Compression garments provide a means of providing external pressure to your muscles and so potentially stabilizing and supporting the underlying tissues. But are the claims backed up by results? Do compression socks help with circulation and blood flow? Or performance and recovery?
It doesn’t take much for a new trend to start – particularly when elite athletes are seeing using them and performing well!(1)
So, even though anecdotally, they have some benefit, it is prudent to check the research and see what the studies show.
So what do the manufacturers claim compressions socks help with?
- Aids return to de-oxygenated blood to the heart through the veins
- Increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood through the arteries to your muscles
This is proposed to help reduce muscle fatigue, enhance performance and speed up recovery… but do they?
What they do help with:
They DO seem to help with improving recovery. Recent studies have proved that compression socks have a moderate effect in reducing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which will help you bounce back faster between training sessions. (2) Although this may be partly due to perceived ratings of recovery and not all studies agree (5,6)
What they don’t help with:
The don’t reduce the size or hematoma or shorten the time to recovery after acute muscle injury (muscle contusion or strain)3
The definitely don’t improve performance. The hard work you put into training is going to do this – there is no quick-fix! 4
that the use of compression garments had a moderate effect in reducing the severity of DOMS (Hedges’ g=0.403, 95% CI 0.236 to 0.569, p<0.001), muscle strength (Hedges’ g=0.462, 95% CI 0.221 to 0.703, p<0.001), muscle power (Hedges’ g=0.487, 95% CI 0.267 to 0.707, p<0.001) and CK (Hedges’ g=0.439, 95% CI 0.171 to 0.706, p<0.001). These results indicate that compression garments are effective in enhancing recovery from muscle damage.
So all in all, there is no harm done wearing compression socks or any compression clothing for that matter but they aren’t going to improve your performance except for some possible placebo effect. They may, in fact, help with recovery though so, throw them on for recovery afterward or have an ice bath but the only real reason to wear compression socks during an event would be to look the part and psyche out the opposition. (7)