Running Recovery: Do Compression Sleeves Really Work?

You’ve likely seen an athlete or two donning a cool pair of compression sleeves from time to time.  You may have wondered, is this just an exercise fashion statement or is there something to these tight garments?  I was running for a few years before I discovered these little gems and wish I had known about them sooner.

Compression sleeves and garments have been shown in studies to have a beneficial effect on exercise recovery.  They can enhance recovery from muscle damage, reduce the severity of soreness, and may reduce overall recovery time.  Besides these benefits, many find compression garments provide immediate relief from aching limbs and muscles after an intense workout. 

Compression therapy has been around for thousands of years, but the use of compression garments as we know them today is a rather recent product, especially for athletes.  The popularity of compression garments for exercise purposes began in the 1980’s and continues to grow today.  Read on to see how these can aid in your running recovery and when they should be worn for maximum benefit.   

Benefits of compression sleeves for runners

There are numerous studies surrounding the benefits of compression clothing including compression sleeves in exercise recovery.  Below are some quotes from studies with the linked article on some of these benefits in strength recovery, functional recovery, and reduced muscle soreness. 

Strength Recovery

The below quote references CG meaning Compression Garments

Functional Recovery

Reduced Soreness

Personal experience

I had been running for a few years before I tried out compression sleeves for my achy calves.  I was training for a half marathon this past year and found my legs were sore quite often.  I ordered a pair online to try them out after finding some information on them. 

I can’t believe how immediate the relief was.  I’m sure it depends on how sore you are as to the amount of relief you find.  The compression usually immediately makes my legs feel better and I use them on a regular basis now.    

Where I find the sleeves have the most benefit is on the days I do a lot of sitting, especially after a day I’ve done a hard or long run.  I’ve found some days after wearing the compression sleeves for the entire day at my desk job, my legs are not sore at all!    

Compression sleeves beneficial when running

Not only can compression sleeves be worn after a workout to aid in recovery, but they can provide benefits when worn during your run.  I’ve found they really help my runs when my legs are still sore or achy.  They keep everything in place, give me the additional support I need, and I can run pain free.

I’m not the only one who has found them beneficial to wear during runs as the below study shows.

There are a lot more studies out there highlighting the benefits of compression clothing on exercise and exercise recovery including resistance training, biking and other activities. The ones included here are ones I found to be particularly interesting as they relate to running.

When to Not Wear compression sleeves

Experts do not recommend wearing compression sleeves or clothing while you are sleeping.  As your blood pressure drops when you sleep, wearing compression sleeves or clothing can cause your blood pressure to rise dangerously as the body works hard to push blood through the constricted area. 

In addition to causing a spike in blood pressure, it could cut off circulation all together depending on how tight the compression clothing is.  These are general dangers to be aware of related to compression clothing worn for sore and achy muscles.

In addition to the dangers, there is no benefit to wearing compression clothing while sleeping for exercise recovery. Blood circulates rather easy during sleep, especially since it’s not fighting gravity so there is no need for the simulated compression.

Before wearing any compression clothing to bed please consult your doctor.

Some things to know before you purchase a pair         

There are compression sleeves for both the calves and the upper leg/thigh area.  The compression sleeves or calf sleeves are typically very tight fitting for the most benefit.

 Make sure you buy the correct pair based on your calf size.  A pair that is too small will be painful and ones too large will not provide the needed compression and may even fall down. 

They should fit very snug, but wearing them should not be painful.  Not everyone is a fan of compression sleeves for recovery, but the only way to know if they can work for you is to try them out.

Key Takeaway

If you suffer from tired and sore calves you will likely find relief and recovery faster using the compression sleeves during the day, either immediately after a run or when your legs start feeling sore. 

Not only do they relieve muscle soreness and running recovery, but they can also support your next run if you are still sore.  I also try to wear them when I know I will be sitting a lot and notice a big difference when I wear them for the day. 

If you haven’t used compression sleeves yet, I think you will find them to be an affordable and convenient recovery method.  Keep in mind, compression sleeves and clothing are not magic, but they are another tool to assist the body in it’s amazing healing process and reduce some of the discomfort and pain during this stage.

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