By Colin Gundling, Licensed Physical Therapist
For me the most important benefit from Zensah compression sleeves is injury prevention. This is important to me on a personal level as well as professionally, as a Physical Therapist (PT). Personally, I have a strong cardiovascular system to power me through hours of training and racing, but often struggle with lower body injuries related to a biomechanical faults in my lower extremity anatomy and overtraining (yes, we all do it). These faults often lead to injuries in my Achilles tendon, Posterior Tibialis tendon, calf, or as shin splints. Being a PT only increases my interest in injury prevention and healing for both my and my patient’s sake. I believe this product has a sound physiological theory backing which can support the claims that it is capable of preventing injuries and assist with recovery from them.
I initially became curious about lower body compression about six months ago when I was training for the Pittsburgh Marathon. This was my second effort, after a failed attempt the year prior due to Achilles tendonitis. Due to my training as a PT I knew what was needed to treat the injury, but the injury was slowly healing by nature, so it did not heal in time for me to complete my training and participate in the race. The second time around I was determined to make it through the training and complete the marathon. Despite my best efforts to keep my Achilles strong and train smart, two months prior to the race my Achilles became swollen and painful. At this point I knew other options were needed to protect and heal this re-occuring injury. I began using the Zensah compression socks during my longer runs and I was able to get myself back on pace for training a few weeks before the marathon. Two weeks before the race I decided that if I could run 15 miles without pain then I would do it. I threw on my bright red compression socks and went for a run. Two weeks later I ran across the finish line in Pittsburgh with the same compression sleeves on with a personal record and I was pain-free (at least in my Achilles).
It is my belief that the extra support and improved circulation provided by these sleeves helped prevent increased trauma to my Achilles tendon/calf complex, allowing it to heal while I kept up with my marathon training. These physiological concepts could also be considered as mechanisms to decrease occurrence of shin splints and calf strains as well. Shin splints are a result of repetitive injury to the tissues that attach the muscle to the tibia. Often these are brought on by biomechanical faults in the foot or poor flexibility in the calf complex (gastroc/soleus muscles). With extra support from the Zensah sleeves these attachments will be given an opportunity to heal while training can continue. There are different degrees of injury to a muscle: first are micro tears, which occur with normal exercise and often lead to post-exercise muscle soreness. The second level is slightly larger tears that lead to what is called a muscle strain. The final level occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond its maximum point of elasticity and results in large scale tear of the muscle. With extra support and improved blood flow provided by the compression sleeves, everything from micro tears to muscle strains can be prevented. If the injury has already occurred then these compression sleeves will help with the healing process.
Not all compression sleeves are as effective as Zensah’s sleeves. Zensah sets their sleeves apart from the competition with their graded compression technology, seamless technology, and obviously cool colors. The graded compression provides increased compression at the lower part of the leg and eases up slightly as it moves up the leg. This prevents blood and lactic acid from pooling in the lower leg during exercise. The blood is forced back up to the lungs to become perfused with oxygen again. Better oxygenated blood not only improves your muscle’s ability to perform but also heal. Zensah also provides improved comfort with their seamless technology. If these reasons are not enough for you then I would recommend you take a look at all the colors, which might just be enough to sell you.
In the world of sports medicine today there are many products that make claims of efficacy but one must be careful about which products he/she purchases, especially when these items can be very expensive. Some sports medicine products have minimal physiological theory behind them and very poor research to support them. The physiological concepts that support the use of compression sleeves are sound and have a growing body of research to support them. These concepts are applicable during both activity and during recovery. I recommend these sleeves to any endurance athlete who has a lower leg injury and would like to continue competing/training at a high level.