Improving circulation with compression garments

When a patient has ongoing problems with poor circulation, or fluid and swelling in the extremities, the common remedy is something elite athletes also use to prevent fatigue, fight muscle injury and speed training recovery time.

When a patient has ongoing problems with poor circulation, or fluid and swelling in the extremities, the common remedy is something elite athletes also use to prevent fatigue, fight muscle injury and speed training recovery time.

Compression garments, such as socks, stockings, tights and gloves, help fight fluid buildup caused by congestive heart failure, poor circulation, venous insufficiency and other ailments that can put a patient at risk for a blood clot, deep vein thrombosis or stroke.

They were used in this manner for about 50 years, before marathon runners and triathletes began wearing brightly colored, custom-fit models, in hopes of tapping into their recuperative powers.

Chris Solinsky became an icon for being the first non-African to run a 10k race in less than 27 minutes — and also for wearing medical-grade knee socks while training. Like other athletes who have followed his lead, Solinsky says wearing compression garments improves his circulation and makes it easier to recuperate after racing.

“I found I was able to come off the workouts much, much quicker,” Solinsky said in an article  on Competitor.com, an online racing publication.

Researchers have long known that compression garments help patients combat circulation and swelling problems. The verdict is still out, however, on whether the crossover into athletic wear is all it’s hyped up to be.

For instance, Indiana University studies in 2010 concluded that lower-leg sleeves, worn by highly trained distance runners, had no impact on their running performance, and upper-leg compression garments did not improve the jumping abilities of 24 average men. However, a 2012 study by Canadian researchers found that compression socks improved blood flow to calves, and may enhance performance, especially in sports that require repeated short bouts of exercise.

Compression wear looks as if it belongs to someone who wears a much smaller size. Before you put it on, you may question whether someone accidentally shrank it. If you’ve ever successfully squeezed into a pair of “painted on” jeans, you have some idea of what getting into a compression garment can feel like.

If properly fitted, though, the snug-fitting garments are supposed to feel comfortable, while applying even pressure. And though it may seem like you’re trying to put 10 pounds of sugar into a 5-pound bag, the garment should have enough “give” to stretch into position while retaining a healthy squeeze.


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