Sports Compression Sleeves: What Athletes Should Know

Posted by Mark Canavarro on

by: Trip Alba

Allen Iverson started the sports sleeve crazeLately you can’t watch an NBA, MLB or NFL game without noticing the pervasive presence of arm and leg sleeves on many of the players. Another thing you’ll notice is the variety of sleeves that the players wear both in terms of color and style. Robert Griffin III (RG3), Johnny Manziel, Carmelo Anthony, Lebron James, Ray Allen and Dwayne Wade are just a few of the notable athletes you’ll see wearing an arm sleeve and in some cases a leg sleeve. Are these sleeves just a fashion statement or do they serve a purpose? The simple answer is both. RG3 has explained that he wears a sleeve because being stylish gives him confidence, but the majority of professional athletes wear sports sleeves for compression purposes. Sports compression sleeves became popular when Allen Iverson started wearing a white arm sleeve for his elbow bursitis back in 2000.

Sports compression sleeves are designed to squeeze blood vessels causing them to open forcefully. This allows more oxygenated blood to reach compressed muscles which helps lower your heart rate. Compression sleeves have actually been in existence for over 60 years and were originally intended to treat venous disorders like thrombosis. A 1987 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that compression garments lowered blood-lactate levels and blood pooling. Both blood lactates and blood pooling can cause swelling and reduce performance. Lactic acid builds up in the bloodstream during intense exercise and causes muscle soreness. Another study in the 2007 Journal of Sports Science had a study group of males wear compression apparel during 10K time trials and found that muscle soreness was significantly reduced by wearing compression leg sleeves.

quarterback wearing forearm sleeve In both of these studies sports compression sleeves were worn to improve performance and reduce soreness. However, compression garments are also worn by athletes recovering from injury in an effort to speed up the healing process. Any damaged muscle tissue or strained ligaments need positive circulation and time to heal. Improving circulation can not only reduce recovery time but some experts believe that keeping the muscles warm can also reduce the chance of re-injury.

The NBA rumor mill has been circulating a story that Carmelo Anthony started wearing arm sleeves for protection after multiple altercations with Kevin Garnet left his arms scratched and bloody. Like Allen Iverson, Carmelo also suffers from elbow bursitis so he may actually be wearing an arm sleeve to aid in healing and recovery. Arm compression sleeves worn in the NBA are often referred to as basketball shooting sleeves. They are worn to keep the shooting arm warm and prevent muscles from tightening up. One of the greatest shooters in the history of the NBA, Ray Allen, wears a basketball shooting sleeve.

While several studies have shown that sports compression sleeves can improve blood flow and reduce soreness they can’t make you a better jump shooter or a more accurate quarterback. Sports compression sleeves have been proven to help increase blood flow and lessen recovery time but don’t expect your shooting percentage or pitching accuracy to improve without practice, proper training and good coaching. Any athlete that takes themselves seriously should be ready to compete, anytime, anywhere, anyplace… CA3!


Carmelo wearing arm sleeves as a Knick


Photo Credits for "Sports Compression Sleeves: Do They Really Work?":
"Iverson with Arm Sleeve" - Keith Allison via photopin cc
"Quarterback Forearm Sleeve" - JustinWalker26 via photopin cc
"Carmelo Anthony Wearing Compression Sleeves" - Keith Allison via photopin cc


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