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Does compression clothing work?

Paul Kochoa, PT, DPT, OCS, CGFI


Occasionally, I’ll talk about compression socks with my patients.  But these patients generally have poor circulation or swelling in their lower extremities and I suggest a way to augment their venous return with some type of compression stocking, also known as a T.E.D stocking.  They are common in hospital settings for patients who have undergone some leg surgery or are extremely sedentary, to prevent embolisms.  But for the athlete, compression socks are advertised to increase workout recovery and increase your performance.  Do they work?

The New York Times posted an article about compression clothing.  They reference a study on the effectiveness of compression garments, specifically socks, on endurance athletes’ performance.  Based on the results, they found that compression socks are unlikely to improve endurance running performance.  The socks didn’t do anything.

But another study showed that compression garments, like compression shorts or shirts, had an effect on other sports that involved explosive power movements or jumping.  However, just how these garments affected these athletes’ performance is unknown.  Well, you can’t discount the psychological effect.

If something feels good, you’ll probably feel like it will help you perform.  The New York Times article also pointed out that there was no study that showed any negative effects of wearing compression garments, so it wouldn’t hurt to try it on.

When my patients ask me if they should try some compression socks, I weigh the pros and cons.  Does this patient have swelling or edema?  Do they have poor circulation?  Do they want to improve their marathon PR?

Knowing exactly how something works and why you’re going to wear it will help you decide if you should.  I’ve seen some really good results in patients who have had ankle sprains or knee surgery and have swelling in their feet and calves.  Compression socks really work on edema control and preventing blood clots.  But they don’t really work so well on improving your marathon PR.

If you would like more information, please call Professional Physical Therapy and Training at 973-270-7417.  Our offices are located within the YMCA locations in Madison and Summit, NJ.  You do not need to be a member of the YMCA to visit with us.




Image courtesy of Vlado /