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The Science Behind Compression Garments

The advantages of compression have been recognized for millennia. Ancient civilizations used tight bandages for numerous purposes, such as preventing swelling and treating joint or muscle injuries.

As technology advances, we have gained a deeper understanding of compression, and its applications have also increased.

For instance, during World War II, the military issued its soldiers snug socks to prevent thrombosis during long drives and flights.

Are you curious to learn how compression apparel works and the science behind it? This post answers these questions and more.

What are compression garments made of - fibers used 

Compression apparel is a mixture of textiles designed to hold tightly onto the body without greatly interfering with a person's appearance and comfort.

Fiber blends and individual fibers used by manufacturers vary in style as each has benefits. The most common fibers include;

Nylon

Nylon is a nonstretching, synthetic thermoplastic polymer with a silky, smooth feel. It is one of the primary components of compression wear. 

It's lightweight, easy to wash, and sturdy, so it can resist shrinking after washing. Manufacturers use a lot of nylon while making compression clothing because it increases the garment's functionality.

Spandex ( Lycra) 

Lycra, mostly known as spandex, is a lightweight fabric and one of the top stretchable materials. 

Spandex is highly durable, and its expansiveness makes it ideal for sportswear. Like nylon, it's also a key component in compression clothing, as the material can stretch over a body part and apply pressure.

Cotton

Even though spandex and nylon are the main fabrics in compression garments, some pieces contain cotton. Woven cotton provides breathability by releasing moisture from the body. It also has a luxurious cotton feel that makes it comfortable.

Modal

Many consider modal an environmentally friendly fabric, which gives compression apparel flexibility and durability.

Modal fiber is extremely soft, has a smooth texture, and has superior moisture absorption properties.

Other fabrics you may find in compression clothing are Coolmax, Acrylic, Polyester, and Tencel.

Weaving fibers to make compression fabric

Manufacturers combine the abovementioned materials to make lightweight, comfortable, and durable compression fabrics.

While lycra can take up to 20% of the fabric and nylon 70% to make a flexible garment that won't overstretch, there isn't a standard ratio. The type and amount of fiber used will depend on the garment's purpose.

Depending on the purpose and style of compression clothing you pick, you will notice it has added features that manufacturers create by blending different fabrics. They include;

  • Wide cuffs
  • Breathable mesh
  • Shock support 
  • Added padding 
  • Arch support

The mechanics of compression garments 

Compression clothing is designed to apply graduated pressure. The material exerts maximum compression at the most affected part, like the stomach, leg, or back.

The strategic pressure gradient copies the human body's natural circulation process, moving blood from one part to the heart and back.

Blood vessels transport blood throughout the body. Arteries carry oxygenated blood to different parts, while veins push blood back to the heart.

However, some conditions, such as inactivity and edema, can make the process inefficient, making blood pool in some parts.

Compression garments help manage such conditions by applying external pressure, reducing the vein diameter, and fasting blood velocity to ensure a quick return to the heart. As a result, there will be less blood pooling or clot formation.

Conditions like lymphedema and lipedema may overwhelm the lymphatic system, which is critical for fluid balance. Compression garments apply pressure, forcibly moving the lymphatic fluid and returning it to circulation.

Other applications of compression garments 

Apart from medical benefits, compression wear also has a wide range of uses.

They can aid in post-operative recovery by preventing blood clots, minimizing swelling, and reducing pain. The fibers in compression garments are designed to slowly stretch and apply pressure on the affected part while also making you comfortable.

Athletes also wear compression to prevent injuries and increase performance. These garments tightly hold muscles together during workout sessions, reducing vibration and oscillation.

Consequently, you will have faster blood circulation, making you more energetic and allowing for speedier tissue recovery after a training session.

In addition, some people choose to wear compression apparel during their daily routines. The garments help to reduce fatigue and provide extra support, especially if you sit or stand for extended periods.

Scientific evidence of compression garments benefits 

Compression wear has withstood the test of time and has been highlighted in different scientific studies due to its efficacy.

A study published in the Vascular Surgery Journal explained that people with Venus leg ulcers improved faster while under compression therapy than others who didn't.

Another report by the Archives of Physical and Rehabilitation discussed compression wear's positive impact on athletes' muscle recovery and overall performance. A similar study on leg swelling found that patients who wore compression garments experienced lesser swelling.

Final words 

Compression garments play a critical role in our lives today, helping to increase blood flow, fasten recovery, prevent buildup, and improve physical appearance. Their design and construction, backed by extensive scientific research, ensure that they meet all intended purposes.