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Normatec and Compression Therapy – Are There Benefits For Athletes?

Runners know that recovery is incredibly important. Many of us are always looking for new ways to assist our muscles in recovering. Compression therapy is one of those options, and it’s become especially popular recently.

In this article, we’ll discuss compression therapy and its benefits. We’ll touch on how often to do it, and the differences between therapy boots and compression pants or socks. 

By the end, you’ll be a pro about compression therapy and will know if it’s something that is worth trying. It does have a high price tag, but you can expect good results.

What is Compression Therapy?

If you’ve worn compression socks or sleeves before, you have at least a basic idea of the concept. The idea is to apply gentle pressure to help increase blood flow. This improves circulation, which assists in recovery by reducing inflammation.

More blood flow means that you’ll be getting more oxygen and nutrients to particular parts of your body. Pain goes down and athletic performance goes up. Compression therapy is a type of medical treatment, but some companies focus exclusively on athletic recovery.

In this article, we’ll predominantly refer to compression therapy as using compression boots. Normatec is a well-known brand. But compression therapy can also refer to any type of compression gear: socks, sleeves, and pants.

What are the Benefits of Compression Therapy?

When you put on good compression boots, you’ll look like you belong in outer space. The thick, puffy boots, however, provide plenty of benefits here on earth. You won’t experience as much swelling or inflammation.

What do the boots do? They speed up muscle recovery. You shouldn’t experience delayed-onset muscle soreness, and any pain you do experience should be minimal. 

More importantly, you’ll increase your range of motion, remove lactic acid and other exercise-related waste products, decrease muscle fatigue, and improve athletic performance.

Normatec’s website includes a whole list of scientific studies and research that back up their claims of superior recovery using a compression boot system.

How Often Should You Do Compression Therapy?

It depends on your needs and goals. Runners will likely want to use compression therapy after every hard workout. You may even want to use it regularly for 20-30 minutes a day to help with good circulation.

Different people have different preferences. Some people prefer to use compression therapy during the day. Others prefer to do it before going to bed at night. Try the boots at different times of the day to see what works best for you.

Can It Be Done at Home or With a Specialist?

Yes, you can absolutely do it at home if you choose. But these boots are expensive, and you should try them out before you invest. Look for a gym or a chiropractor that will let customers use their boot system.

But the very idea of compression therapy is so that you are able to recover at home without having to go out for a massage. When you use a boot system like Normatec, it’s like stretching and cooling down without having to leave your couch.

Many runners love their compression boots and actually look forward to recovery. They get to chill on the couch and watch some Netflix and know that the compression boots are a form of active recovery.

The Differences Between a Boot System and Wearing Compression Pants and Socks

A boot system differs from a knee sleeve or compression pants and socks because the former does several things. It pulses and releases gently in intervals and sections, meant to imitate the natural flow of blood.

A knee sleeve, however, squeezes your leg above and below your knee, which keeps blood away from that area. When you take off the sleeve, blood will rush back in.

The world record-holding powerlifter Stefi Cohen notes that a boot system has advantages over other compression devices. Compared to pants or socks, it is better at improving circulation and it also gives you a light massage as an added benefit.

What is Normatec?

Normatec was founded in 1998 by Laura F. Jacobs, MD, Ph.D. She wanted to help athletes recover more quickly with circulation issues. Hence, the first Normatec system was designed. Normatec uses a three-technique process:

  1. Pulsing compression, which means that the boot system imitates the way muscles pump blood in the legs
  2. Gradients, which means that there is pressure to ensure that the fluid in the limbs is moving in the right direction
  3. Distal release, which means that each part of the leg has the greatest rest time possible because the system has released pressure as soon as possible

Because Normatec is the gold standard of compression therapy, it tends to cost more. You can expect to spend over $1,000 on a set of Normatec boots. However, there are several alternatives: Air Relax, Rapid Reboot, Recovery Pump, and Speed Hound.

If you’re not able or willing to spring for Normatec boots, don’t worry. You can get 99% of the benefit for a much cheaper price if you’re willing to go with another brand.

Is Compression Therapy Worth It?

While it depends on how much you’re willing and able to spend, compression therapy is likely worth all the hype. It gives you active recovery without requiring much from you. 

You’d likely get more of a benefit of true active recovery (like stretching), but it’s hard to hate something like compression boots that are almost just as good and allow you to watch TV or read a book!

Research and experience have proven that active recovery like cooling down, stretching, and walking around, will help speed your recovery more than passive recovery like pure rest.

Compression therapy does help by increasing blood flow, giving you nutrients you need and removing waste products like lactic acid. Using a boot system regularly to recover will help you a lot physically.

It’s a big cost upfront, but when you think about the benefits, especially if you use it regularly, the cost is likely worth it. Compression therapy is like getting unlimited massages per month for the cost of one massage per month. Definitely worth the payoff if you think about it that way.

In the end, compression therapy has so many benefits for athletes. If you’re looking for ways to speed up your recovery, a pair of compression boots might be exactly what you need. If you’re able to stomach the cost, you’ll definitely see a benefit in your recovery times and athletic performance.

Rachel Basinger
The Wired Runner