Calf compression sleeves - why bother?

January 27, 2017



A recent patient of mine was asking about what calf compression sleeves were, what they did and if I thought that they were worth investing in. In all honesty I had very little knowledge of the science behind them and what the claims made about them were.


If you are wondering about what they are or look like then follow this link. (This isn't a brand plug or anything, just the first ones that came up on Google...) And with marathon training in full swing you're very likely to see them over the next few months.


I have read about compression shorts, tights and tops before and figured that calf sleeves must work on a similar principle as those types of top.  With a little bit of research I found that the general idea is that compression sleeves for your calves ;

  • Reduce muscle fatigue

  • Reduce muscle soreness 

  • Improve power output of the muscles supported

  • Improve recovery by increasing circulation 


And as I thought, these were similar to the claims made my manufacturers as to how tops, tights and shorts can aid you during exercise...


Research into compression garments on a whole provide varied results. Some show that they can be effective. Others show very good subjective recovery scores but poor results in terms of actual chemical markers of muscle-damage & inflammation being reduced. Some studies showed very poor results about their effectiveness based on the claims made about them. Essentially, there no definitive answer on whether they work or not.


Based on experience, I have seen just as many people injure themselves wearing compression garments as I have injure themselves while not wearing them. As for improving performance, I'm not sure. Maybe they would make a difference at more elite levels of sport where the margins between winning and losing are a lot finer.


But not everyone wears them for the influence they may (or may not) have on your performance and recovery. Some just wear them because they are another layer that isn't too bulky, fits under your kit and keeps your warm when playing Rugby, Football, Netball etc. 


So do I think that you should wear compression clothes?


To answer this it depends on what you want to get out of them...

If you want to improve your performance, then I do feel that sometimes wearing them can help even if it's just through a weird placebo effect that makes you more confident. If you want them to keep a little warmer during winter sport, then go ahead. If you want to wear the latest compression top under your football kit so you look like a professional, then I can say there are probably better ways to spend your money.


However, if you are buying it to improve your recovery so that you can avoid stretching, foam rolling and cooling down then unfortunately I feel that you're probably buying it for the wrong reason. I would always much prefer people to keep on top of stretching, foam rolling and promoting recovery through other ways than just hoping wearing some tight clothes will help. A combination of compression garments and other manual recovery methods may be the most effective recovery process for you, but if you're looking for the easy way out then unfortunately there isn't one... (stretching & foam rolling isn't that hard to do).




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