Improving sporting performance and, in turn, reducing the likelihood of muscle injuries as much as possible are undoubtedly one of the greatest desires of any athlete. Compression clothing has been developed with this intention in mind, and not only brings benefits to athletes, but also to anyone who wants to avoid injuries or speed up recovery from any ailment.
It is a group of garments that fit perfectly to the wearer’s anatomy, providing compression to the muscles and providing a range of benefits such as improving blood circulation, minimising impact and vibration generated during activities such as walking or running. Each garment is designed with varying degrees of pressure, ranging from 30 to 40 mmHg, making it ideal for sports. Over time, these garments have become a valid alternative therapy for the treatment of all kinds of problems related to blood circulation, recovery from muscular injuries and improvement of sports performance.
What are they for?
In the beginning, compression garments were recommended by doctors for post-operative patients to stimulate muscle recovery and activate blood flow for better tissue regeneration, as well as to facilitate the body’s reactivation from anaesthesia in the first 48 hours after leaving the operating theatre. But over time, more benefits were discovered.
In the 1980s it began to be recommended to improve the quality of life of patients with circulatory problems, and even to solve aesthetic problems such as varicose veins in the legs. By the 1990s it was already being used in elite sport by athletes and gymnasts, and today it is regularly used by runners, footballers, basketball players, cyclists, fitness and all kinds of sportsmen and women.
This is because it works perfectly to reduce the impact on the muscles generated by medium and high impact physical activities, as well as improving blood circulation so that the muscles receive a better blood supply and assimilate nutrients more efficiently. All this promotes muscle performance during activity and cellular recovery during periods of rest.
How do they work?
These compression garments work by exerting pressure on the muscles to which they are applied. This pressure, which ranges from 20 mmHg to 40 or 50 mmHg, causes the fibres to compress, allowing better blood circulation during use, which reduces fatigue considerably.
In turn, this muscle compression greatly minimises the vibrations generated by actions such as walking, running or jumping, preserving the elasticity and resistance of the soft tissues in the area where it is used. In addition, it provides stability to the joints and, above all, helps to improve the user’s postural hygiene, which avoids endless ailments caused by poor body positioning.
Types of compression clothing for men and women
Wrist braces: These are small, one-piece garments that encircle the wrist, giving extra stability to the joint so that its ligaments and tendons are not overstressed. They are usually made with a piece of Velcro to regulate the fit on the wrist.
Elbow braces: These are cylindrical garments that fit perfectly on the spleen and adjust to the elbow. They can be found in two designs, in a single garment that fits the anatomy of the joint, or open, which are adjusted by buckles or Velcro fasteners.
Shoulder supports: These have a generally therapeutic application. They are shaped like a splint and are intended to support the shoulder to immobilise the joint during recovery and pain. To protect this joint during physical activity, elastic compression shoulder braces are often used to offer greater mobility.
Thigh braces: These are cylindrical garments fitted to the quadriceps and biceps femoris muscles of the legs, and are used in particular to reduce impact and vibration during activities such as walking, running or jumping, although they are also often used for patients with poor blood circulation problems.
Knee braces: Like elbow braces, they are available in two designs, a cylindrical single-garment design that fits over the knee to provide stability during sports activities, and an open Velcro-fastening design, which is more commonly used for post-operative and rehabilitation purposes.
Ankle braces: These are garments that fit anatomically to the ankle and are commonly used to immobilise the joint during recovery processes for sprains. For use during physical activity, compression stockings that cover the entire foot up to the calf are used.
Back support belt: These are open garments that are fastened with Velcro fasteners on the lower back. It can be used by athletes to provide extra stability to the lower back, or for patients with herniated discs or sciatica who require extra support to keep the condition at bay. They are usually also used to protect the lower back in jobs where the back is under constant strain.
Sacroiliac hip support belt: These are open garments that wrap around the hip and apply adjustable compression. They are widely used by people who suffer from hip problems as they improve the strength of the hip and lower back. They can also be useful to prevent injuries such as lumbago or herniated discs.
Calf compression sleeves: These are cylindrical garments similar to a long sock, but they cover only the calf and not the foot. They can be worn by athletes in sports where a lot of vibration is generated in the legs from running and jumping, or by people who want to alleviate circulatory problems in their daily lives.
Compression socks and stockings: These are garments made of highly elastic materials such as Spandex that provide extra pressure between 20 mmHg and 40 mmHg. Their function is to provide stability and protect the muscles and joints of the feet, ankles and calves. You can even find longer designs that go all the way up to the middle of the thighs.
Health and sports benefits of compression garments
Improved athletic performance: Several medical studies have determined that compression garments improve the performance of athletes, since by stimulating better blood circulation, they produce a reduction in wear and tear during training or competition. In other words, the muscles will be more resistant.
Reduces muscle fatigue: By improving blood flow, a beneficial effect is achieved that greatly reduces muscle fatigue, so that the athlete can perform for longer with less risk of contractures or cramps.
Avoid sports injuries: Most sports injuries are muscular, and these in turn are generated by wear and tear and accumulated tension due to the impact of the actions in the sports discipline in question. The latter is minimised with compression garments that better absorb vibrations in the muscles when running or jumping.
Accelerates muscle recovery: Wearing compression garments during an injury compacts the muscle fibres and in turn, generates better circulation, which stimulates cellular recovery when complemented with other conventional therapies such as cryotherapy and physiotherapy.
Improves blood circulation: By compressing the muscle fibres, a more solid and compact area is achieved in which blood circulation flows much better, a factor that generates a chain reaction of benefits for the organism.
Improved oxygenation of the blood: They allow a better assimilation of oxygen in the blood, which leads to a better quality blood flow, which in turn, oxygenates the muscle fibres much better, making them healthier as they absorb nutrients better.
Drainage of toxins: By improving blood flow, it also allows a considerable improvement in the drainage of toxins in the body, which brings benefits to the whole body in general and not just the muscles.
Minimises vibrations: By compacting the muscle fibres, a more impact-resistant area is achieved in which there is less impact from the vibrations generated when running or jumping, minimising the risk of injury.
Improved postural hygiene: Compression garments such as shoulder supports or lower back braces help to improve posture, which releases tension in the back and all its nerves, reducing the possibility of cervical or lumbar pain.
Increased stability and support: Muscles and joints where compression garments are worn get extra support in their tendons and ligaments, which improves overall stability, reducing the likelihood of sprains.
Maintains body heat: Another important feature is that it helps to maintain body temperature during and after sporting activity, as well as being breathable. It provides comfort and warmth when practising or competing in cold weather. Compression garments are thermo-regulating for hot and cold.
Prevents chafing and blisters: Wearing seamless compression garments in areas where there is friction on the skin, such as ankle braces or compression tights that cover the crotch, minimises the occurrence of chafing and blisters.
F.A.Q: Frequently asked questions
How to choose the right size for compression clothing?
Compression clothing is not sized the same as regular clothing, as everyone has different bodies that affect the amount of pressure the garment will apply to your body. Any error in these measurements can even result in the opposite effect to the desired one.
For specific garments such as knee braces, calf sleeves, thigh sleeves, elbow braces or wrist braces, you should measure the circumference of the joint and compare these measurements with those provided by the manufacturer in order to choose the correct size. Remember that this type of garment should fit snugly to the body but without cutting off blood circulation or causing pain. This determines whether the user should choose a size S, M, L or XL.
What are the types of compression levels there are?
Compression clothing is usually classified according to the amount of pressure in units of mmHg (millimetres of Mercury) they apply to the wearer’s body.
In that sense we can find garments of the following pressure levels:
Soft compression: These are garments that apply between 8 to 15 mmHg, which are used to prevent circulatory problems, for reticular varicose veins and to treat tired legs.
Medium or therapeutic compression: The pressure ranges from 20 to 40 mmHg and are beneficial for slightly swollen legs, small varicose veins or leg discomfort during pregnancy.
Medical Grade Compression: These garments apply between 20 to 40 mmHg, in some cases up to 50 mmHg and are used in cases where better blood circulation is desired while standing or sitting for long periods of time, to treat muscle and joint pain and for sports.
High Compression: These are garments that generate pressure between 40 and 60 mmHg and are used to treat conditions such as primary lymphoedema, post decongestive therapy or severe post thrombotic syndrome.
How to wash and care for compression garments?
Materials such as Spandex or neoprene are more delicate than other types of textile, so to avoid damaging their fibres and your garments losing their compressive properties , it is recommended that you follow these instructions:
Wash in cold water in delicate programmes
Hand wash preferably
Do not bleach
Do not tumble dry
Do not iron
Do not use soap with fabric softener
Do not bleach
Are there any contraindications to wearing compression clothing?
While compression clothing is safe in most cases, it is recommended that it be avoided by people who have any of the following special conditions:
Advanced arterial insufficiency
Severe cardiac disorders
Disabled persons who are unable to remove the garment on their own
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