Runners at various levels of performance and specializing in different events (from 800 m to marathons) wear compression socks, sleeves, shorts, and/or tights in attempt to improve their performance and facilitate recovery. Recently, a number of publications reporting contradictory results with regard to the influence of compression garments in this context have appeared.
The purpose of this study was to assess original research on the effects of compression clothing (socks, calf sleeves, shorts, and tights) on running performance and recovery.
A computerized research of the electronic databases PubMed, MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science was performed in September of 2015, and the relevant articles published in peer-reviewed journals were thus identified rated using the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) Scale. Studies examining effects on physiological, psychological, and/or biomechanical parameters during or after running were included, and means and measures of variability for the outcome employed to calculate Hedges’g effect size and associated 95 % confidence intervals for comparison of experimental (compression) and control (non-compression) trials.
Compression garments exerted no statistically significant mean effects on running performance (times for a (half) marathon, 15-km trail running, 5- and 10-km runs, and 400-m sprint), maximal and submaximal oxygen uptake, blood lactate concentrations, blood gas kinetics, cardiac parameters (including heart rate, cardiac output, cardiac index, and stroke volume), body and perceived temperature, or the performance of strength-related tasks after running.
Small positive effect sizes were calculated for the time to exhaustion (in incremental or step tests), running economy (including biomechanical variables), clearance of blood lactate, perceived exertion, maximal voluntary isometric contraction and peak leg muscle power immediately after running, and markers of muscle damage and inflammation. The body core temperature was moderately affected by compression, while the effect size values for post-exercise leg soreness and the delay in onset of muscle fatigue indicated large positive effects.
The study’s present findings suggest that by wearing compression clothing, runners may improve variables related to endurance performance (i.e., time to exhaustion) slightly, due to improvements in running economy, biomechanical variables, perception, and muscle temperature. They should also benefit from reduced muscle pain, damage, and inflammation.