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Compression garments are pieces of clothing that fit tightly around the skin. In medical contexts, compression garments provide support for people who have to stand for long periods or have poor circulation. These come in varying degrees of compression, and higher degree compression sleeves, such as sleeves that provide compression of 20–30 mmHg or higher, typically require a doctor's prescription. Compression garments worn on the legs can help prevent deep vein thrombosis and reduce swelling, especially while traveling.
A bellyband, wrap, or abdominal binder is a compression garment which resembles a tubetop worn over the abdomen of expectant mothers. Belly wraps are also very commonly worn postpartum. Belly wraps are typically prescribed for abdominal support, making it easier for people with back pain to perform day to day tasks, as well as to help mothers with their posture and potential back problems post delivery.
Compression stockings are specialized hosiery designed to help prevent the occurrence of and guard against further progression of various medical disorders.
80 years ago, a pair of lady's stockings began the "age of synthetics."  The National Museum of American History holds the experimental stockings that were created in 1937 to test the viability of the first man-made fiber that was created entirely in a lab. Nylon was thought to have the strength of steel and the sheerness of cobwebs. These stockings became a very hot commodity when they were first released for public purchase. Their demand was so high that four million pairs sold in the first four days. Nylon's impact on fashion was immediate, but the invention sparked a revolution. Nylon's original name was fiber-66.
Stockings became so important to a woman's image that, during World War II, when stockings were not being sold because all nylon was diverted to military use, women began painting their legs with makeup, trying to create the image of nylon stockings.
One small study of compression shorts found no change in sprint time, but found some gait changes that might reduce injuries. Another study of calf sleeves found no change in sprint times and gait; larger reviews have found no evidence that compression garments can improve athletic performance beyond the placebo effect.
Through testing repeat-sprint and throwing performance in cricket players, one study found that there was a significant difference by way of higher mean skin temperature, lower 24-hour post exercise CK values and lower 24-hour post exercise ratings of muscle soreness when wearing compression garments. However, the study failed to find any significant difference in sprint performance, throwing performance, heart rate, or various blood tests.
In materials testing, the compressive garment provided increased flexion and extension, which could help reduce hamstring injuries. They also reduced impact by 27% compared to American football pants alone. Studies have shown that compressive garments can improve long term vertical jump height.
Depending on the material used, compression garments can be designed to keep athletes cool or warm depending on the requirements of the sport. This is why you will see both athletes in the winter and summer olympics wearing similar looking compression outfits. For example, speedskaters can wear compression bodysuits in the cold rink, while beach volleyball players can wear a similar-looking piece made out of a more breathable, lightweight blend. Both athletes will use moisture wicking materials such as nylon and spandex to keep them lightweight, while cotton would retain moisture and weigh them down in action. In addition, speed skaters take advantage of the aerodynamic advantage they can get from wearing a skintight suit, while a beach volleyball player has the added benefit of SPF 50+ garments to keep them protected on a sunny day. The athletes pictured show the diverse range of benefits that make compression garments so popular in a wide range of sports and designs.
Other purported benefits of compression sportswear are:
- Keeping the muscles warm to prevent muscle strain.
- Wicking sweat away from the body to prevent chafing and rashes.
- Helping relieve pain from muscle stiffness and soreness.
- Reducing the time taken for muscles to repair themselves.
- When the right amount of compression is used (will vary depending on body area, typically in the range of 10 to 25 mmHg), improving venous return and oxygenation to working muscles.
- Stabilizing joints.
Shorts and tights
More recently, jockstraps have declined in popularity with young male athletes, and garments such as compression shorts have seen an increase in popularity, arguably because of their comparable function and less embarrassing looks. Many are available with a cup pocket, a sewn-in pocket that can hold a protective cup. It is arguable that compression shorts do not keep cups in the proper position, tight to the body and not moving, as a jockstrap can. Some players wear the compression shorts over the traditional jockstrap.
Compression shorts are also popular among female athletes, especially among those who wear skirts or kilts during games. In those situations, athletes wear compression shorts under the skirt so if they fall over and their skirts ride up, their underwear will not be exposed. This is seen particularly in women's lacrosse and field hockey (both being limited contact sports in which players often wear skirts). In this situation, compression shorts are colloquially identified as spandex shorts. Women also wear compression shorts in tennis, where, most recently, compression shorts have been produced with ball pockets for convenience.
Compression garments have been shown to help athletes during the active recovery process. Research shows that following a high intensity treadmill workout, compression garments helped to decrease the heart rate and lactic acid buildup in athletes. According to a study by Duffield R. and M. Portis, although there were few observed changes during their event, cricket players wearing compression garments showed fewer blood markers of muscle damage and reported less soreness during the 24-hour post-workout period. Other studies have supported the idea that compression garments are effective in reducing post-workout declines in jump height, minimizing strength loss, decreasing swelling, and easing muscle soreness after competition.
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