If shoes are a runner’s best friend, then compression sleeves might as well be their soul mate. All kidding aside, I have a history of tight calves. When I was 14 I had a major knee surgery and ever since I have carried tightness in my lower legs. Unfortunately tight calves can manifest themselves into other injuries such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis. If you have ever experienced either of these, you know they are killers, and if you haven’t, all the more reason to keep those calves nice and loose.
You can do downward facing dogs till the cows come home. You can take anti-inflammatory medicine, but I personally am not a huge fan of using medication unless it is really needed. If you are experiencing tight calves, meds might help, but also keep in mind that if there are tiny tears going on inside your calves that are causing the pain, the drugs may just mask the pain as you continue to run on them and you might cause yourself further damage.
Enter compression sleeves into your life. If you are not already aware of these or using them, this post is for you! If you have never worn these before, imagine a nice little hug firmly wrapped around your achy lower legs. No joke!
So how do they work? Compression sleeves increase blood flow through your lower legs which helps get lactic acid out faster. This helps speed your recovery by speeding up cell turnover and repairing your muscles faster. Not only can the compression sleeves help in limiting swelling in your lower legs, but they can also decrease the symptoms of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) which are those sore and stiff legs you feel a day or two after a hard or new workout. Another benefit is the sleeves can help reduce edema (swelling in the area from fluid retention), making them ideal to wear on a plane ride to or from a race or business trip, or even on a long car ride. This can help keep your legs feeling fresh when you arrive.
Although some runners find that the compression sleeves are helpful during their runs, they are most beneficial post run to aid in recovery. I once was training for a marathon during the late winter months and did a long run on a snowy trail, leaving me with such stiff calves the following day that I was doing a permanent shuffle to get anywhere. Not only did I slip on the compression sleeves to help get me through the day, I slept with them for the next few nights. I may have also caught my husband wearing them under a suit at a wedding once!
I have used compression sleeves during runs when my calves or lower legs have been more than just sore and felt they needed a little boost. I also like having them around for those mild pre-winter and post-winter days when tights are a bit too much and shorts are a bit too little. They provided that extra coverage for what I need. And by the way, how cute do those legs look in some hot pink sleeves? Time to flaunt your killer running gams in some neon!
Compression sleeves are not cheap and will run you around $40-$65 for a pair. But they are really a great investment for any runner to have on hand, as I can almost guarantee you will find yourself needing a pair at some point in your running. Make sure you get an appropriate size for your calves. You want them to feel nice and tight, but not cutting off your circulation! If they are falling down or feel like your running tights, you need a smaller size.
Do keep in mind that if you are truly injured, you likely need to rest and see a doctor. These are not going to heal a serious injury, although they may help speed your recovery up. If you are dealing with general tightness these may help and if you are coming back from an injury they can help as you continue to heal.
Listen to your body!