For certain medical conditions, compression garments can help with symptom relief, but to improve athletic performance, research hasn’t clearly established the benefits, say Marshfield Clinic experts.
Compression garments may include gloves, sleeves, stockings and trunk garments made of snug-fitting, elasticized fabrics. Sports apparel may range in compression from 8-15 mm Hg, while compression garments of 30-40 mm Hg or greater require a prescription.
To be considered for insurance coverage, compression garments can be of any strength but must be prescribed.
“The higher the compression, the tighter the garment will feel,” said Theresa Adamski, a Marshfield Clinic physical therapist.
Lymphedema, venous insufficiency, varicose veins, blood clots in legs or arms and recovery from burns are among medical reasons for prescribing compression garments.
“Compression garments also may be prescribed before and after vein procedures,” Adamski said.
Compression garments help with improving and supporting the body’s natural ability to circulate blood and lymph fluids.
“Arteries carry oxygenated blood to legs and arms and de-oxygenated blood returns through the veins. Veins have one-way valves that can become deficient, allowing blood to backflow and pool causing swelling, achiness and fatigue in the extremity,” Adamski said. “Gradient compression garments have more compression farthest from the trunk and this gradual decrease from bottom to top counteracts the effects of gravity and helps with blood flow return.”
Compression garments may be used without a specific medical reason.
“Sometimes people who travel and potentially sit for long periods of time wear compression garments to help reduce their risk for circulatory problems,” Adamski said. “Garments that aren’t prescription strength can be purchased over-the-counter.”
For sports performance, benefits of wearing compression garments aren’t clear.
“More studies are being done to determine if there are significant benefits for athletes who choose to wear compression garments,” said Dr. Laurel Rudolph, M.D., a Marshfield Clinic Sports Medicine Physician. “Some studies do suggest that compression garments may help with muscle fatigue, but not enough scientifically-valid studies are available to fully define benefits of wearing these garments while exercising. During competition, sports-specific regulations will likely dictate what can and can’t be worn.”
If you have questions about using compression garments, talk with your doctor.