Lower limbs compression and sports

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Doing sports or any physical activity requires cardiocirculatory adaptations to meet the energy supply needs essential to proper muscle function. In order to provide the oxygen needed for the muscle cells to function, the heart increases its cardiac output by raising the volume of blood circulating through the veins and arteries. The arteries filled with oxygenated blood bring oxygen-rich arterial blood to the muscles to feed them and the veins in blue bring waste-filled blood back to the heart, then to the lungs.

During exercise, when we are standing or sitting, the weight of the blood dilates the veins, all the more so when the exercise is intensive. There may be over one meter from our feet to our heart, so it can be harmful to the veins, despite the system of anatomical valves present in our veins, that aims at pushing up the waste- and CO2-filled vein blood. The veins can therefore dilate naturally, or pathologically, causing oedemas (swollen legs) or varicose veins.

Normally, this upward system functions properly and the athlete does not suffer from venous insufficiency.

Useful to know:

These upflow valves should not be destroyed. Athletes should be careful with repeated tackles at the calf that could damage the venous valves and therefore result in the development of varicose veins

Venous stasis

Venous stasis with no visible or with hidden varicose veins is due to poor blood circulation related to work, sports, obesity or natural venous deficiency. Typically, the clinical expression is a heaviness in the legs, with or without pain or burning sensation.

Veins suffer and can dilate naturally or pathologically, causing varicose veins.

In athletes, we can talk about a second chance to promote venous return. Indeed, muscle contraction compresses the deep vein system, facilitating the work of the valves, and therefore acts as a second cardiac pump that avoids venous blood stasis.

After analysing this dynamic role, we offered athletes to support this "second cardiac pump" through compression

Useful to know:

There is no connection between varicose appearance and varicose veins. Indeed, visible but healthy veins are found in 85% of athletes (men and women), and the remaining 15% can indeed have venous deficiency, with or without pain.

A Doppler ultrasound is necessary to check the proper vein function.

Risk factors of a venous disease

  • Prolonged sitting position or stationary position at work,
  • Long sitting trips,
  • Mostly static sports
  • Sports causing repeated shocks in the lower limbs
  • Sports causing repeated microtraumas
  • Dehydration
  • Contraceptive pill
  • Smoking

Compression and sports

Elasticated compressive socks, stockings or tights that provide additional compression, and act as an additional pump, help relieve heaviness in the legs and existing varicose veins and prevent the development of new varicose veins.

Their compression level varies from level 1 to 3 depending on the needs and situations.

A compression over 20 mmHg requires medical prescription.

Athlete-specific compression

Compression socks or sleeves

  • During exercise, in the form of a sleeve placed around the calf
  • For recovery and at rest

In the form of medical socks or stockings with full foot to promote venous return without the help of muscle contraction and to improve post-exercise muscle recovery

Other means of compression

  • Compression with low-elasticity tapes with a short stretch, lower than 120% of the initial length. They provide low pressure at rest, that increases during muscle activity.
  • Compression with high-elasticity tapes with a long stretch, over 120% of the initial length. They provide pressure both at rest and during muscle activity.

Conclusion

Compression is a good technique to help post-exercise recovery in order to promote recovery.

This technique is for all athletes who want more comfort in their practice as well as a faster, more comfortable recovery.

Note that this technique is also used to prevent pulmonary embolisms during air travels exceeding 3 hours of flight

 

 

Docteur Patrick Bacquaert

Médecin chef de l'IRBMS

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Advice

Sport is good for your health, and the objective is to avoid injuries and microtraumas and to recover as quickly as possible to enjoy the benefits of sport and maintain one's fitness and wellness
Post-workout muscle soreness can be avoided or lessened so that it becomes tolerable and is not an obstacle either to everyday life or to going back to the stadium as soon as possible

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