Recently, compression technology has gained popularity as means of enhancing recovery. There are several methods of compression available to athletes and all work to assist the body in minimizing the effects of heavy training. Common methods available to athletes are compressive garments and mechanical compressive devices. Both have their benefits. Picking the appropriate method hinges on many factors.
Compression Recovery Theories
The theory behind compression technology is often misunderstood. Without being overly scientific, to be effective, compression must surround the body part at a high enough level to affect fluid movement between tissues and blood vessels, ultimately ending with fluids being moved through tissues and into the lymphatic system for removal. With most compression devices, compression is graded with the distal portion of the device (furthest away from the heart) applying more pressure than the proximal portion of the device (closest to the heart). The lymph system runs in this same direction, and the graded pressure promotes movement of fluids in the appropriate direction.
Clinically, the use of compressive devices has been associated with creating pressures correlated to diastolic blood pressure (approximately 80 mmHg in a normal person). However, arterial capillary pressures are approximately 30mmHg, and any pressures that exceed this theoretically should promote fluid re-absorption and movement of the lymph. Squeezing of the lymph channels and increasing the hydrostatic pressure of the tissues can be accomplished with as little as 40-50 mmHg and will force fluids and edema through blood vessels promoting removal as well. The importance of active movement of the body part, muscular contractions, and elimination of the effects of gravity in conjunction with compression enhances the fluid removal effects even greater (and are explained in a previous blog). Understanding these pressure numbers is important when choosing your method of compression.
Mechanical Compression Devices.
|Normatec MVP Sequential Compression|
Another popular trend has been the application of compression garments before, during, or after competition. Research on the application of these devices is sparse. Considering the pressure numbers needed to achieve the desired results, it is a "buyer beware" market. Before purchasing compression garments, it is wise to find out the pressure numbers provided by the garment. Reputable manufacturers will have these numbers available to the consumer. Make sure to purchase compression garments that will provide the minimum pressures needed to have a desired effect.
Don't Overlook the Obvious
Exercise and movement of body parts promotes fluid movement and exchange. Though compression garments might not provide enough pressure to cause a fluid shift independently, use of compression garments in conjunction with light exercise during recovery may have a positive effect. Certainly, the use of compression garments in conjunction with elevation will provide good results. Elevating the limbs is the most overlooked, yet likely one of the most effective tools available in recovery. So, after your next strenuous workout, don't be afraid to cool down, stretch, shower, and then spend some quality time relaxing and recovering with your feet elevated. Adding one of the devices above will simply enhance what mother nature wants us to do to recover.
Future blogs will report on other methods used to improve chances of training healthy and enhancing recovery.
Until next time, train safe and train smart!