Last year I completed my first 2 half marathons. I was cruising through my first half back in June and I remember saying to myself at mile 10, “Wow, I can’t believe how great I feel!” Then I got to mile 11 and my left calf started to cramp, shortly followed by my right calf. No matter how much stretching I did on the course, I could not stop the cramping. It wasn’t pretty but I finished the race, limping across the finish line. I remember the pain being severe over the next few days at work but this didn’t stop me from registering for another half marathon in the fall.
Moving forward with my training, I decided to try wearing compression sleeves over my calves. There isn’t much evidence out there supporting that they’ll improve performance, but there is some evidence stating that they prevent muscle soreness post longer runs. I wore these sleeves during my second half marathon last year and I got through the entire race without cramping and without excessive soreness afterwards either.
When faced with an injury you always want to remember the acronym P.R.I.C.E.
P stands for protection from further injury
R stands for rest
I stands for ice
C stands for compression
E stands for elevation
|Paula Radcliffe sporting compression |
as she sets the World Record at the
2003 London Marathon!
During exercise muscles produce lactic acid. Too much lactic acid causes muscle soreness and also makes muscles fatigue quicker leaving them susceptible to injury. Wearing compression socks helps fight the effect of gravity and can help return blood to the heart quicker. This allows the body to eliminate lactic acid more efficiently allowing our muscles to perform better over the course of a long run. In theory this sounds great! My calves definitely felt the difference in a good way. But do they actually work?
There is a great article written by Andrea Bachand, MSc PT, BSc Kin who does an excellent job summarizing the current evidence on this topic. Basically most studies do not correlate wearing compression socks to improved running performance or improvements in physiological performance such as HR, blood lactate levels, or VO2 max profiles. However, one study from the International Journal of Sports Medicine by Bringard et al back in 2006 showed that wearing compression tights decreased running energy costs but only at very low speeds.[i] So the compression socks/sleeves may provide a benefit for those like me who run at 9-10 minutes/mile or slower paces. You can check out Andrea’s article here: http://www.run3d.co.uk/announcements/compression_socks.
Ice is always beneficial after an injury. It is a natural anti-inflammatory. Sometimes the body over compensates for an injury and swelling can become excessive. Ice helps reduce swelling immediately after an injury. However, when swelling is already present, that’s where combining ice with compression can help even more.
Game Ready is a company that provides Active Cold Compression Therapy. A sleeve is wrapped around the injured body part which circulates ice water and inflates to aid in the healing process. Cold therapy is effective because it slows the metabolic demand of cells, which limits the cells need for oxygen, preventing secondary tissue damage. The unit then inflates adding compression to the desired body part. This produces a pumping action, mimicking what our muscles do. This muscle pumping-like action helps eliminate swelling from the area, aiding in lymphatic drainage and improving blood flow. [ii]
Another company that provides dynamic compression is NormaTec and has become very popular among professional athletes. NormaTec makes dynamic compression devices that use a Pulse Massage Pattern to help improve lymphatic drainage, thus improving blood flow. There have been several studies published demonstrating the benefits of dynamic compression. There are 3 components to NormaTec’s patented Pulse Massage Pattern. Pulsing is the first component. This is more effective than static compression because it mimics the muscle pumping action of our arms and legs, “greatly enhancing the movement of fluid and metabolites out of the limbs after an intense workout.”[iii] NormaTec also utilizes gradients to mimic the one way valves in our veins and lymph vessels. These valves prevent fluid backflow. NormaTec uses hold pressures in separate zones to keep fluids from being forced in the wrong direction, allowing the device to deliver maximum pressure in each zone.[iv] NormaTec than utilizes a distal release pattern, releasing the hold pressures in lower (or distal) zones once they are no longer needed to prevent backflow.[v] There are 7 levels of pressure. I feel most comfortable at level 5.
Check out the video below to listen to Celtics Head Athletic Trainer, Ed Lacerte, explain the benefits of NormaTec![vi] (I love Waltah!)
I’ve been using the NormaTec sleeves as part of my recovery from a recent hamstring/calf injury. It feels great after a 15-minute treatment and really helps accelerate the recovery process.
These are a just a few things that can help speed your recovery after a long run or help accelerate the healing process after an injury. Let’s face it, us runners hate to take time off from running!
Blog post by Jon Carroll.
About Jon Carroll PT DPT OCSJon joins the Cape Cod Rehab Running Team with a few personal running accomplishments including finishing his first 2 half marathons in 2015. A three sport athlete in high school, Jon took up running after completing his first Falmouth Road Race back in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. A Physical Therapist and Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS), Jon enjoys working with runners because he knows how good running feels and understands the frustration when runners have to take a break when injured. Jon’s goal is to run a full marathon in the near future. His motto: “Ultimate fitness is a marathon, not a sprint.”