Compression garments like socks, pantyhose, and sleeves have long been prescribed by the medical community to aid people with poor circulation. The compression pieces act as a second layer of skin that provides the resistance the weakened skin no longer can. The pieces can be found in drug stores or medical equipment stores with varying degrees of compression. The higher degrees of compression often require a doctor's prescription.
These compression garments are often prescribed after surgery to support muscles and increase circulation. Travelers have long worn compression hosiery to help prevent deep vein thrombosis and reduce swelling.
Now compression garments have made their way into the world of sports from football to baseball to cheer. Many athletes and trainers claim that they help improve performance. While some of the findings have been debated, almost all trainers agree that compression garments can help muscles heal after strenuous exercise by improving flexion and extension. As for recovery, the evidence is somewhat more in favor of compression. Australian researchers put rugby players in waist-to-ankle tights during active recovery runs on a treadmill (cool-down period) discovered that compression helped remove lactate from their blood. Lactate is the byproduct that causes your muscles to burn during intense exercise.
One of the main benefits of compression sportswear is that it keeps the muscles warm to prevent muscle strain and fatigue and wick sweat away from the body to prevent chafing and rashes. All of the garments have some form of spandex woven with other fibers to provide the stretch. You can find sports compression shirts, shorts, and tights.
Whether you are wearing the compression pieces for medical reasons or to enhance your athletic ability, they need proper care to be effective and to last as long as possible. None of the pieces are inexpensive.
Even the strongest compression garments made of durable materials will begin to stretch out after about twelve hours of constant wear as may be required medically. This is especially true in knee and elbow areas where the garments are constantly stretched. Daily washing or after every wearing will help restore and retain elastic properties as well as remove perspiration, oils, dirt, bacteria, and dead skin that accumulate inside the garment. Frequent washing will not harm the garments if done properly.
Machine or Hand-Wash
Compression garments may be machine or hand-washed, depending on the preference of the user. If using the washer, place the garments in a mesh lingerie bag to prevent snagging and to keep smaller items from being lost. Always use the gentle cycle and never use hot water. The water temperature should be cool for dark colored garments or warm for light-colored items. It is best to have two sets of compression garments so that the fibers have time to relax and regain their shape before the next wearing. They will last longer.
If hand washing the compression pieces, again use cool water when washing and rinsing. Do not over agitate or stretch the pieces and never wring. Squeeze out excess water and roll the garment in a dry towel to remove as much water as possible.
Harsh detergent can destroy the thin fibers of compression garments. Mild soaps or detergents should be used, free of bleach, chlorine, fabric softeners or other laundry additives. Never use chlorine bleach on spandex as the fibers will be destroyed.
Compression pieces and clothes should always be air-dried. Excessive heat exposure may weaken or even damage the elastic fibers of the garments. Whether garments are hung or laid flat to dry, exposure to direct sunlight or direct heat sources like a radiator should be avoided and the garment should be turned inside out. It is recommended to place a towel on a drying rack and lay the garment on top to dry. Hanging the garment directly on a rack or pole to drip dry can allow the weight of the water to stretch the item causing it to fit improperly.
The elastic fibers of a compression garment will break down with wear. While proper care will increase the lifespan of garments, they will need to replaced about every six months if used daily. If the garment no longer returns to its original shape after washing, has runs or holes in the material, no longer feels tight or compressive or if the garment becomes easy to put on, it should be replaced.
What to Avoid
Even though spandex or Lycra or elastane are quite durable fibers, chlorine and sweat can speed their deterioration. Creams, lotions, and oils can also weaken the fibers and should not be used when wearing compression garments. Apply these only when there is time for them to dry completely before putting on the compression pieces.
Clarke, Mike J et al. Compression Stockings for Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis in Airline Passengers. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9,9,CD004002, 2016, doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004002.pub3
Xiong, Ying, Xiaoming, Tao. Compression Garments for Medical Therapy and Sports. Polymers, 10,6 663, 2018, doi:10.3390/polym10060663
Lovell, Dale I., Mason, Dale G., Delphinus, Elias M., McLellan, Christopher P. Do Compression Garments Enhance the Active Recovery Process After High-Intensity Running? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25,12,3264-3268, doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31821764f8