9 Sep 2017

Do compression garments work?

From This Way Up, 12:40 pm on 9 September 2017
Running in snow

Photo: (Isaac Wendland via unsplash.com)

"Scientists suspect that any benefits felt when wearing compression clothing during exercise may be down to the placebo effect – the large hole left in the wallet from the purchase may leave the wearer willing it to make a difference."- David Cox in The Guardian

It seems counterintuitive if you've ever tried to work out wearing a pair of skinny jeans, but could very tight clothing actually improve your athletic performance?

That's the idea behind compression clothing - the array of leggings, socks and tops sold by the likes of Adidas, Under Armour, Asics and Skins.

They're part of a rapidly growing market predicted to be worth billions of dollars within the next five years. 

Compression clothing has its origins in medicine: wearing a stocking around the leg can improve blood flow through the veins and is helpful in preventing clots.

That's why many of us wear compression stockings on long-haul flights to avoid 'economy class syndrome' and reduce the risks of deep vein thrombosis.

But big brands have seen the potential for sports and athletic wear.

If you've ever bought any compression clothing, you'll know that it commands a premium price and is marketed with phrases like "increase muscle power", "go further and faster" and "optimise performance". 

But is there any science to back up these claims?

And how powerful is a placebo effect accentuated by having dropped so much cash? 

David Cox has been looking at the research underpinning the compression clothing scene in The Guardian.