Athletes put a lot of strain on their bodies. If you’re a runner or play a sport requiring a lot of leg motion, odds are you’ve looked into compression therapy repeatedly. A doctor or other medical professional might have even recommended compression therapy.
But what exactly are the benefits of compression therapy, and how do they work? Let’s take a look at the answers to these questions and more.
What Is Compression Therapy?
Compression therapy is a leg muscle treatment that helps to bolster blood flow to the lower regions of your body. Compression therapy typically relies on elastic stockings or wraps to compress the skin and muscle tissue.
True to its name, the elastic for compression therapy “compresses” the ankles, feet, and legs, stopping blood from pooling in lower tissues and preventing fluid from building up and similar areas. Any athlete can use compression therapy, but it’s especially popular and helpful for runners whose legs see a lot of use.
What Are the Different Types of Compression Therapy?
There are many different types of compression therapy which differ based on the devices utilized.
Some compression therapy uses compression stockings, which extend up to the knee. These are the most common types of compression therapy tools. If your legs are swelling or hurting above your knees, you might need tights or longer stockings that reach up to the waist. Compression boots are a variation of stockings.
Other approaches to compression therapy use bandages or wraps made of elastic or Velcro. Elastic or Velcro compression therapy tools might be easier to apply if an individual can’t put on socks very easily. Such bandages are typically applied in several layers.
Lastly, some compression therapy methods may use inflatable devices and massagers, which are garments that cover the legs and inflate with air to provide pressure. Professional or serious athletes primarily use inflatable device compression therapy.
How Are Compression Devices Measured?
Compression socks and other devices are measured based on the pressure they provide to the legs. That pressure is measured using millimeters of mercury or mmHg.
Generally, pressure categories are as follows:
- Low-pressure or less than 20 mmHg
- Medium pressure or 20 to 30 mmHg
- High pressure or greater than 30 mmHg
You can get low-pressure compression stockings and similar devices over the counter or at a standard pharmacy. Any stockings rated for 20 mmHg or higher require a doctor’s prescription.
What Are Some Common Benefits of Compression Therapy?
There are many potential benefits to compression therapy, particularly if you are an athlete or use your legs for physical activity regularly.
1. Reduced Swelling & Inflammation
For starters, compression therapy can result in greatly reduced swelling and inflammation in the legs, ankles, and feet. By compressing the tissues of your legs, blood and fluids are forced to go elsewhere, effectively arresting any swelling or inflammation you might be experiencing.
If you put on compression stockings fast enough, you might even prevent swelling and inflammation from occurring in the first place. However, too much swelling and inflammation may need an alternative solution, as preventing blood from flowing where it needs to go could lead to negative health effects or side effects.
2. Improved Flexibility
Compression therapy may also benefit athletes by improving leg and foot flexibility. Inflammation, pain, and irritation can make it difficult to move one’s legs, let alone run or perform athletic maneuvers.
After a long day of working out or playing sports, compression therapy stockings can help bolster flexibility by minimizing inflammation and restoring muscles to their original shapes. This boost to flexibility can provide major benefits on a sports field or when working out to do further leg exercises.
3. Reduction or Prevention of Muscle Fatigue and Soreness
Compression therapy can often reduce or prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). DOMS is very common in athletes and heavy exercisers, as it is caused by the fatigue and aching of torn muscles, plus the buildup of lactic acid.
When you work out hard enough, DOMS can be practically debilitating, making it difficult to accomplish any physical motion. With compression therapy, you might be able to minimize the negative effects of DOMS or prevent it from happening in the first place.
Similarly, compression therapy stockings can reduce muscle fatigue by preventing lactic acid buildup from being as severe as it would be. Note that compression therapy can’t stop lactic acid buildup overall. But it can make lactic acid pains and soreness a little less severe than it would normally be.
4. Accelerated Recovery
All of the above benefits typically lead to accelerated recovery for athletes who use compression therapy wisely and at their doctor’s recommendation.
With accelerated recovery, athletes don’t have to spend as much time off the field and can train more heavily for upcoming sporting events. That’s one reason athletes combine several recovery methods to get back on the field, like compression therapy or ice baths for inflamed muscles.
However, accelerated recovery isn’t possible if your leg pain or inflammation is due to an injury or some other root cause besides blood flow or fluid buildup.
5. Improved Athletic Performance
In addition to the above advantages, compression therapy may improve athletic performance in some athletes.
For example, runners who train hard and experience delayed onset muscle soreness or muscle fatigue might use compression therapy to minimize their side effects. By minimizing those side effects, they can recover quickly, hit the training field more regularly, and outperform their competitors.
In this way, compression therapy is more than just a recovery tool for many athletes. It’s a means of maximizing one’s performance and accelerating how quickly you can train up your legs to build muscle and become more powerful than ever before.
When Is Compression Therapy Recommended by Doctors?
Compression therapy may be prescribed by healthcare providers, like doctors or physical therapists, to treat specific conditions in athletes as well.
If an athlete has chronic venous insufficiency, the walls of their veins are weak, and the valves inside their veins don’t work properly. Because of this, blood flow to and from the legs toward the heart can be impaired, resulting in blood buildup. Compression therapy may help to treat this condition if applied regularly. By squeezing leg muscles, compression stockings can push blood back to the heart by force.
If an athlete has deep vein thrombosis or DVT, it means that the athlete has a blood clot in one of the deepest veins in their body. Many of the deepest veins are in the legs. Blood clots can be dangerous because they block blood flow and may cause severe swelling. Compression therapy can help to minimize the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis and blood clots in the first place, particularly if an athlete has risk factors like physical immobility or excess weight.
If your doctor notices intense swelling or edema of the feet, ankles, or legs, they may also prescribe compression therapy. An edema occurs if fluid is trapped in your tissues. Thanks to gravity, excess bodily fluids usually pool in the legs, although this isn’t the only reason such pooling can occur. Regardless, compression therapy moves fluid and stops it from accumulating in one spot, giving the body time to fix the problem.
Lastly, leg ulcers and wounds may require compression therapy if your doctor recommends it. Ulcers are open sores, which can be very painful. Ulcers frequently affect the legs, ankles, and feet compared to other areas. Those with poor blood circulation, varicose veins, or diabetes are at a much higher risk of developing ulcers on the feet and lower legs because of their conditions. The recovery process from leg ulcers and similar wounds might be accelerated through compression therapy.
As you can see, compression therapy can be highly effective and beneficial for athletes, particularly runners. If you think your legs need a little extra help, you might consider using compression therapy with the recommendation and/or assistance of a doctor or physical therapist.
Of course, that’s one way you can improve your physical wellness and maximize your exercise recovery. 1AND1’s other resources and guides can help you find new ways to minimize muscular downtime and improve your health across the board. Check them out today!