How Does Compression Help an Injury? (2023)

Progression in any sport can get addictive. Before you know it, an injury can come up from overdoing it - for example, something as simple as spraining an ankle can put you out of action for a few weeks. And injuries occur when you’re not training hard, either. Injuries affecting the lower half of the body most often occur when practicing a sport, but this can mean walking or hiking, too.

How can you recover from an injury quicker and relieve pain and swelling effectively? Compression plays a big role in speeding up recovery and can be of great help against swelling and aches and pains after an injury.

How Does Compression Help an Injury? (1)

In this article, we’ll cover why compression helps promote healing after an injury, explaining what benefits you can get from compression socks and other garments. We’ll discuss which injuries benefit the most from compression, what’s the age-old R.I.C.E. method and how it holds up today, and give you the essential tips on how to use compression to promote recovery and quick healing.

Why Is Compression Good for Injuries?

Compression socks and other garments apply gentle pressure to the part of the body you’re wearing them on. Graduated compression clothing exerts more pressure on the extremity that’s the furthest from the heart. This promotes blood flow away from the high-pressure point towards the lower-pressure area, supporting good blood circulation and avoiding blood clots and fluid build-up.

The effect of graduated compression in cases of injury is twofold: on the one hand, a compression wrap or compression garments promote good blood flow, which helps oxygen and nutrients travel to the area and quicken the natural healing process; on the other hand, compression massages and supports the affected area, stimulating blood circulation so that inflammation and pain is reduced.

Of course, the effectiveness of compression depends on the type of injury and on where you are on your accident timeline (immediately afterwards, or during acute or subacute phases as we’ll cover below). Compression therapy works alongside a number of injury recovery tools, not in isolation.

What Does Compression Do for an Injury?

Thanks to its influence on blood circulation, compression helps speed up recovery from certain injuries. It also plays an important role in reducing swelling, general fluid build-up when you’re immobile, and inflammation.

Reduces Swelling and Inflammation

When we sprain an ankle, we notice that the area swells up and can become bruised and tender to the touch. This is because of inflammation, a sign of which is the accumulation of fluid around the joint injury. Sometimes, swelling goes down relatively quickly. For more severe sprains, it can take a couple of weeks.

How Does Compression Help an Injury? (2)

Compression socks, in this case, can reduce the swelling and inflammation thanks to how they support blood around your ankle. Unlike medical bandages or compression wraps that can also be effective at supporting blood circulation, a pair of compression socks is easy to put on and convenient to wear while you recover. Moreover, since compression socks prevent more fluid from building up in the lower legs, they reduce the risk of much bigger swelling and painful side-effects.

Promotes Blood Flow and Healing

The role of graduated compression in injury recovery is to push the blood back from the injured area towards the heart. This ensures that your circulatory system continues to work well, despite the injury. There are no clots or build-ups to stop it, which can promote faster healing, too.

The cardiovascular system delivers nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. It also helps transport waste from cells and tissues. The better this whole system stays in motion, the quicker your body can heal naturally.

Provides Support for the Injured Area

A small additional benefit from compression is that it provides some extra support in the injured area. This is particularly helpful for the legs, because exercise causes micro-vibrations that, over time, add up to increase the damage to the lower limbs. So, when returning to running after an injury, having your calf muscles and your joints (e.g. the ankles) be held more firmly in place can help them ease back into exercise.

Additionally, compression socks that provide ankle support and apply gentle pressure to the lower leg can help with recovery from shin splints. Compression can also reduce the likelihood of this type of injury occurring.

Injuries That May Benefit from Compression

So, after what specific injuries can you benefit from wearing compression garments? The most useful cases include injuries to the lower legs, where the action of graduated compression socks can provide topical relief and promote blood flow for quicker recovery and decreased swelling and pain.

Sprains and Strains

An awkward landing, walking on uneven ground, or a strange sudden movement can all lead to a sprained ankle or to strain to the joint. You could also get a sprain in your calf muscle while running or playing sports. In these cases, the injured tendon or muscle will start to hurt and inflammation can make the area swell up and feel warm and tender to the touch.

Wearing compression socks will give you a bit of gentle support, while massaging the injured area without too much pressure. Through this action, blood flow is directed from the lower legs towards the heart, avoiding more swelling and fluid build-up. The increased blood flow will also help deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and joints, helping the body’s natural healing process.

Overuse Injuries

Overuse injuries occur when you overtrain. This may mean you’re ramping up your running volume a little too quickly, or launch into a very long run without sufficient training beforehand. Shin splints are a common type of overuse injury and can also be caused by running on really hard surfaces, sometimes maybe in inadequate shoes.

How Does Compression Help an Injury? (3)

Through increased blood flow to the lower legs, compression socks can help speed up recovery from shin splints. Additionally, wearing compression socks for running or walking can help relieve some of the discomfort from shin splints and offer some extra support to the area. The support can be beneficial for preventing shin splints (along with wearing appropriate shoes and increasing your running gradually) in the longer term.

Contusions and Bruises

A contusion forms when blood accumulates outside your veins. This usually happens when capillaries or blood vessels are injured, typically from hitting an area of your body. Contusion is the medical term for a bruise, basically.

Bruising means that there’s a small amount of blood accumulated in an injured area. It can also appear when you’ve sprained your ankle, or even when you give blood. These sort of bruises can heal on their own, but compressing with a wrap or bandage can help reduce swelling and stimulate the blood flow to the area, speeding up the healing process.


Runners can often suffer from Achilles tendonitis, which can be frustrating and prevent you from working out. Thanks to the pressure they apply to the calf muscles and below the calf, compression socks can relieve some of the swelling and pain when you’re injured.

Achilles tendonitis cannot be easily prevented by wearing compression garments. However, you will get benefits from enhanced blood flow and the recovery massage that compression socks provide in between workouts. There is also a slight benefit from the support provided by compression clothing to the muscles and tendons.

Post-Surgery Recovery

For those who are bedridden after surgery, wearing compression stockings or socks can help prevent the legs from swelling up and blood clots or varicose veins from developing. Maintaining good peripheral circulation is essential during recovery, so you can feel as nimble and light on your feet as possible when you’re back in action. This is why doctors often prescribe compression as part of the recovery protocol after surgery.

What is the R.I.C.E. Method?

Traditionally, the go-to method to recover from an injury is known as R.I.C.E.:

  • Rest - Stop activity as soon as you feel hurt and rest as much as possible for the first few days;
  • Ice - Apply an ice pack (or some frozen peas) to the affected area to reduce swelling and pain;
  • Compression - Wear compression bandages (such as a medical ACE bandage) to promote blood circulation and prevent swelling. Compression garments are just as effective and easier to wear and remove;
  • Elevation - Raise the sore body part above your head to reduce pain, swelling, and throbbing.
  • While this method is, in theory, a good approach, more recent research suggests that compression and ice are the MVPs in recovery. Moreover, it appears that moving is better than resting and that it’s important to combine ice and compression with some gentle exercise (physiotherapy), rather than do any of these elements in isolation.

    There are some new acronyms that summarize effective post-injury approaches, too. Check out the PEACE and LOVE principles to get some different perspectives!

    When to Use Compression in Injury Treatment

    Medical advice and research studies agree on the effectiveness of compression in relieving symptoms of injury and supporting quicker healing. Here’s when to use compression to be most effective.

    Immediately After the Injury

    Right after you’ve got injured, the PEACE principle applies: protect the area from harm, elevate the injured limb, avoid anti-inflammatories, apply compression, and educate yourself on your condition. Gentle compression wraps or light compression level socks can provide relief from swelling and reduce pain and throbbing.

    During the Acute Phase

    Cold (ice) and compression are routinely advised during the acute phase of an injury to alleviate pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. What’s the acute phase? It includes the time of injury and continues for up to 4 days - this is also called the inflammatory stage.

    How Does Compression Help an Injury? (4)

    There are conflicting views over whether we should allow inflammation to occur, since it is believed now that anti-inflammatory action can affect long-term tissue healing. However, compression can keep blood flowing into the affected area during the acute injury phase, which may reduce the amount of swelling and pain. Better blood flow also means quicker recovery, reducing the length of the next phase.

    During the Subacute Phase

    In the days following the injury, from day 4 onwards, tissues begin to heal and your body focuses on creating new connective tissue and capillaries to help repair any damage. During this period, it’s important to keep blood flow at its best, while also supporting your injured limb and protecting it from re-injury. Wearing compression socks at this point also continues to relieve pain and swelling.

    Choosing the Appropriate Compression Device

    We’ve established that compression helps during injury recovery, but there are a lot of options out there. Choosing the best source of compression therapy ultimately depends on personal preference.

    Compression Socks and Stockings

    The most convenient way to apply compression to the legs is by wearing compression socks or stockings. They are easy to put on and remove on your own, they come in a variety of styles and designs, and you can pick different pressure levels depending on your injury and in consultation with your doctor. Wear socks that go up to your knees for injuries to the lower limbs, or go for stockings that climb up the leg to support an injured or sprained knee.

    Compression Sleeves

    For a more punctual pressure, you can choose compression sleeves, for example for a calf injury or for the arms. Calf compression sleeves are more targeted and won’t support your ankles, but can be beneficial if you need to keep your feet bare.

    Elastic Bandages

    You can find elastic bandages that apply compression after injury in any pharmacy. The key is to know how to apply these to be the most effective, without putting too much pressure on an injured limb, either. You should consult with the pharmacist or with a medical professional.

    Compression Wraps

    Similar to bandages, compression wraps can be found in shops and pharmacies. They’re usually a long piece of stretchy cloth that you can wrap around your ankle, for example. It’s best that these are applied by medical professionals at least at first, so you can see the right technique.

    Pneumatic Compression Devices

    Intermittent pneumatic compression devices were originally marketed for DVT and blood clot prevention. They are now also available for sports recovery, but can be very expensive and cumbersome to wear.

    Tips for Maximizing the Effectiveness of Compression

    To make the most of your compression socks or other accessories, here are a few tips:

    • Always ensure that you’re applying the right level of compression - not too tight, or you may risk cutting off blood circulation; but not too loose, or you won’t’ get any benefit;
    • Ensure you wear the right size compression socks for the same reason;
    • Consult with medical professionals before using compression if you have any doubts or medical conditions;
    • Try compression therapy gradually, without jumping to the most high-performing device or tightests socks right away, especially if this is your first time using this approach;
    • Combine compression with gentle movement and physiotherapy, as well as applying cold compresses or ice locally, in consultation with your doctor.

    Find your new favorite compression socks and start your injury rehab today!


    How Does Compression Help an Injury? ›

    Compression wrapping reduces the swelling and keeps blood moving more efficiently in the injured area. All types of compression wraps have the same goal: push out excess fluid and reduce swelling. Leg wounds are the typical candidates for compression wrapping, since gravity makes it hard to move fluid out of the area.

    Is compression good for injuries? ›

    Compressing the injury helps reduce and prevent swelling. Reducing pain — Swelling also causes more pain to the injury since it puts a lot of pressure on the injured area. Since compressing can reduce swelling, it helps with lessening your pain as well.

    How long do you have to wear compression on an injury? ›

    It is important to use a compression bandage correctly. This includes choosing the right size and wrapping the body part snugly to apply pressure without cutting off circulation. A compression bandage generally should be used for only 24 to 48 hours after an injury.

    What kind of pain does compression help? ›

    Compression therapy helps increase blood circulation in the lower legs, ankles and feet. It is an effective treatment for pain and swelling caused by conditions associated with poor circulation, such as chronic venous insufficiency and varicose veins.

    How does compression help inflammation? ›

    Compression therapy helps the blood vessels in the leg push blood back to the heart while making it more difficult for blood to pool or clot. Additionally, the pressure supports the legs and veins while minimizing swelling. Compression therapy helps to eliminate swelling.

    Should you sleep with compression on an injury? ›

    Do NOT sleep with the bandage on. Elevation helps slow bleeding and swelling. It also prevents fluids from pooling and returns blood from the affected area back to the heart. The body part should be placed above the heart when at rest, sitting, lying down, and sleeping.

    Does compression speed healing? ›

    Compression wraps limit the veins' ability to expand and help blood move more efficiently, which assists the healing process. Further, reducing the inflammation near your wound makes it easier for your damaged skin to receive oxygen, which also speeds healing.

    Is it OK to wear compression all day? ›

    "You can wear compression socks all day, every day. They're intended to be worn for long periods of time—whether you're working a night shift, traveling around the world in an airplane, or sitting at a desk all day. Just be sure to remove your compression socks when you're ready to sleep!

    How many hours a day should you wear compression? ›

    You should wear your compression stockings during the day and take them off before going to bed. Put them on again first thing in the morning. You should be given at least 2 stockings, or 2 pairs if you're wearing them on both legs. This means you can wear 1 stocking (or pair) while the other is being washed and dried.

    Can you wear too much compression? ›

    Overusing compression socks and wearing them incorrectly can break your skin and create conditions where an infection can start. You shouldn't leave the same pair of compression socks on for days at a time, and you should ask a doctor about the length of wear time recommended for treating your symptoms.

    What are the cons of compression therapy? ›

    The most frequently reported non- severe medical compression therapy-associated adverse events included skin irritation, discomfort and pain. Very rare but severe adverse events, including soft tissue and nerve injury, were also identified.

    Does compression help a muscle heal? ›

    Research suggests that compression gear supports exercise recovery. One way it does this is by improving blood flow. Compressing the blood vessels in the body helps them pump blood more efficiently. This aids in muscle recovery by improving blood circulation to the affected area.

    Why does compression feel so good? ›

    When garments or technology compress the muscles, it forces the blood back towards your heart. This makes your muscles feel lighter and also relieves discomfort.

    How long does it take for compression to reduce swelling? ›

    However, it may take several days of regular use to enjoy a noticeable reduction in swelling. For best results, put on your compression garment first thing in the morning. This is when your limbs are the least swollen. Visible improvement in the appearance of your veins can take up to six weeks to see.

    What are the side effects of compression therapy? ›

    What happens after use of intermittent pneumatic compression devices?
    • Swelling in your leg.
    • A warm area on your leg.
    • Pain in your leg or on the skin under your cuff.
    • A sore on the skin under your cuff.

    Is compression good or bad for swelling? ›

    It puts pressure on the area of swelling and encourages movement of lymph fluid around the lymph vessels The pressure needs to be even but firm in the swollen area. Compression may also help to control pain caused by the swelling.

    How often should you do compression? ›

    Consider 15-30 mins every day of recovery time, combined with a proper sleeping schedule and a proper diet, so that you can always be at your best. You may also use compression therapy garments before your workouts as they are safe to use before working out!

    Why do nurses wear compression socks? ›

    Compression socks counteract the effect of lymphatic fluid blood and blood pooling in the lower extremities. The compression socks work in conjunction with foot and leg muscles to push and squeeze lymphatic fluid up the lymphatic system and directs blood up the veins back to the heart and lungs.

    Are flight socks the same as compression socks? ›

    Flight socks are compression socks which are designed to offer moderate pressure to the calves and legs. They help to encourage blood to flow back up your veins and towards your heart. Therefore, your blood is less likely to pool in your legs and feet, thus preventing clots from forming.

    How many hours a day can you wear compression sleeves? ›

    If you are injury free and exercising, you can wear calf sleeves during exercise and up to 12 hours after if necessary.

    How tight should compression wear be? ›

    In general, to benefit from a compression garment, it should fit snugly. It should never cause discomfort. Compression garments should reduce the throbbing pain associated with healing post-surgery and not cause any pain. If there is pain, you should stop wearing the garment immediately.

    Is 20 30 mmHg compression socks too much? ›

    A good rule of thumb to follow is: 15-20 mmHg: Great for daily wear, travel, and sports. They help improve circulation without being too tight. 20-30 mmHg: Great for sports recovery, daily wear, medical recovery, and to manage mild symptoms of varicose and spider veins.

    Can I take my compression garment off for a few hours? ›

    Yes. Wearing a compression garment is the best way to ensure you get your intended results and also prevent critical complications like fluid buildup or inflammation. You'll be able to take off your compression garment for short periods of time like while bathing, but you should wear it according to Dr.

    Can compression make swelling worse? ›

    A compression bandage may help most to prevent swelling in the first few days after your injury. You can wear it longer than that, as long as it doesn't make your pain worse.

    Should compression feel tight? ›

    Most people generally find that compression socks should feel snug but not too tight. You should be able to slip a finger under the fabric at the widest part of your calf without much resistance. If you can't do this, the socks are probably too tight and could cut off your circulation.

    Should compression be tight? ›

    Stockings should feel snug, but not painfully tight. Mild compression, with lower numbers, is usually enough to keep you comfortable on your feet at work. You'll need higher numbers with a firmer fit to prevent DVT.

    Who should not do compression therapy? ›

    If any of the following contraindications are present, compression therapy should be not be carried out: • Uncompensated organ failure (i.e., heart, liver, or renal). Untreated deep vein thrombosis or phlebitis. Severe arterial disease (ABI 0.49 or less) unless ordered by a vascular surgeon or Physician.

    Can compression cause a blood clot? ›

    In rare cases, compression socks that are too tight may cause superficial venous thrombosis. These superficial blood clots occur in veins close to the skin's surface and are less likely to cause complications.

    Does compression help with nerve pain? ›

    Compression socks improve nerve sensitivity if you suffer from nerve damage or neuropathy. Because compression socks help hinder excess swelling and inflammation, utilizing them can decrease swelling and, therefore, lessen the risk of infection.

    What speeds up muscle recovery? ›

    1. Sleep more. Sleep gives your muscles time to recover from exercise. ...
    2. Massage. Many athletes incorporate massage in their training to reduce muscle soreness. ...
    3. Compression garments. Wearing compression garments has become common among athletes over the past several decades. ...
    4. Contrast water therapy. ...
    5. Cryotherapy.

    How can I speed up the recovery of a muscle injury? ›

    Read on for seven tips for muscle injury recovery that will speed up or improve your recovery.
    1. Stay Hydrated. ...
    2. Reduce Inflammation With Cherry Juice. ...
    3. Increase or Improve Sleep. ...
    4. Compress the Affected Muscle. ...
    5. Switch to Low-Impact Exercise During Injury Recovery. ...
    6. Up Your Protein Intake. ...
    7. Limit Alcohol and/or Tobacco Consumption.
    May 15, 2021

    Does compression help with soft tissue injury? ›

    Compression. To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage. Elevation. To reduce swelling, elevate the injury higher than your heart while resting.

    How do you know if you have too much compression? ›

    Too much compression can make your tracks distort. This distortion can sound cool on a rock mix, but most of the time you won't want your mix to sound super compressed. To avoid over-compression but still keep your levels in check, automate the volume of your tracks.

    Why does compression help anxiety? ›

    The pressure mimics a hug and releases a hormone called oxytocin while slowing down the production of cortisol. Oxytocin, often called the “cuddle hormone”, helps to relieve anxiety and even lower blood pressure. Calming compression clothing can be worn for a full 48 hours before they start to lose their elasticity.

    How does compression reduce swelling after injury? ›

    3. Compression. Applying pressure to an injury helps reduce swelling by restricting the flow of blood and other fluids. You can apply compression with static bandages, elastic bandages, or cold and compression devices.

    What to do after compression? ›

    Treatment of compression fractures may include medicine, rest, a back brace, or physical therapy. Sometimes, surgery is needed. The risk of new fractures can be reduced by doing regular weight-bearing exercises that increase strength, and balance exercises that reduce the risk for falls.

    Can too much compression cause swelling? ›

    Too much compression can prolong swelling and edema. Excessive compression after all drainage has ceased, can impair the normal function of lymphatic capillaries which is to absorb residual tumescent fluid and inflammatory exudate from the tissues of the liposuction site.

    Is compression or ice better for swelling? ›

    Icing is effective at reducing pain and swelling because the cold constricts blood vessels and decreases circulation to the area. For example, if an athlete rolls an ankle in a volleyball match an immediate application of ice will cut down on long-term swelling and potentially lessen recovery time.

    Does compression actually work? ›

    There's no consistent evidence to suggest that compression wear: Enhances performance in any sport. Helps with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)

    Which compress is better for inflammation? ›

    Cold compresses are useful for decreasing inflammation, while warm compresses are good for conditions like stiff tendons or relieving pain in the lower back.

    What is the difference between swelling and inflammation? ›

    Swelling is any abnormal enlargement of a body part. It is typically the result of inflammation or a buildup of fluid. Edema describes swelling in the tissue outside of the joint. Effusion describes swelling that is inside a joint, such as a swollen ankle or knee.

    How long should swelling last after an injury? ›

    After you suffer an injury, swelling usually worsens over the first two to four days. It can then last as long as three months as the body attempts to heal itself. If the swelling lasts longer than this, your physical therapist or doctor may need to take a closer look to determine the cause of the delayed healing.

    When should you wear compression? ›

    You should wear your compression stockings during the day and take them off before going to bed. Put them on again first thing in the morning. You should be given at least 2 stockings, or 2 pairs if you're wearing them on both legs. This means you can wear 1 stocking (or pair) while the other is being washed and dried.

    How many hours a day should you wear a compression sleeve? ›

    The most important time to wear your sleeve is during exercise or when you will be experiencing the pressure changes associated with air travel. Some people need to wear a compression garment 24 hours a day, while others only need to wear them during air travel.

    When should you not wear compression sleeves? ›

    However, there are times that a compression garment is not ideal. A compression garment should not be worn in the case of circulation disorders in leg arteries or for those with serious heart conditions. Caution is also recommended in the case of sensory impairments due to diabetes and neuropathy (nerve damage).

    What do compression sleeves do for recovery? ›

    Since blood flow increases, compression sleeves keep the muscles warm, rested, and loose. The compression effect also helps to remove lactic acid and limit the muscles' swelling.

    Do compression sleeves help healing? ›

    If you want to improve your recovery after activity, the answer is clearer. Wearing compression sleeves during or after participating in an activity has been shown to help reduce the severity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improve strength recovery for some people.


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