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Q&A: The Low-Down on “Compression” Gear

What’s the medical opinion of “compression” clothing (tights, calf sleeves, and socks): real benefits for athletes, or high-priced placebo?


Science has yet to render a verdict on whether compression garments aid performance, but studies have shown that compression socks do aid recovery after a long run by improving the return of blood from the calves. There are many types of compression clothing, and they don’t all fit the same way or provide the same pressure; this makes it hard to evaluate them universally, because there isn’t sufficient data on the exact type of compression and fit that will have the biggest benefit to a given runner. Many runners do report feeling more supported and comfortable in compression garments, particularly after long runs or other hard efforts that might make their leg muscles sorer than usual—and the studies do support (pardon the pun) that empirical feedback. As for performance, just because there’s no concrete data to prove that compression socks or tights make you faster doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them if you find them helpful. The most important thing to remember is that each runner should be comfortable in what he or she is wearing. If a certain type, brand, or particular style of clothing works for you when you run, you should keep using it.


Leigh-Ann Plack

Leigh-Ann Plack, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist with Hospital for Special Surgery’s rehabilitation department. She received her doctorate degree at Northeastern University. Her clinical interests include strength and postural training.

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