Compression And Sports: The Perfect Fit?


August 9, 2016

Sports Science

The term ‘compression’ has become widely used in sport where an athlete is wearing any tight fitting garment. Compression arm-sleeves, calf-sleeves and socks on team sport athletes, endurance athletes and power athletes have become a common sight. But is this a passing fad or is there merit in athletes using compression to enhance performance?

ORRECO recommends the use of compression garments for athletes on a case-by-case, context specific basis when the circumstances demand it, and where garments can be sourced that actually provide an effective level of compression. It’s one of a few tools in the recovery toolbox along with sleep and nutrition optimization. Evidence is accumulating for the benefits of compression in particular circumstances, particularly for travel and competition. A recent study showed better performance and recovery outcomes for basketball players travelling from coast to coast in the USA when they wore compression garments (1).

Dr Jess Hill from St Mary’s University and a leader in the field of sports compression research (2) says ‘We’ve seen wide variation in the responses to compression and this is probably because of individual body shapes. Athletes come in all shapes and sizes and what is probably most important is to directly measure the compression, and tailor it to the individual. We often see a direct effect on perception of recovery, which is also reflected in the individual’s biomarkers. There is a lot more research to be done, sport by sport, and using precision-fit garments, but the early work is promising.’

Companies like Isobar Compression are pushing the technology in this area, to make precisely fitting garments from 3D scans, offering a truly individualized garment for the athlete. Matt Stevens of Isobar Compression says ‘This is not just about performance – compression can help in the context of demanding travel schedules where prolonged sitting can cause lethargy, swollen ankles and discomfort. There are also reports of DVTs in athletes, which might have been prevented with compression. In professional skill based sports proprioception may also be affected by compression and customized fit is a must. We’ve developed our products in the clinic setting and our approach is patented.’ 

This is a fast moving field. Compression garments will feature in Rio in the coming weeks and increasingly, the professional leagues in well-prepared athletes. Perhaps, therefore there is an excellent fit between compression and sport.

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