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December 6, 2012

Compression garments: So, does tight mean right?

(Continued)

We all know that fitness fads come and go. Competitive athletes are constantly looking for an edge, and the rest of us are certainly willing to try new shortcuts and techniques if they're safe and effective. Remember those toning shoes that produced a $1.1 billion market in 2010 before the Federal Trade Commission forced Reebok and Skechers to pay tens of millions of dollars each for false claims in their advertising?

But it's equally fair to conclude that we in the real world might be out ahead of the scientists as we search for new, different and better. As I wrote last year, pregnant women have been strength training for a while now, despite a dearth of formal research to determine whether it's safe.

So, absent any serious conflicting evidence, I'm inclined to believe Alyssa Smith, a 39-year-old recreational runner from Gaithersburg, Md., who swears by her CW-X compression pants, which have panels sown into certain spots, such as the knee joints, where extra support is helpful during and after a run. Support — and the idea that the garment helps return blood to tissues more quickly, bringing them oxygen and flushing out lactate and other byproducts — are the main concepts behind compression. The socks have been used for decades by travelers on long plane rides to prevent blood clots.

During a long run, the tights hold Smith's back and hips tightly and help keep her knees aligned as she fatigues, she said. After long runs — Smith runs 30 to 35 miles a week — she now wears them instead of taking an ice bath, which she never liked, to reduce inflammation and swelling.

"I almost feel that it does what an ice bath does, but [it's] not as cold," she said. "The tights you can wear all day and sleep in them at night." (Ice baths, by the way, are not grounded in good research, either, according to Kenneth L. Knight, a professor of athletic training at Brigham Young University who has spent his career studying cryotherapy for athletes. But many athletes love them.)

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