Investigation of the Impact of Compression Garments on Endurance Running Performance
The utilisation of compression garments is very popular among runners, despite the relative lack of consensus in the literature regarding a beneficial impact.
In this study, 41 runners participating in the Old Mutual Two Oceans 56km race were divided into two groups, one consisting of 20 runners who trained for six weeks and participated in the race wearing below knee compression garments, and a second group of 21 runners who trained and raced without compression.
The runners were tested on four occasions for various markers of exercise induced muscle damage and running performance. Six weeks prior to the race, ultrasound scans of the medial gastrocnemius, mid-calf and ankle circumference baseline measurements were performed. Shortly prior to the race, these measurements were repeated, in addition to a “jump” test. Immediately following the race at the finish line, circumference measurements and jump tests were repeated again, in addition to the recording of pain ratings on a visual analogue scale (VAS). Two days following the race, the ultrasound scans, circumference measurements and VAS pain ratings were repeated. Race times were obtained at the 28km mark, 42km, and at the finish using the official race timing system.
It was found that ankle circumferences measurements increased less (less swelling) in the runners wearing compression socks in the time period from immediately after the race until two days after the race. However, in contrast to these findings, pain ratings were worse in the compression group two days after the race, although not different at the finish line. There were no differences between the groups in any of the other measurements. Importantly, there was no difference in race performance, measured as overall time or amount of slow-down over the last 14km.
In conclusion, this study showed that there are few beneficial effects from wearing compression garments, with minor improvements in ankle circumference measurements two days after the race, but no other significant effects related to either muscle damage or race times. Based on the results of the study, there is limited evidence to support the continued utilisation of commercially available below knee compression garments during running.
Old Mutual Two Oceans Study
Supervisor: A/ Professor Andrew Bosch
Student: Grethe Geldenhuys