From rigorous sports activities to long-haul journeys, you may have seen people wearing some form of compression clothing. Many believe that these firm-fitting garments give them various health and medical benefits — but how do they work?
In this guide, we'll be answering questions about compression gear for the beginner: what is compression clothing? How does it work? What are the benefits that have helped people improve their health?
What is Compression Clothing?
Compression gear may look like most other workout or exercise clothing. However, compared to the typical sports gear, they're designed to be stretchy and tight-fitting to support and restrict certain muscle and tissue in your body.
There are different types of compression garments that serve the same function but focus on targeted areas of the body, including shirts, shorts, bras, tights, sleeves and socks.
People who typically wear compression clothing include athletes, fitness enthusiasts, frequent air travellers, pregnant people, the elderly, hospital patients, and workers who stand or sit for long periods of time. However, you don't necessarily need to fit into any of these categories to wear compression products. If you regularly experience tired, aching legs and feet, swelling or poor blood flow, you can ease your painful symptoms with the help of the right compression garment.
Explaining the Science Behind Compression Wear
The constrictive feature of compression wear may not seem the most comfortable, especially for people sweating it out at the gym or patients managing an illness. However, it's this unique characteristic that provides the health benefits with increased pressure in the tissue under the skin.
So, what does compression clothing do, exactly? The science behind its function is simple: compression puts pressure on the veins and tissue, forcing blood to stream through a smaller canal, which, in turn, helps blood recirculate and flow back to the heart.
What Does Compression Clothing Do — How it Benefits the Body
Because compression clothing improves blood circulation, it brings a wide array of benefits. These health advantages are sought after by various groups of people — from athletes, workout warriors, and outdoor enthusiasts, to frequent flyers, patients experiencing illness, elderly or pregnant people, and those having to stand or sit for long periods. Some of the specific compression wear health benefits include:
- Comfort and relief from swelling, pain and certain medical issues;
- Increased flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s extremities, i.e. the toes and fingers;
- Elimination of, or at least, reduced feelings of numbness associated with poor circulation;
- Improved energy levels; and
- Decreased swelling, soreness, and fatigue.
Such benefits help people in different ways for their specific needs, like:
- Sports enthusiasts may experience enhanced athletic performance, reduced cramping and soreness, decreased lactic acid build-up, and better recovery from wearing compression gear during and after exercise;
- People travelling at a high altitude — both plane passengers and crew — may reduce the swelling in the legs and feet by wearing compression stockings;
- Pregnant individuals may decrease swelling in feet and ankles and ease leg cramps by using compression clothing, making them feel lighter and more comfortable; and
- People with sedentary roles like office workers, long-haul travellers, drivers, teachers, aircrew and elderly folk decrease their risk of DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) development and other related disorders such as varicose veins and spider veins by using compression wear.
Pregnant people are also at risk for varicose veins and spider veins. These conditions often occur during pregnancy due to the uterus growing along with the foetus, which puts extra pressure on the circulation system.
What is DVT?
Deep vein thrombosis or DVT occurs when the blood forms clots in a deep vein. These clots develop in the pelvis, thigh, and lower leg, and sometimes in the arms. While preventable, if left untreated, DVT can cause complications leading to severe illness, disability, and even death.
Anyone can get DVT, but someone who has more than one of the following factors has an even higher risk of developing it:
- Injury to the vein - can be caused by fractures, surgery, or muscle injury.
- Slow blood circulation - can be caused by bed confinement, limited movement, long periods of sitting down, especially with crossed legs, or paralysis.
- Increased estrogen - can be caused by birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy.
- Pregnancy – increased risk can be present up to three months after giving birth.
- Chronic illness - including diseases of the heart and lungs, cancer and its treatment, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Previous development of DVT or Pulmonary Embolism, which is an alarming complication of DVT that occurs when a part of the blood clot breaks off, flows to the lungs and causes a blockage.
- History of DVT, PE or other clotting disorders in your family
- Age - chances of DVT increases with age
Medical-grade graduated compression socks may be recommended by healthcare providers to those at risk of DVT and blood clots.
How Compression Wear Helps with Diabetes & Other Illnesses
Compression socks may not always be appropriate for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and sensitive feet, but people struggling with diabetes often have blood circulation problems that can cause peripheral oedema in the lower legs.
Fortunately, there are medical socks that can suit their health needs. For example, TXG's diabetic socks are designed to stimulate blood flow in the lower body. With the removal of the raised seams that are typically found in standard socks, there can also be a significant decrease in foot irritation.
Special medical socks with graduated compression can also alleviate discomfort in the legs of patients recovering from illness, injury or those who have sensitive skin. However, obtaining medical advice from your doctor is highly recommended before wearing any form of compression apparel.
Graduated Compression VS Regular Compression
There are many types of compression levels, each with their own advantages, to suit specific needs. You may have heard of graduated compression before, but here’s why it's essential to choose compression products labelled as graduated.
Understanding Compression Levels
To explain the distinction between the two, you have to understand how compression is measured first. Compression gear comes with a pressure label or range in mmHg, which stands for millimetres of mercury. You may be familiar with it as it's the same scale used when taking blood pressure.
Uniform or regular compression maintains the same mmHg throughout the length of the garment, while graduated compression provides gradient or a range of pressure.
Why Choose Graduated Compression?
Graduated compression socks are tighter around the ankles and feet and looser around the upper leg or knee. But why is this gradient pressure better than regular compression?
Because graduated compression isn’t as tight in the upper areas of the garment, they assist the veins as they pump blood back up toward the heart. This means they help prevent blood and fluids from pooling in the lower legs and ankles, decreasing the risk of developing chronic venous insufficiency, DVT, and oedema.
Choosing the right compression level depends on your needs. The higher the compression level, the tighter the garment. AT TXG, we offer three types of compression levels for our socks and sleeves:
Helps with reducing leg fatigue and aches, preventing swelling, and protecting the lower legs; ideal for beginners;
Recommended for people sitting or standing for long periods, who are pregnant, or have non-swollen varicose veins; helps prevent swelling, alleviate the early onset of lower-limb conditions, encourage good circulation, and prevent blood clots and DVT; and
Ideal for people with swollen varicose veins or those who are recovering from varicose vein surgery; helps with controlling oedema, varicosities and superficial thrombophlebitis and preventing DVT, blood clots, and the recurrence of venous ulcerations.
It's always best to seek the advice of your doctor before wearing firmer compression garments, because higher levels of compression are typically prescribed as part of a treatment plan for illness or injury. There are certified fitters such as doctors or physical therapists that will take your measurements and keep medical conditions in mind to ensure you get the correct size and level of compression.
Summarising What Compression Wear Does
So, in summary, what does compression clothing do? It increases blood flow and encourages circulation wellness, which benefits the human body in a myriad of ways, including the prevention of DVT. Graduated compression garments, in particular, are what you'll want for enhanced benefits.
While all forms of compression wear typically serve the same function, it's still vital to choose the right kind of garment, pressure level, and fit according to your needs and lifestyle to experience targeted benefits to the fullest. It's also wise to consider the material and manufacturing process used for the garment to ensure quality comfort and relief — even better if the compression garments are medical-grade.
Here at TXG Compression Wear, we provide medical-grade graduated compression socks and sleeves for men and women. Not only are they designed to support the arms, feet, ankles, calves and legs, they also cushion the soles, wick away moisture and offer comfortable breathability for heat and odour management.
For questions or advice about compression clothing or our products, you can contact our team.