How Compression Pants Work And Why They Are So Popular

Lots of people wear compression gear when they run or workout at the gym, but are they actually doing anything beneficial for you? We spoke with an expert on body movement, Dr. Reed Ferber, director of the Running Injury Clinic, to find out what these articles of clothing are supposed to do. Following is a transcript of the video.

Dr. Reed Ferber: I think compression clothing is so popular, because it's just driven by media.

Runners are looking for the next best thing always. And this just seems to be the flavor of the month that's been hanging around for a couple years.

My name is Dr. Reed Ferber. I hold a PhD in biomechanics, which is the physics of human movement.

Compression gear is any article of clothing, whether it be shirt, pants. Socks are the most common form of compression clothing. Where it constricts the body. 

It's trying to either clear blood more quickly from areas, or it's trying to prevent injury in the first place, by not allowing the body to move in specific ways.

So we'll talk specifically about compression stockings or compression socks.

So generally, you rely on what's called your musculovenous pump. You rely on muscles contracting, and that's what's going to move the blood up from your lower legs into your heart.

The faster, and the more blood you can get out of your legs and back into the general circulation, that blood's going to get scrubbed. 

It's gonna have all the metabolic byproducts of injury and exercise cleaned out of it.

Your body jiggles.

There's a certain amount of vibration that occurs. Your muscles need to tune to whatever environment you're running on. If you're running on something soft, like the grass, there may not be as much jiggle. 

If you're running on the hard pavement, your muscles have to work a little harder, because that's gonna be a bigger shockwave traveling up your system.

So the more your muscles have to tune, the more prone they are to injury, the more byproducts, like lactic acid, your body's going to produce.

So compression socks act to minimize the jiggle, and thereby decrease those metabolic byproducts of injury.

Compression clothing isn't really going to help with more static exercises like lifting weights. They're more designed for dynamic activity such as running.

There's no real science behind the physiological effects of compression clothing. There's been a few dozen studies. They're very small in size. meaning they're only involving a few dozen participants. And the results are mixed.  

So for every one study that says there are benefits to compression clothing, there's another study that says there's no benefits. And there's another study saying that it might actually be harmful to you.

So it's all across the board whether or not compression clothing is actually beneficial.

So the psychological benefits are there. People feel better wearing compression clothing. But the science doesn't support the fact that there's a physiological effect. 

So if somebody's wearing them in the gym to lift weights, for example, they might just feel that it helps them to perform. To lift that heavy weight or perform whatever goal they have for the day. It may just be that little extra that they need to help recover from their injury or prevent injuries as well. 

Have I used compression socks?

Yes. More for the fact that I wanted to get a feeling for what they were all about. They don't necessarily work for me.

They actually cause a little bit of muscle cramping. 

I've tried various sizes, various styles. But for me personally, anecdotally, I just don't like running in compression gear at all.


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(Source: Tech Insider, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmb_ZYJ9T-s)
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