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Compression garments…do they help in recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage? ~ Jessica Hill

Athletes continuously push the boundaries of human performance; in essence, they manipulate training loads, which then promote adaptations within the body.  Following the application of training stress, recovery is essential. Athletes who undergo prolonged or intense training periods and fail to recover properly may experience progressive fatigue and a reduced ability to perform.1   As a result, a growing interest has emerged in strategies that counter the effects of training and facilitate recovery from the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage (EIMD).

Photo by Tristan Honscheid. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Source: flickr

Photo by Tristan Honscheid. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Source: flickr

Compression garments are relatively new, characterised by their elastic properties, and are used to provide mechanical support to injured limbs.2 Due in large part to commercial promotion, the use of compression garments as a recovery strategy is becoming increasingly popular.  The literature investigating their efficacy appears mixed with studies supporting3,4 and refuting5 the use of such garments.

To clarify the role of compression garments in recovery from EIMD, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on their efficacy in recovery from damaging exercise.6 The results indicate that compression garments had a moderate effect in reducing muscle soreness and plasma concentration of creatine kinase and in accelerating the recovery of muscle strength and power after exercise.

While the results of the meta-analysis demonstrate positive uses for compression garments in recovery, it is important to highlight that commercially available compression garments are usually fitted using a generalised sizing system. Individuals within a particular size classification will vary in body shape, which is likely to affect the degree of pressure exerted by the garment. This will have a direct impact on the ability of the garment to reduce symptoms associated with EIMD.7

In addition, the majority of published studies did not measure the degree of pressure exerted by the garments and simply report the estimated levels indicated by the manufacturer.  It is possible that a number of subjects wore garments that did not exert an adequate pressure. This could explain some of the variability of findings within the literature.

Not withstanding some of the limitations in garment fit, the results of our meta-analysis indicate that the use of compression garments appear to reduce some of the negative symptoms associated with EIMD.  These findings have implications for both elite athletes and recreational populations.

Jessica Hill is a Lecturer and BASES accredited physiologist working at St Mary’s University College.  She is currently undertaking a PhD investigating recovery from exercise induced muscle damage.

References:

1.     Budgett R. Overtraining Syndrome.  Br J  Sports Med 1990;24:231-236.

2.     Kraemer WJ, French DN, Spiering BA. (2004). Compression in the treatment of acute muscle injuries in sport. Int Sport Med J 2004;5:200-208.

3.     Jakeman JR, Byrne C, Eston RG. Efficacy of lower limb compression and combined treatment of manual massage and lower limb compression on symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage in women. J Strength Cond Res 2010;24:3157-3165.

4.     Trenell MI, Rooney KB, Sue CM, et al. Compression garments and recovery from eccentric exercise: A P-MRS study. J Sports Sci Med 2006;5:106-114.

5.     Carling J, Francis K, Lorish C. The effects of continuous external compression on delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Int J Rehabil Health 1995;1:223-235

6.     Hill J, Howatson G, van Someren K, Leeder J, Pedlar C. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2013;0:1-7.

7.     MacRae BA, Cotter JD, Laing RM. Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance. Sports Med 2011;41:815-43.

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