Compression Sleeve

What is a Compression Sleeve?

A compression sleeve is a fabric tube worn over the arm or lower leg. A compression sleeve is used to compress the muscles in the arm or leg. Compression sleeves are used to enhance athletic performance and recovery and also for medical purposes. This article will focus on the athletic uses of the compression sleeve.

Compression clothing is now available in calf sleeves, arm sleeves, leg sleeves, shirts, and even full body suits.

What Athletes Use the Compression Sleeve?

Compression sleeves are popular primarily among runners and triathletes but they are catching on in many other sports such as cycling and even baseball and football. Both professional and amateur athletes are using compression clothing both during and after events for performance and recovery improvements.

Is a Compression Sleeve Helpful?

The jury is still out on whether or not a compression sleeve is beneficial. While many athletes swear by them, others say that they don’t have any impact. Unfortunately the testimonials of individual athletes doesn’t prove anything. Once an athlete buys a piece of equipment (or is given it, in the case of a sponsored athlete) they are no longer an unbiased source and will tend to believe that the product is working. It is difficult for sports scientists to determine definitively if compression is helping, having no effect, or maybe even having a negative effect because of the complexity of testing and the many variations among the athletes themselves, the various sports, the body part experiencing compression, and the product being used to achieve it.

Since compression sleeves are purported to help improve both performance and recovery it is important to look at these areas separately.


According to Joe Friel, a sports scientist and expert in triathlon training, it is still unclear whether compression clothing improves performance. In February 2011 Friel reviewed the scientific literature on compression clothing and performance and found ten relevant articles. Of these ten articles, four found positive outcomes for compression clothing and six found no benefit. Of course, these studies were across a number of sports and types of clothing and so may or may not apply to you.

One interesting consideration that is unique to triathlon that Friel points out is that compression garments may or may not help the triathlete but they alway have a cost since they take extra time to put on in transition. If the compression clothing doesn’t improve performance beyond the extra time they take to put on they are not helping overall time even if they do improve the athlete’s performance.


Friel also found scientific studies that addressed whether or not compression clothing improves recovery after athletic events. Again, the research doesn’t answer definitively whether these products are helpful but Friel believes the science suggests that they may speed recovery. Friel found 12 studies that investigated recovery and compression clothing. Eight of these studies showed benefits for compression clothing and four did not. Again, these studies were across many different sports and types of clothing and may or may not apply to you.

Compression Sleeve in Basketball

What Compression Clothing is Available?

Both leg and arm compression sleeves are available. The most popular brands of compression sleeves are 2XU, CEP, McDavid, Red Lion, and Zensah. According to Zensah, their compression leg sleeves are the best selling worldwide.

Many of the sleeves have additional features that benefit the wearer such as:

  • anti-microbial treatments to resist odors
  • moisture wicking fabric to keep the wearer dry
  • breathable and temperature regulating material to keep the wearer warm in cold weather or cool in warm weather
  • seamless construction to avoid the discomfort caused by seams
  • graduated compression for more compression at the end of the extremity and less compression nearer the core.

Triathlon Compression Leg Sleeve

Compression leg sleeve or compression sock?

The difference between a compression leg sleeve and a compression sock is the the compression sock covers both the foot and the calf while the compression leg sleeve covers only the calf. Some users prefer not to have compression applied to their foot and so choose the sleeve design. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that one design is better than the other so it is up to the user to choose which is more comfortable.