Why Do Athletes Wear Compression Sleeves?

Whether you have seen compression sleeves on folks at the gym, or while watching the pros on TV, it’s nearly guaranteed that you’ve noticed them. They’re hard to miss, especially when they’ve become commonplace among professional and amateur athletes alike. NBA and NFL stars like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Patrick Mahomes all famously wear compression arm sleeves or tights. On the track, we've seen longtime US Track & Field star Allyson Felix race with one compression arm sleeve, and she even wore compression calf sleeves on both legs during the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

All of this leads to a few reasonable questions – namely, why do athletes wear compression sleeves? Followed closely by the hotly debated mystery – why do athletes wear sleeves on ONE arm? (Is it for luck? Tattoo coverage? So many possibilities!) And finally, why do runners wear arm sleeves? (Aren’t the legs doing the bulk of the work?)

Here, we cover all of these questions and more. Read on to learn all about compression sleeves for athletes.

4 Reasons Why Athletes Wear Compression Sleeves

While the average person may wear compression sleeves to treat medical problems or assist with injury, athletes will regularly wear them to reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, improve circulation and recovery, and prevent injury. This is all with the net intended result of stronger performance. Let’s dive into the four main ways compression sleeves help athletes of all levels.

1. Athletic Performance

A compression sleeve’s primary function is to improve blood flow and circulation, encouraging blood flow back to the heart. This benefits nearly any athlete in any sport because improved blood flow means improved oxygen delivery.

Oxygen delivery is essential to athletic performance because it’s what fuels muscles during exercise. When your heart pumps blood through your lungs, your blood picks up oxygen. Oxygenated blood then circulates to your muscles, giving them the energy the need to complete the task at hand. After completing the oxygen delivery, your deoxygenated blood returns to your heart to begin the cycle again.

2. Workout Recovery

Compression wear also helps speed recovery from strenuous efforts by promoting lactic acid waste removal from your muscles as quickly as possible. The same circulation boost that benefits an athlete during physical activity also helps the muscles remove waste, making compression wear beneficial after rigorous activity as well.

For example, during a grueling workout, lactic acid removal will help prevent cramps and slow fatigue, and afterward, you can continue wearing your compression sleeves. The compression encourages blood flow, removing the lactic acid accumulated in your muscles during the workout, reducing the time it takes to recover.

3. Muscle & Joint Support

Athletes often use compression sleeves to support a joint or muscle in the same way as a brace or athletic wrap. The gentle pressure offered by compression sleeves can reduce pain from injury or activity. Reducing stress on the joint or muscle provides better conditions for healing. Compression sleeves can also help reduce unnatural movements and overextension; this is one of the most common reasons NBA and NFL players wear compression sleeves during games.

Muscle vibration is another source of stress on an athlete’s body. For example, runners endure continuous jarring and vibration in their muscles. Compression sleeves not only improve joint stability, but also reduce muscle vibration and microtrauma during workouts and competition.

4. Injury Prevention & Support

Compression sleeves of various types offer support for the following common ailments that athletes of all levels face.

● Sprains
Sprains are the result of the excessive stretching, or even tearing, of a ligament. If you’ve sprained your ankle or wrist, an ankle compression sleeve or wrist compression sleeve can help manage your pain and support your ankle or wrist during activity. The compression supports the delicate joints and optimizes circulation to reduce swelling.
● Plantar Fasciitis
A thick strip of tissues and ligaments called fascia runs between the heel bone and the toes. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the fascia in this area becomes irritated and inflamed. The result is intense burning or stabbing pain in the heel and bottom of the foot, especially when walking. A compression foot sleeve can help with plantar fasciitis by helping manage the pain and increasing circulation to reduce inflammation and promote healing in the fascia.
● Runner’s Knee
If you have “runner’s knee” (a dull pain around the front of the knee), tendonitis in your knee, or other knee instability conditions, a compression knee sleeve will reduce swelling and inflammation. The pressure also helps manage pain while minimizing vibrations and boosting circulation to promote healing.
● Elbow Tendonitis
Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow both refer to elbow tendonitis, when the connective tissue that fastens the muscles in the forearm to the elbow becomes inflamed. While tennis elbow affects the outer elbow and golfer's elbow affects the inner elbow, both conditions can benefit from a compression arm sleeve. Wearing a compression elbow sleeve stabilizes the muscles and tendons against the stress of vibrations during activity, preventing microtrauma and increasing circulation.

Any athlete can benefit from compression sleeves regardless of your sport or ability level. Nufabrx is dedicated to providing long-lasting pain relief when athletes need it most. Shop our patented line of Pain Relieving Compression Sleeves here, and read on for answers to athletes’ most common questions about compression sleeves.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do runners wear arm sleeves?

Sure, it makes sense that runners would wear leg compression sleeves, but why do runners wear arm sleeves?

1. Reduce Swelling
Some runners use arm sleeves with compression to help reduce swelling, especially swelling that can come with longer runs. While a runner’s lower body experiences the greatest impact while running, the entire body is subjected to muscle vibrations – including the arms – sparking an inflammatory response. Wearing compression arm sleeves can help prevent the swelling that follows.

2. Promote Recovery
Even if a runner doesn’t wear compression arm sleeves during a run, they can pull on a pair of arm sleeves to aid in recovery. Just like calf sleeves help with the legs, compression arm sleeves can increase blood flow in the arms and help remove the lactic acid build-up from the run, reducing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery time.

3. Flexible Warmth
It may sound obvious, but compression arm sleeves can help keep your arms warm when it is cold. When a long sleeve shirt or jacket feels like too much extra weight or bulk, arm sleeves provide a comfortable, lightweight solution. And, if you warm up enough that you no longer need arm coverage, removing arm sleeves is much less cumbersome than removing and tying a whole extra layer around your waist.

Why do athletes wear sleeves on one arm?

An athlete might wear a compression sleeve on just one arm for a few reasons. The most obvious being only one arm or elbow needs extra support. This may be because the athlete is tending to an existing injury in one arm. Additionally, it may be because one arm or elbow faces greater exposure to injury (i.e., the throwing or shooting arm), and in that case, the compression sleeve is there for preventative reasons. An arm sleeve can also serve as protection by providing an extra layer between your skin and other surfaces, preventing ailments like turf burn. Plus, an arm sleeve is a great way for pro athletes to cover up prohibited tattoos.

Do compression sleeves help shin splints?

Shin splints are a painful condition that most runners and many other athletes have experienced. The pain that runs down the front of the shin occurs when the tissues, tendons, and muscles in that area become inflamed. Shin splints can occur in one or both legs and usually show up when you increase your workout intensity or up your weekly mileage too quickly. The pain greatly impacts a person’s tolerance for physical activity – but studies have shown that compression calf sleeves can help reduce the discomfort caused by shin splints. The support and pressure increase blood flow (and therefore oxygen flow) to shin-splints-prone areas while offering soothing pain relief.


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