Compression garments (socks, sleeves, trunks…) have become an increasingly popular trend among athletes (recreational and elite) over the last decade. They have been recommended under the idea that they can improve performance, decrease risk of injury, and improve recovery. A recent meta-analysis (comparison of the data from a number of quality studies) by Hill et al (2013) looked at whether compression garments helped with muscle recovery after exercise induced muscle damage.
They looked at: perceived muscle soreness (how sore you feel), muscular strength (how much force you can generate), muscular power (how fast you can generate force), and creatine kinase (CK) levels in blood (marker of muscle damage). Compiling and comparing the data from the different studies, they found that compression garments had a moderate effect on reducing perceived muscles soreness and CK levels as well as a moderate effect in the recovery of muscular strength and power.
Now the analysis was a little broad, looking at studies with a variety of different activities (bicep curls, drop jumps, sprints, basketball games) using different measurements of strength and power, as well as different types of garments. So this makes it a little hard to say that a specific garment with “x” amount of compression has improved recovery after a specific activity, but it does give us an idea that compression garments may work to enhance recovery, and in turn shorten the period of time needed to recover from a bout of very intense exercise.
All in all, it provides some evidence for why you may feel a bit better after an intense bout of exercise when you wear compression garments. Another recent study looking at marathon runners, that is summed up nicely by runnersworld here, came to the same conclusion that wearing compression garments during and after a marathon enhanced post exercise recovery compared to those who didn’t.