function or alleviating soreness. Studies also found blood markers, attributed to muscle damage, improved in groups wearing gradient compression.

Graduated compression garments enhance recovery by improving muscle strength, muscle force and reducing muscle pain after exercise. The graduating pressure promotes improved circulation (via the muscle pump system) which allows more efficient venous blood removal. Compression reduces muscle microtrauma, reduces swelling and seems to give psychological comfort.

The authors encourage more research in this field and robust methodologies so that clear conclusions can be drawn.

The nature of the profile of the pressure gradient might also warrant future study.

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