What exactly are compression sleeves? To make it simple, they are tube-shaped clothing made of engineered, synthetic fabrics. The main idea behind compression sleeves is the materials must have a snug fit in order to provide maximum benefits. The compression is the pressure exerted gently onto your skin either mildly or gradated.
Compression sleeves are available in different types depending on what part of the body you require the added support. Examples of this are elbow sleeves, calf sleeves, knee sleeves, forearm sleeves and ankle sleeves. All sleeves improve muscle and joint support. Older injuries can be protected from further harm, and potential new injuries are easily avoided with the use of a compression sleeve. Some sleeves are worn for relieve pain, reduce swelling and hasten recovery time.
Performance and Recovery Research
The jury is still out on whether compression clothing improves performance. Research is being done consistently now to measure the exact benefits behind any type of compression wear. Joe Friel, a sports scientist, did an overall compilation of all the research available for relevant performance results. What he found was a skewed result.
What he did find out which was unique to triathlon competitors. The extra time it took to put on the compression wear seem to hinder their performance instead of enhance it. This seems irrelevant to when combined to all the other advantages involved with any kind of compression wear. Friel addressed recovery as well to see if compression clothing improves it after any athletic events. He did answer definitively these products were absolutely helpful in a faster recovery.
According to Dr. Reed Ferber PhD, CAT(C), who entered the term “compression clothing” into the National Library of Medicine and received only 15 research studies, said, “ Of those studies, less than half were well-controlled scientific investigations So clearly research needs to be conducted to help you, the runner, understand the pros and cons. Based on the paucity of research, I’ll state that if you think compression clothing helps your run – wear it! As I’ve said many times in previous articles, the root cause of running injuries is complex and cannot simply be prevented or resolved by any one piece of clothing, shoe, or strengthening exercise. Be body-aware and experience the joy of running – while wearing a piece of clothing that prevents tissue jiggle or not… your choice.”
This is a common thread amongst doctors, athletes, and sports scientists trying to assess a value to compression wear. The bottom line is people who actually wear any kind of compression gear, advocate the benefits, performance enhancements and healing properties of these products.
- Graduated or ‘Gradient’ Compression: Compression wear can be found in varying degrees of pressure. Gradient simply means the amount of squeeze at the beginning point to a gradual release at the end point.
- DOMS: Also called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, this refers to the general stiffness which occurs after 24-72 hours of intense exercise.
- Blood Lactate: This is more commonly known as lactic acid, and is a waste product in the human body. Raised levels of lactic acid lead to fatigue and a reduction in performance.
- Muscle Oscillation: The natural vibration which occurs in the muscle as it either is flexed or experiences impact.
- EIMD: Also called Exercise Induced Muscle Damage, this is what the medical field uses to describe muscle tears and wear caused by exercise.
- Venous Return: Abbreviated as VR, this term means the flow of blood back to the heart. You will often hear how compression wear can improve venous return.
- Open heel and toe: Some types of sleeve have an open area for extra comfort or support
- Anti-odor and anti-bacterial properties: Some sleeves will help to prevent odors
- Moisture wicking: This allows air flow and keeps moisture at bay. It also helps to keep your feet dry, and prevents skin irritation
- Copper-infused: Promotes healing, tissue repair and immune system response to infections
- Straps: Some support socks and sleeves may have straps for increased ankle protection and support
- Thickness: Pay attention to the thickness of the sleeves. Many can be worn inside your shoes comfortably
- The number of sleeves: Some sleeves come in different styles and many are unisex. Please be aware that a number of these sleeve products come in a single pack. If you need an individual sleeve, make sure you select the correct foot for your needs if available (most can be worn on either foot). There are also many types available in pairs.
The Different Types of Compression Sleeves
While you wander around the internet searching out more information on compression sleeves it can become overwhelming with the immense amount of offerings. There are companies which do nothing but focus on compression gear, and then there are those which mimic designs to the best of their ability. It may be easier for you to read on and learn about the different kinds, especially the reliable compression product brand names, rather than get lost and end up with a poor performing product.
Compression arm sleeves are designed to provide added support to your arm muscles and elbows. You can find many different forms of compression sleeves; some have padding for extra protection and comfort and then there are some made with thinner material to minimize impact between skin and surfaces. Another benefit of wearing an arm sleeve is to keep you from over-extending your elbow during your intense fitness regimens.
Look for compression sleeves which have these added features:
- anti-microbial treatments to resist odors
- moisture wicking fabric to keep the wearer dry
- breathable and temperature regulating material to keep the wearer warm in cold weather or cool in warm weather
- seamless construction to avoid the discomfort caused by seams
- Graduated compression for more compression at the end of the extremity and less compression nearer the core.
- Any new innovative technology specific to that company, for example Hex Technology from McDavid Compression wear
As mentioned some brands are going to perform superior compared to run-away off brands. Stick with the companies who make compression gear their world. The top choice in sleeves is:
Anything by 2XU will not let you down; this company specializes in delivering superior compression gear for all parts of the body. Their arm compression sleeves use unique technology to support key muscles groups and promote circulation. They carry a huge variety of different styles and designs. Check them out here. You will discover 2XU to be so phenomenal that you probably will end up investing in a few more compression items from them. While their website inspires the beast in everyone, Amazon carries their products at a lower cost.
Another top-notch compression wear company is McDavid. They are privy to their own Hex Technology in all their gear. Hex Technology is closed cell foam padding which is superior in durability, and protection, especially for those athletes who play a contact or collision sport. They also use their own patented hDc Moisture Management Technology meant to keep you cool and dry. Take a look here.
Sometimes the best advertising comes from the consumers themselves. In this case it is the Florida Tarpons Indoor Arena Football team who is doing a big shout out to this German-based superior compression gear company. They purchased these sleeves for two of their receiver who sustained serious elbow injuries. The compression sleeves immediately went to work on the swelling, bursitis, and the decreased range of motion. These two receivers went on to perform their best game. The company charges a bit more for their compression sleeves, but you cannot go wrong when it comes to the added support and protection. Just ask the players. Check the story out here.
SKINS are right up there with the major contenders in the best compression products on the market today. The company focuses on a 400 fit gradient compression to provide more oxygen to the blood and increase stamina. They also have their own unique innovations in material infusions. The Memory MX fabric is custom designed to maximize stability and control. All their sleeves feature UPF 50+ sun protection and a fast wicking technology. Consumers’ love how they fit, and how anatomically cut they are for a comfort. Take a peek at their items here.
There is a mass following for Copper-related products which temper pain and swelling in muscles and joints. Compression sleeves are included in this arena. Copper Joint infuses this magic element up to 80 percent into their material, which you would be hard pressed to find in other compression clothing. If you are a true believer in the healing properties of copper, you are not alone. This compression sleeve is actually an elbow brace, but deserves mention. It is perfect for deeper muscle injuries or joint problems. You will experience a cool, pleasant sensation as soon as you put the sleeves on. You will still have full range of motion, but will lose the pain and swelling. This 4 way compression sleeve is a remarkable product and quickly winning over athletes and non-athletes as well. Check it out here.
Compression Ankle Sleeves
Ankle compression sleeves are quite often used by sports athletes and runners. They are designed for people who may have some issues with their feet or heels. Some of the benefits of ankle compression sleeves include:
- Alleviate planter fasciitis, heel pain, and flat foot issues
- Offer additional ankle and heel support
- Protect ankles from further injury
Compression sleeves specifically designed for the ankles are ideal for those who experience weakness; you will discover the added support is ideal for everything from running, to skiing, jumping and squatting.
Some experienced advocates of this type of wear have argued the use of a compression ankle sleeve as opposed to a compression sock. The bottom line is if you are babying an older injury or suffering from a recent one, the sock is the better choice. This is due to the compression sock will apply graduated pressure, pumping the blood back towards the heart. A compression ankle sleeve could cause pooling of blood near the foot and ankle. When traveling, either may be worn comfortably. The design of the sleeve is the main component and the purpose should be outlined in order to alleviate a specific ankle problem.
Compression gear as stated is different from one company to the next. There are companies which shine in the industry. The best way to be sure you get the right ankle compression sleeve is to become familiar with the brands. Stick to the companies whose whole business mission is to provide innovative compression wear. Here are our picks due to meeting all the requirements of compression in construction, fabric, fit, price, reputation, and quality.
Copper Wear products provide superior compression and a bonus of 88% Copper fiber embedded nylon. The breathable material is a promise for comfort all while letting the Copper soothe your ankles. This is an effective sleeve which can be worn anytime and is odor resistant. You will also find the high moisture wicking properties necessary in any compression garment. Check this ankle sleeve out here.
Zensah has some amazing support compression gear. This is a truly innovative company always creating new technologies and improving their already great product. This ankle sleeve was designed by an athletic trainer; it is the first ankle support created in compression gear to offer Pin-Point compression. This simply means you are going to get that pressure where you need it the most. They also use their specific design of fabric for more breathable and wicking moisture properties. The company takes pride in the seamless construction of the Zensah Ankle sleeve and the fact it is not neoprene or latex. They must be doing something right, because consumers love their compression wear. Take a look at Zensah here.
Kunto is a rising star in the compression gear industry, and are their products good. People who have suffered broken foots, certain illnesses and sports-related injuries have applauded the relief of this particular ankle compression style. With these sleeves you will find immediate relief from pain, swelling, muscle fatigue and sprains. The construction of the breathable fabric is similar to a very thick sock yet comfortable without loss of performance. It is a no-slip fabric weave intended to fit snug around your ankle, without feeling constricting. If you are a high activity performer in the game of life, or simply trying to recover from a problem ankle, look into Kunto compression sleeves here.
Compression Z gets an honorable mention for a couple of reasons. First, they offer pairs in compression sleeves for the ankles. This is something to read the small print on when you are purchasing any compression sleeves, as most only offer one while you actually prefer a set. Second, Compression Z provides a heel arch support in their ankle sleeve. This is important for those suffering problems with flat feet, Achilles tendon issues, and plantar fasciitis. These ankle sleeves help with stress fractures and edema as well. They are ideal for daily wear, especially if you are on your feet for long periods of time. These are worth a second look, and can be seen here.
Compression Knee Sleeves
It’s all about basketball. This is when people really started to notice compression sleeves. Professional basketball players were the catalysts for big business in compression arm sleeves and compression knee sleeves. Curiosity won out as other sports activists decided they too needed this gear, especially if it meant better performance and injury protection. Now it is not only common, but preferred to slip on any of these aids for muscular support and stabilization.
A compression knee sleeve appeals to people for many reasons. For instance, if you suffer from knee pain on a regular basis, this may be your answer to getting back into the game. There has been several reviews regarding people not being able to enjoy sports, activities or even bend properly due to aching knees. They applaud the compression industry for allowing them to participate in the passions they thought they could never enjoy again.
Compression knee sleeves will feel compact and snug as soon as you put them on. This is the ideal fit so any discomfort you may feel will be minimized and you can avoid any further damage to delicate knee issues.
In sports where your knees are demanded extensively and put under high pressure, like weightlifting or running, you will benefit immensely by adding a set of these to your workout repertoire. The additional support is going to give you confidence to try harder and perform better.
There are a few kinds of compression knee sleeves available and each is designed for different purposes.
A closed knee sleeve: A single piece that completely covers the knee area. Closed knee sleeves are the most common type, and typically offer the best compression.
An open knee sleeve: This type has a small hole placed on the knee front. This sleeve is excellent at air circulation around the knee and medium compression.
A padded knee sleeve: these knee sleeves are thicker and offer additional protection from contact, surfaces, and intense movement. A padded knee sleeve is best suited for use in competitive, physical sports such as basketball.
Compression knee sleeves add warmth and compression, but they also aid in the mechanics of movement by limiting patella movement and increasing proprioception. There are four different kinds of compression knee aids and they are:
- Knee sleeves (which are not technically braces)
- Prophylactic knee braces
- Functional knee braces
- Postoperative or rehabilitation braces.
Like most compression sleeves, knee sleeves are typically unisex, so be specific on sizing when considering a purchase. Again, check the small print to see if the knee sleeve is sold as one or a set. The most loved compression knee sleeves by consumers are:
Pro-Tec Athletics gel force knee sleeve is an amazing product and is actually the most popular amongst runners. The extra gel layer is added protection against impacts. The unique design is a 4 way stretch material allowing a full range of motion and moderate compression. Medial and lateral spirals are weaved in to keep the knee joint stable. It won’t cause any skin irritation with the breathable fabric. You can find this superior sleeve here.
Copper Wear is a popular line of sporting aids which infuse 88% Copper fiber embedded nylon into their materials. The compression is very effective in enhancing blood circulation, and protecting the knees from injuries. For those with ongoing troubling knees, the Copper Wear knee sleeve can be worn comfortably any time. Check this one out here.
Count on Shock Doctor Compression Knee Sleeve to provide the ultimate benefits for your knees while running. This knee sleeve is anatomically pre-curved with an open patella and a comfortable flex design. The sleeve is made of N-Tex neoprene and a brushed lining with moisture wicking properties. This helps for therapeutic warmth and healing. If you need just a little more help with your knees, Shock Doctor is the best pick and you can get them here.
Once again, you have to seriously consider Kunto as a top choice in a knee sleeve. The company is superior in designing compression wear to function exactly as it is supposed to. Whatever Kunto is doing, they are doing it so well. Their specialized fabric blend with a 4 way stretch capability gives the ultimate support and comfort for worrisome knees. Your joints are not going to suffer or ache with this brand of compression knee sleeves. Forget the dreaded roll of fabric with Kunto; they have this compression wear down to a science. Grab the best here.
Compression Calf Sleeves
Some say wearing calf compression sleeves makes you feel like you should be running so fast that it is hard to keep the effort level down. While this may be entirely mental, the important factor is they make you feel fast. The mental mindset of performance should not be overlooked.
The feeling of tightness makes you want to work out hard, and while you are doing that, the compression sleeve is hard at work protecting your body. With compression calf sleeves you can depend on keeping muscle damage at bay and you can count on faster muscle recovery as well.
The companies who design compression products tout the performance benefits of compression technology, but according to sparse science information and research, compression calf sleeves are seen kind of like ice baths. Yet, the people who use them swear by them. These are the people’s choice in calf compression sleeves:
You can never go wrong with any 2xu compression gear. This company is solid dedication to innovation and functional clothing. It is fair to say they are the wave of the future. And they sell compression sleeves in pairs, which is a definite bonus. Aside from that, you are looking at some pretty fascinating features such as a 250 Denier Medical circular 360 degree knit construction which creates powerful pressure. These are graduated compression sleeves meant for recovery and circulatory benefits. 2XU is a phenomenal company and you can check them out here.
SKINS offers unisex compression gear, but they seem to really attract the women consumers. Either way this calf compression sleeve is dynamic in that it delivers a 400 fit gradient compression to deliver more oxygen-filled blood back to the heart, which in turn increases stamina and power. The company uses Memory MX fabric to ensure the best stabilization and control while working your calf muscles. This essential compression sleeve can be found here.
The first thing you will notice about Zensah compression calf sleeves is the chevron ribbing pattern with silver ions designed to provide compression in a unique way. The direct support reduces cramping and fatigue. Zensah compression products all feature the latest technology such as anti-odor, moisture wicking, sun protection and the designer fabrics. Prepare to experience an enhanced warm-up and improved leg power when wearing Zensah. These compression calf sleeves are durable to the end and you can find them here.
Here are some excellent reminders about the advantages of compression wear. This is a checklist of all the benefits of wearing compression clothing:
- Enhanced blood circulation as a result of improved venous return. This means that deoxygenated blood goes back to the heart faster to improve blood flow of oxygen-rich blood back to the body
- Faster recovery following strenuous exercise and improved performance, by aiding in the removal of blood lactate through improved circulation.
- Enhanced warm-up via increased skin temperature.
- Reduced muscle oscillation and vibration upon ground contact, providing stability to the muscle to help prevent micro-trauma, resulting in a faster and easier recovery.
- Reduced effects of delayed onset muscle soreness in the days following strenuous exercise through alleviating swelling and inflammation.
- Increased muscle support, which increases performance through improved muscle efficiency.
- Improved leg power and vertical jump power through enhanced proprioception.
Compression gear is going to help immensely in taking your body to the next level. A couple of tips though before you make a purchase is to make sure to measure for proper sizing If you buy them to tight they are uncomfortable and impossible to put on. If you purchase them to big, you won’t receive enough compression to benefit, plus the sleeves will roll or slide down.
Finally, here is a checklist to keep in mind when trying to determine a great product. These are some features to note while shopping for your compression gear:
- Promotes better blood circulation
- Offers a snug fit but maintains range of motion and flexibility
- Produces a faster recovery time after workouts due to oxygen removing lactic acid build-up
- Improves performance with the muscles
- Stays in place, does not ride up or roll down during activity
- Will retain original shape after multiple times of wear
- Allows great flexibility and motion without possibility of skin irritation
- Lightweight and breathable fabric with SPF 50+ sun protection for all day comfort
- Graduated fit to promote increased circulation throughout legs
- Mesh through for proper ventilation
- Moisture wicking/moisture sensing
- Anti-odor technology prevents the growth of odor causing microbes
- Menthol or Copper infused technology to aid in inflammation, and relax muscles