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Compression tights: do they work?

Thanks for clicking through and checking out our blog on compression garments.

Compression garments are commonplace among athletes and recreational sports participants the world over. And as physios we are always being asked:

Do compression garments work?

This is a really difficult question to answer for a few reasons:

1) What do we mean by work? Are we talking about improved performance? Reduced pain post exercise? Reduced injury risk? The list goes on.

2) How do we objectively measure the effects of compression on the above given that we know that are so many factors that influence performance and injury? In other words it’s really difficult to control for variables. As an extreme example, an athlete who has an argument with his partner might report feeling worse post exercise (with or without compression garments). More obvious variables might include sleep or nutrition.

3) There are tonnes of different products on the market all with their unique selling and marketing strategies- so would one brand give a different effect to another?

Despite the difficulties of looking into such a topic, a research group from Germany have had a go at answering the question of whether compression tights had an influence on post exercise pain- with particular regards to improving the speed of recovery.

Their conclusions were that wearing compression tights had a positive influence on performance parameters after resistance exercise.

Now without boring you with all of the details, this study controlled the stimulus (type of exercise) and subjects were very specific (German handball players). So there are some obvious drawbacks in terms of applying the findings to the wider population and across sporting disciplines. BUT they did demonstrate an effect.

So……

Going back to our original question….

“Do compression garments work?”

Well the answer has to be….. maybe…… sort of…… sometimes.

At this stage the evidence is still not conclusive enough for us to be recommending compression strongly.

However, we can’t always sit on the fence with these issues so the answer Ash and I often give to our patients is this:

“Compression garments can be useful in individual cases. And if they are a product you can afford and you feel comfortable wearing them then I have no problem with you using them. They might help in a bigger way than we think but equally they might not. And potentially they could influence pain, performance and recovery. But the most important factor is that you feel good when you are playing or recovering from sport”.

So, if compression garments are something you can afford and make you feel good during or after sport then go ahead and use them when and how you feel necessary. But please don’t ignore the other variables such as training load, nutrition, sleep and rest!

We hope that you have enjoyed reading through this short blog and please feel free to share it among friends and family.

Thanks for reading,

Dave and Ash (Directors at The Physio Rooms Woodvale)

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