Compression Garments for Exercise Recovery hdr

Compression Garments for Exercise Recovery

“Shall daddy put on his tights?” my daughter asked earnestly whilst holding a pair of elasticated fluorescent green hosiery. Fortuitously there was no one else around to witness my unusual taste in undergarments. I had been given these to try when I was helping out as a doctor at a triathlon. As they were free and offered the potential chance both to reduce the post-cycling pain in my muscles, as well as satisfying a previously unknown fetish for snot coloured underclothing, I gleefully accepted them. 

I was a little dubious as to whether they were of any actual benefit. The studies I had previously looked into about compression garments had come up with conflicting results. The idea behind these absurd looking garments is to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). This is the soreness and reduced function of muscles that anybody who exercises will be familiar with. This discomfort can persist for days. Hence, there is an understandable desire to reduce EIMD as much as possible. 

Nobody is quite sure how compression garments might reduce EIMD.  Presently, it is thought that the external pressure from the compression garment reduces the space available for swelling within the muscle. It is also thought that they may be of benefit by enhancing the clearance of waste products from muscles after exercise. 

Many of the previous studies had each looked at the use of compression tights in different groups of people, performing different sports and applied at different times. In these situations where there have been lots of studies all showing slightly different results. A type of scientific study called meta-analysis can be used to pool the results of all the decent trials to give an overall picture of the effect of a particular treatment. Helpfully for us, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a meta-analysis in 2013 looking at how I should be answering my daughter’s question. The researchers examined the results of 12 studies in total. The meta-analysis found that compression garments were useful for reducing the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Perhaps even more valuable it that they found compression garments also resulted in more a more rapid return of muscle function. 

So daddy should wear tights, during or after exercise! 

Dr Hugh Coyne

Private GP Parsons Green