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Friday, December 19, 2014

Does compression clothing really work? (updated)

Compression Calf Sleeve by McDavid

"What is your view on compression clothing (ie- skins), is there any scientific proof that they actually improve recovery and performance or is it just a great way to get people to spend waaaaay too much money on a pair of tights??"
Unfortunately, it is the case with many good ideas, that the commercial imperative to make more and more profits, while things are "hot", ends up taking precedence over everything else, including actual proven benefits and even common-sense.  I think this is the case with compression clothing - a good idea that has some limited benefits and applications, which has been promoted way beyond any real benefits.

The limitations of compression clothing 

When a muscle relaxes, it engorges with oxygen and nutrient-rich arterial blood which  nourishes the muscles.  When the muscle contracts, the now deoxygenated blood is forced via the veins back towards the heart.

Compression Pant by McDavidAt rest, all blood flow is driven by contractions of the heart.  As the muscles begin to contract, their action takes on more and more of the job of pumping blood back to the heart.  When exercising at maximum aerobic capacity, as much as half of all your circulation through the exercising muscles is being driven by the muscle pump effect.  When there is perfect balance between the heart and the muscles, this is when the athlete is in the "zone".

If a person is suffering from adrenal exhaustion (About 80% of the general population have a degree of adrenal fatigue), then one of the unwanted symptoms is pooling of blood in the limbs due to blood vessel flaccidity. This appears as distended veins in the feet, calves, hands and arms when standing still, as well as sometimes feeling light-headed when standing up and even suffering heart palpitations.  Varicose veins may be the consequence of excessive ongoing pooling.

It is possible that a person with flaccid blood vessels may experience some benefits from wearing compression clothing because the compression clothing may counter the tendency of the blood vessels to distend.  This clothing may be beneficial for an exhausted athlete during long haul travel, reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis.  I recommend compression clothing, if a person has varicose veins.

Compression stockings may give temporary relief to conditions like shin splints by dampening the shock wave of foot impact as it travels up the leg.

However; compression clothing may be seen as being a short term measure for conditions like these by treating the symptoms and not the causes (Adrenal Fatigue, nutrient deficiencies, over-training, faulty biomechanics and so on).

If a healthy athlete with toned blood vessels was to wear compression clothing would there be a performance benefit during exercise?  

I think not and there may even be a negative effect.  This is because the veins and muscles of the exercising person must be allowed to quickly and effortlessly fill with blood while momentarily relaxed, so the blood can then be expelled towards the heart during the next muscle contraction.  If there is even slight external pressure, such as from compression tights, then the volume of blood within the muscle body and veins may be less than if there was no external compression at all.  This may cause an overall reduction of blood flow and the heart may have to work harder to force blood into the muscles.

Let's think about this in Darwinian terms:  If tight skin conferred a survival benefit, such as more speed and endurance to catch prey or escape predation, then that creature would thrive.  Can you think of any animals with tight skin?  I can't.  It would appear the case is the opposite.  Skin that does not compress allows free movement of limbs and unimpeded circulation.

While there may appear to be a majority of research in favour of compression tights  this does not necessarily mean all that much because of the widespread practice of what's called "cherry-picking", which is the widespread practice of discarding research that does not support one's position while selecting those that are positive. Another dodgy practice is to simply over-interpreting the findings and extending the claims of benefit beyond the small group of subjects that might have received some benefit in the study.

Such is the pervasive influence of commercial funding of academia nowadays that we must be sceptical of what comes out as research; especially of research that appears to go against common-sense.  At least 70% of all scientific research never sees the light of day.  It is referred to as "filing cabinet studies".  Of the 30% that gets published, less than 10% gets into mainstream media, including sporting and fitness publications and websites - and these are the best of the few studies that are mostly favourable, given that sponsors of the research may be, or have links with, the makers of products and services that will benefit from favourable research findings.   Research beneficiaries may be heavy advertisers with sporting publications and sporting events, including making direct payments to athletes and prime influencers.  Directly and indirectly, commercial interests an unpleasant influence on editorial decisions about content.

The moment there is the exchange of money or goods, there is a conflict of interest and the loss of credibility of any claimed benefits by the recipients.

I have learned the hard way that, articles containing advice that conflicts with the products of advertisers will usually be rejected.  For example, advice to drink tap water during training in preference to sugary and acidic sports drinks, does not sit comfortably within a sports magazine that has full page advertising for a sports drink. It is even worse if I was to suggest how to make your own electrolyte drink for just a few cents.  Nor is it advisable to recommend that children run about the fields barefoot when the main advertiser is the magasine is a sports shoe company.  When was the last time you read an article in a sports magasine about the harm to health, including teeth and gums, caused by energy drinks?  There are lots of articles about the performance benefits.

In conclusion about compression clothing:  

If it is a cold day, wear warm tights or trousers.  If you are doing a long haul flight, or road trip,  then compression tights might reduce risk of blood clots.  If you have varicose veins that hurt or swell excessively during exercise - yes - experiment with compression clothing.

If you appear to have flaccid veins and suffer from lightheadedness, you would be wise to invest some of your your money on an adrenal fatigue recovery programme, while undertaking a review of your exercise, nutrition and lifestyle practices.

As consumers we must be forever on our guard, lest we be suckered into parting with our precious money for things we don't really need.

If your spending choices are driven by fashion - go for it!

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The advice in these articles is given freely without promise or obligation.  Its all about giving you and your family the tools and information to take control of your health and fitness.  Please give me your support by subscribing to my free email updates. Please shop at my Online Store. Please encourage your family and friends to do the same. While we may not always be able to compete with the big operators on price, we aim to more than compensate through personal service!

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