How Do Compression Sleeves Work?

Have you seen someone wearing an arm sleeve or a set of leg sleeves – maybe both – and wondered what the deal was? Maybe someone had just one arm warmer that day? Or maybe you witnessed the great return of 1980s leg warmers? If you want the answer to this mystery, you’re in the right place. Those sleeves were probably compression sleeves. Compression sleeves provide relief for many issues, from chronic discomfort to acute pain.

What Are Compression Sleeves For?

Before diving into how compression sleeves work, let’s clarify what compression sleeves are, and what they are forCompression sleeves use a nylon, spandex fabric blend that gently squeezes the muscles. (This should be a snug sensation, but not painfully tight.) The material of the sleeve, your activity level, and even your body shape can affect the degree of pressure you feel while wearing the sleeve.

Depending on the type of compression wear (arm sleeve, knee sleeve, ankle sleeve, etc.), compression sleeves offer various benefits, including: 

  • reduced swelling
  • improved circulation
  • improved lymphatic drainage
  • pain relief from varicose veins
  • pain management for acute or chronic injuries
  • muscle and joint support

Examples of people who may benefit from compression sleeves include:

  • athletes
  • pregnant women
  • people with
    • injuries (acute or chronic)
    • diabetes
    • varicose veins
    • fibromyalgia
    • lymphedema
  • people who stand all day (like nurses or teachers)
  • people who travel a lot (particularly on airplanes)

How Do Compression Sleeves Work?

Compression sleeves work in a variety of ways to meet different needs. Let’s take a look at how compression sleeves work.

How does compression help swelling?

Compression sleeves help alleviate the two leading causes of swelling, inflammation and fluid buildup by applying pressure to the affected area and supporting circulation. The pressure can prevent fluid from leaking out of small blood vessels in your legs and help prevent swelling when work or travel requires you to sit or stand still for long periods. For example, wearing compression socks on a long flight can help fight swelling and fluid retention caused by blood pooling in the veins of the legs. Blood pooling is common in anyone sitting for a long time without standing and walking around, like on an airplane.[1] 

In addition to preventing swelling, compression can also help minimize existing swelling. When there is extra fluid in your legs, the compression reduces swelling and allows your body to absorb the extra fluid.

Simply put, compression helps control swelling by helping improve circulation… which brings us to our next question: How do compression sleeves improve circulation?

How do compression sleeves work to improve circulation?

Compression sleeves are typically designed with graduated compression, meaning there is firmer pressure at your extremities which encourages blood flow back to the heart. While the compression works to boost circulation and prevent blood from pooling, the improved blood flow simultaneously promotes healing and works to reduce swelling and fluid buildup. 

By promoting circulation, compression wear also helps promote the flow of oxygen throughout the body. The graduated pressure gives your veins a boost as they return deoxygenated blood to the heart and lungs. Meanwhile, the arteries that bring oxygen-rich blood to your muscles can relax (so blood flows freely). You can wear compression sleeves to encourage blood flow during physical activity and wear them after to help remove waste and re-oxygenate the muscles.

How do compression sleeves work to improve lymphatic drainage?

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system. It includes vessels and nodes that circulate lymphatic fluid (or “lymph”), collecting excess fluid from cells and tissues and returning it to the bloodstream to recirculate throughout the body. Lymph buildup (called lymphedema) can result from a blockage in the lymphatic system and most commonly occurs in the arms and legs. Unlike the circulatory system (which includes the heart), the lymphatic system does not have a pump. Therefore, lymphatic drainage through compression is a manual way to reduce swelling and decrease inflammation by increasing lymph movement.

The Mayo Clinic recommends compression along with natural remedies like exercise and massage to encourage lymph circulation and reduce swelling.[2] Compression, exercise, and massage work like a manual pump to promote lymph fluid movement away from your extremities and toward your torso for removal.

The external pressure from compression sleeves pushes lymphatic fluid through the system and away from the lower legs or arms, reducing swelling and inflammation. For lymphatic drainage, it is recommended that you wear compression sleeves during the day and take them off at night. You can then put them back on upon waking and should also wear them during any form of exercise. (Be sure to consult a doctor if you experience swelling without relief from exercise or elevation.)

How do compression sleeves work to manage pain?

Compression sleeves can help manage pain associated with all sorts of conditions, from varicose veins to runner’s knee. The symptoms of various venous diseases can cause the legs to feel tired and achy. Compression sleeves help prevent spider and varicose veins that often cause fatigue and sudden bursts of pain by encouraging healthy circulation.

Studies have shown compression sleeves can be a solution for managing knee pain, whether your pain is from athletics or arthritis. An analysis of patients with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis (KOA) reported, “knee[s] sleeve proved to be effective to immediately improve the functional capacity and pain of individuals with KOA.”[3] But, the advantages of compression don’t stop there.

How does compression support muscles and joints?

One of the main benefits of compression sleeves is the support they provide to an injured joint or muscle. Studies show that compression sleeves support the accessibility and tolerance of everyday activities during injury recovery. In addition, a compression sleeve can provide support for activities and increase blood circulation to the problem area, promoting healing and reducing swelling.

A recent study concluded that compression positively affects functional joint stability, and likely reduces muscle vibration and microtrauma during physical activity.[4] While compression may not cure an injury, or correct an underlying issue, it can offer significant pain management while healing.

Nufabrx Compression + Medicine

Nufabrx HealthWear™ compression sleeves combine the benefits of compression with the pain relief of contact-activated medicine.

How do compression sleeves work with medicine?

Maximizing the benefits of technology, Nufabrx infuses active ingredients into our intelligently engineered HealthWear™ garments. Embedded medicine and compression then work together to relieve arthritis symptoms, soreness, and muscle pain – the result: a positive impact on your daily wellness.

The infused fibers of Nufabrx pain relieving compression sleeves are activated by your body’s temperature and moisture, allowing the active ingredients to be safely and effectively absorbed by the affected area. The infused sleeve provides more consistent, extended relief than typical creams and patches, and our advanced engineering protects the infused fibers (which provides long term potency and more wear for you).

Shop our complete collection of pain relieving compression sleeves today and find the solution you need.




[3] Bryk, Flavio Fernandes et al. “Immediate effect of the elastic knee sleeve use on individuals with osteoarthritis.” Revista brasileira de reumatologia vol. 51,5 (2011): 440-6.

[4] Weakley, Jonathon et al. “Putting the Squeeze on Compression Garments: Current Evidence and Recommendations for Future Research: A Systematic Scoping Review.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 52,5 (2022): 1141-1160. doi:10.1007/s40279-021-01604-9

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.