What are compression sleeves or socks and why do dancers wear them? Do they have health benefits? —Cate
Compression garments provide light pressure to the leg and foot muscles during activity, and have become more popular in recent years. For one thing, says Green, they can help control minor swelling during injury recovery, and are commonly used for calf strains and shin splints. (Remember, compression is one of the components of RICE, the others being rest, ice and elevation.) High-quality sleeves and socks are graded, with tighter compression by the foot and ankle that gets looser as it goes further up the leg. The reason? "It's trying to help the veins return blood back up to the heart," says Green. "You want to train swelling to go in the right direction, and that's up, not down."
In addition, they help give proprioceptive feedback. "Just the tactile compression on your skin can help you be more aware of the area," Green says. One thing to watch out for with sleeves: Because they don't encase the foot, swelling can sometimes cause blood to pool below the ankle. "If you notice that one foot is really swollen, you should wear a compression sock instead."
According to Green, another theory (which has not yet been proven) says that compression garments can improve performance when worn during activity. "Wearing them might help you return deoxygenated blood to your heart more quickly, so that oxygenated blood can reach your extremities faster and improve muscle performance," says Green. "The research, though, is still catching up."
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