Compression sleeves have become a staple in the wardrobe of any triathlete. Made from a mix of nylon and spandex, they were first used to treat varicose veins. But as compression sleeves are designed to increase blood flow and reduce swelling, they have become a key weapon for athletes looking either for an advantage or to protect themselves.
Many of us understand that compression sleeves can provide an advantage, both during and after exercise. But we don’t understand exactly how to get the most out of them. If they help the recovery of the muscles, how long do you need to wear them after exercise?
So, how long can you wear compression sleeves for? One could wear compression sleeves every day for the rest of their life, however, there wouldn’t be many benefits. It’s more important to learn and understand when you need to wear compression sleeves to get the maximum benefit.
How Long Should You Wear a Compression Sleeve Each Day?
If you have a long-term circulation problem, you may need to wear them for several years, or even for the rest of your life. However, if you’re wearing them for recovery, it’s best to keep them on for at least six hours. (Source A, Source B)
If you’re looking to protect an injury on a body part that you use a lot, such as your calf, it is best to keep it on for as long as you feel discomfort or instability. As well as providing actual support, compression sleeves can help improve your confidence in your joint.
Many studies have shown that compression socks can help reduce Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the burning sensation we all feel in a muscle during a workout, by helping to get rid of waste products in your muscles. (Source)
Compression takes a while to help with recovery, so keeping compression sleeves on for several hours is necessary.
For very intense sessions or long-distance races, you can be left sore for up to five days, so consider wearing the sleeves for as long as you feel sore.
Check out the 2XU Compression Calf Guards we use and highly recommend (Amazon Link)
For more on training recovery, check out our post How Often Should You Take a Break from Running? Recovery Days Guide!
As well as there being no benefit to wearing sleeves when sleeping, there’s no benefit to wearing them lying down, for the same gravitational reasons. So if you’re planning to spend all day laid out on the sofa after a hard day, you can take them off. And if you’re stationary, it’s best to take them off after a couple of hours. (Source)
One other way to deal with muscle soreness is an ice / cold bath. For more on this check out our pose How Many Ice Baths a Week You Should Take? Does It Work & What To and Not To Do!
When & How long to Wear Compression Sleeves ?
One can wear compression sleeves as much as one wants. But there are specific times that wearing a sleeve brings benefits and it depends on you. If you’re looking to boost performance, you can wear compression sleeves throughout exercise sessions and races. If you’re looking to improve your recovery, you can wear sleeves for up to 12 hours after – but that length of time should be reserved for the most intense workouts. If you’re looking to protect an injury, it would be best to keep on your compression sleeve for a while after exercising.
Sleeves are designed to increase the pressure on your limbs, which increases the pressure in your veins. This increases blood flow back to the heart, which improves the supply of oxygen-rich blood to and oxygen-depleted blood out of your muscles. This doesn’t just make your muscles stronger when exercising, but can also help speed up recovery.
Sleeves can also help improve stability and reduce the strain your muscles undergo when exercising. Muscle oscillations are the vibrations that carry through your body when your foot comes into contact with the surface you’re running on. Compression sleeves can act as a splint, reducing the vibrations and helping to protect your muscles.
If you’re exercising in cold and windy conditions, compression sleeves can bring the added benefit of keeping you warm without overheating. Unlike overlayers, they don’t constrict movement or leave loose material to get caught.
Also, check out Why Do Runners and Trail Runners Wear Gloves and Arm Sleeves?
Is It Ok to Wear a Compression Sleeve to Bed?
The short answer is yes, but there’s no benefit. There are some athletes who have anecdotal evidence that wearing compression sleeves the day after or before a race brings benefits to their performance, but it’s more likely a placebo effect. (Source)
You might reasonably think that if compression socks help recovery, you should keep them on overnight to help re-oxygenate your muscles whilst you’re sleeping. However, there’s little benefit to wearing them at night.
Compression sleeves work on the premise of graduated compression – that is, they are tightest at your extremities, helping to fight gravity and increase blood flow where it is usually slowest. However, when you’re sleeping, the gravity is reduced significantly as you’re laid down; that means that blood flows a lot easier. Plus, you aren’t exercising, so the demands for oxygen your muscles are demanding is a lot less.
As well as blood flow, if you’re spending a lot of time in compression sleeves, nighttime is a great opportunity to let your limbs breathe. The tight compression can be hard on your skin, with chaffing and rubbing causing irritation or dry skin.
We also highly recommend that you check out out post titled”The Real Difference Between Recovery and Compression Tights!“
Can You Wear a Knee Sleeve All Day?
If you’re wearing a knee sleeve, it’s more likely that you’re wearing it to reduce swelling or protect your knee, rather than to improve your circulation. It’s fine to wear a knee sleeve for as long as you feel discomfort or instability, but you may need to check with a medical professional.
Knee injuries don’t just disappear overnight and can easily affect us or be aggravated when we live our normal lives – particularly if we are doing anything weight-bearing. Knees are particularly suspect when it comes to being aggravated during normal lives because they are a vital joint and one of the most used parts of our body. Knee sleeves don’t just help with sports-related support.
Studies have shown wearing them can result in a significant functional improvement, meaning that those with knee pain can tolerate everyday activities much better too. (Source)
If you’re recovering from a knee injury, if have an existing one you want to prevent getting worse, or if you have a long-term issue that means you need support, then a knee sleeve can be a great way to offer support. The use of a knee support can also improve your confidence in your knee’s ability to support you. That can be especially important to people recovering from long-term knee injuries.
Whilst they don’t offer as much support as a knee brace, knee sleeves do offer much better mobility. That means they are much better for exercise but, if your knee continues to be uncomfortable, you may be more suited to a knee brace for everyday wear. Knee braces provide more support than sleeves, and also reduce movement in order to prevent further damage.
As well as supporting the joint, knee sleeves can also improve your knee because the compression increased blood flow to the area, which speeds up recovery and can help prevent and reduce inflammation quickly. The warmth provided by the covering can also help reduce inflammation.
On a side note, find out Why Do Runners Wear Long Socks? Which Socks Type To Use !