The jury is out with compression garments. Are they simply an example of good marketing to the average Joe? Or do they honestly provide the benefits that have been claimed whole heartedly by the companies who are making a lot of money from them. This article is a synopsis of a meta-analysis from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which tries to answer this question.
The researchers’ inclusion criteria involved analysis of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) symptoms, muscle strength, muscular power and creatine kinase (CK). The results showed moderate improvements in all baseline measures compared with people who did not use the garments. The results suggest that there are benefits regardless of whether the garments are used during and after, or just after high intensity exercise. With regards to DOMS, 66% of the population experienced a reduction with the garments. Between 66 and 69% of the population experienced accelerated improvements in muscle strength and power. CK also showed improvements of 66% with use of the compression garments.
One of the weaknesses of the article is the lack of consistency on what equates “compression garment”. In particular, how compressive does a garment have to be, to show improvements?
Another weakness which has been highlighted by the authors is the difficulty in finding unbiased information from the available literature. Noted inconsistencies included biased reporting (ie the research being funded by a compression garment company), no blinding, and no allocation concealment of the researchers. These may all have contributed to a generally higher effect than is truly the case.
While this meta-analysis shows promising results, there is still much to be done to better understand compression garment technology in an unbiased manner. In particular looking at the level of garment compression with results, as well as the training status of the athlete to understand when a compression garment is appropriate, and when they are best left on the rack and your money in your pocket.
Hill et al, 2013. Compression garments and recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 10:1136.