Runners and other athletes rave about the magical properties of compression gear for recovery and improving circulation, but most of the time, they’re talking about compression shorts, compression tights, or compression socks.
Obviously, anything that helps with lower body recovery is going to be handy for a runner. But what about the benefits of wearing arm compression sleeves? The arms aren’t used as much as the legs, but arm sleeves can still be a strong tool in your running kit.
So why should you wear arm compression sleeves? Here are 9 benefits that could help you, plus some insight into how they function.
What Are Compression Arm Sleeves?
A compression sleeve is a tight fabric sleeve that’s designed for medical or recovery purposes.
There are sleeves for all major body parts, but they’re most commonly used on your legs to reduce muscle soreness and improve circulation. Non-athletes often use them if they are prone to blood clots.
They’re usually made from a blend of elastane and nylon, sometimes including polyester. Compression sleeves vary in thickness, depending on their exact purpose and the level of compression.
It’s important to note that not all skin-tight apparel is compression gear. Compression arm sleeves are specifically designed to provide gentle compression to the tissues underneath, stimulating blood flow.
The tight compression holds muscles in place, reducing vibrations through the tissues that could cause damage.
As well as this extra support, the compression stimulates circulation, helping oxygen to flow more freely to the area and bringing nutrients along with it for faster recovery.
Types of Arm Sleeves
While the idea behind all compression sleeves is the same, there are different types of arm sleeves depending on your needs.
- Regular sleeve, from wrist to upper arm
- Upper arm to hand, including partial glove
- Elbow sleeve, some with added joint protection
- Glove, to support the wrist
The right one for you depends on where you require added support. The most common type is the conventional wrist-to-upper-arm sleeve.
Benefits Of Wearing Compression Arm Sleeves
In this article, we’re focusing on conventional arm sleeves. If you’ve been wondering whether or not to invest in a pair, here are 9 reasons you should.
1. Improves Circulation
The main purpose of compression gear is to improve circulation. The gentle tightness of the compression gear stimulates the natural movement of blood through the artery and veins in the arm, bringing oxygen-rich blood to the area.
This is important because oxygen is necessary for the muscles to do their job, and the more that comes, the better and longer the muscle works.
The faster blood moves through the arm, the faster for nutrients to arrive and waste products—like lactic acid—are removed. This means you’ll perform better while out for a run, as your muscles won’t fatigue as fast.
2. Reduces Muscle Soreness
DOMS is a common occurrence, and although it often happens more in the lower extremities than the arms, there’s a chance of the arm muscles becoming fatigued as well.
This is especially true if the muscles aren’t warm when you start exercising. You may notice that when runners warm up, they spend much more time on their legs but many of them also do some dynamic arm swings to warm up the arm muscles.
A compression arm sleeve will improve circulation, which brings nutrients to the muscles and removes lactate faster. This can play a significant role in reducing soreness in the days after a workout.
3. Boosts Muscle Recovery
Increased circulation also has the added benefit of speeding up muscle recovery time. When muscles are worked hard, there’s often inflammation as a result of micro-tears in the muscles. This may or may not be accompanied by stiffness and swelling.
Wearing an arm sleeve can help to bring oxygen, nutrients, and white blood cells to the area and get rid of metabolic waste faster, which can significantly reduce inflammation.
The quicker the inflammation heals, the faster your muscles will recover and be ready for your next workout.
4. Extra Layer of Protection
Arm sleeves can also provide an extra layer of protection. Some sleeves come with sun protection integrated into the fabric, which protects you from UV rays. Ideal for running in hot weather!
Aside from the sun, your compression arm sleeves may offer a shield against abrasions if you fall and prevent scratches from tree branches if you’re running trails. However, both of these occurrences may damage the fabric.
5. Protects Existing Injuries
Many runners will only ever use a compression arm sleeve when they’re injured. Injuries like tendonitis—tennis elbow—or ligament strains can benefit from a compression sleeve.
The compressive properties of the sleeve will provide snug pressure against the site of the injury. This helps to hold the tissues in place and stops them from bouncing with the running motion, which can lead to pain.
It can significantly reduce the vibrations that go through the muscle when the impact of your foot hitting the floor vibrates up through the body. If you have arm pain when you run, a sleeve could make a big difference to your comfort level.
6. Helps Control Your Temperature
Arm sleeves can also be a great way to help control temperature while you’re on a run. If it’s cool but not so cold you need a jacket, arm sleeves can be a happy medium.
They’ll keep your arms warm, but can easily be pushed up or taken off and stuck in a pocket or belt when necessary. Or, you can roll them down to turn them into wristbands.
Aside from being handy for keeping you a little warmer on cool but not cold days, many arm sleeves come with built-in cooling technology which can stabilize your temperature on hot days.
Then there’s the aforementioned sun protection, which can help to prevent sunburn and even dehydration, although you’ll still need to make sure you’re drinking enough!
7. Increased Mind-Muscle Connection
Proprioception is the way you sense your own body in the space around you. You can get a good idea of how strong yours is by trying to place your attention on one particular part of your body, like your big toe.
Can you feel the air against it, or your sock against it? Can you sense how it’s connected to the rest of your foot and to your body? Sometimes, proprioception is called the sixth sense, because it’s not a physical sense—it’s more a mind-muscle connection.
Wearing arm compression sleeves can help to improve your proprioception—in other words, it can help you to improve the mind-muscle connection to your biceps, triceps, and forearm muscles.
While this might not be extremely helpful for running, it’s an excellent property of arm compression sleeves when you’re doing cross-training that involves the arm muscles.
8. Increased Visibility
Being safe while you’re out on a run can’t be understated. One of the things you need to pay attention to is your own visibility if you run in low-light conditions. Can motorists see you from afar?
Arm sleeves can help. Some are brightly colored, so you can be seen easily in the daytime. Others have reflective qualities, so the moment a vehicle’s lights fall on you, you light up like a Christmas tree.
If you like to run early in the morning before sunrise or in the late evening after dark, you may want to consider finding a pair of reflective arm sleeves.
Of course, for many runners, their gear also speaks to their fashion sense. Arm sleeves not only have many practical properties, but they also just look pretty cool. You can get them in multiple different colors, so there should be one for every outfit.
If you’re a runner who loves color-coordinating your outfits, arm sleeves can be a fun addition to your gear!
How to Make Sure Your Arm Sleeve Is the Right Size
If you wear an arm sleeve that’s too big, you won’t reap the compressive benefits. On the other hand, wearing one that’s too small hurts and can actually end up doing damage. So how do you make sure yours is the right size?
An arm compression sleeve should be snug, but not painful. It should NOT leave welts or indentations on your skin when you take it off. It needs to still be comfortable, but it should be noticeably tighter than other garments.
You can measure your arm using a soft tape measure. Most arm sleeves will have a sizing guide, measured either at the wrist joint or the elbow joint. These numbers will help you to choose the right size based on the brand’s sizing guide.
If you don’t have a soft tape measure, you can use anything flexible enough to wrap around your arm, like a piece of string, a ribbon, or a strip of material. Make a mark where it crosses on your arm, and measure that using a ruler.
Who Shouldn’t Wear Arm Sleeves?
While there are many benefits to arm sleeves, they can do more harm than good to some people.
If you have severe circulation problems, you should avoid wearing arm sleeves, as the tightness of the sleeve may actually do the opposite and make your circulation worse.
Those with thermoregulation problems may also want to avoid wearing arm sleeves, as they can prevent heat from escaping and lead to you inadvertently overheating.