What Are Compression Sleeves & How Do They Work?

Compression Sleeves

Comrad doesn’t sell compression sleeves, but we have extensive knowledge about compression and its benefits. In this article, we will explore the benefits of compression leg sleeves and arm sleeves. We will also compare compression sleeves to other forms of compression therapy, such as compression socks and intermittent pneumatic compression (IPC) devices.

Understanding Compression Sleeves

Compression sleeves are primarily used for two main purposes. They are prescribed by physicians to help patients manage the symptoms of lymphedema. Lymphedema can occur independently or after a surgery involving the removal of lymph nodes, commonly performed for cancer patients. After a lymphadenectomy, patients may experience swelling in their arms and legs due to disrupted lymph fluid flow. To reduce the swelling, a lymphedema therapist or oncologist may recommend a compression sleeve or another form of compression therapy.

Apart from lymphedema patients, athletes also benefit from using compression therapy. Studies have shown that athletes experience reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improved functional recovery by using compression gear. However, the benefits of compression therapy are not limited to athletes. It also helps alleviate leg fatigue during prolonged periods of standing or sitting and reduces pain and discomfort during regular physical activities. By improving circulation and clearing waste materials, compression sleeves leave your legs feeling energized and light.

Types of Compression Sleeves

Arm Sleeves

Arm sleeves typically extend from the wrist to the upper arm near the armpit. They are commonly used to treat the symptoms of lymphedema after breast cancer surgery involving the removal of lymph nodes.

Leg Sleeves

Leg sleeves come in various lengths, covering either the entire leg from ankle to thigh or only a specific portion of the leg. Some leg compression sleeves, especially those made of neoprene, also function as braces. For example, a knee compression sleeve stabilizes the joint, rather than supporting healthy vascular function. Depending on the purpose, compression sleeves can be used during the day or at night, unless specified otherwise.

How Compression Sleeves Work

Compression Sleeve Mechanism

Compression sleeves apply gentle pressure to the veins in the lower legs and arms. This pressure supports the vein walls and valves while promoting blood flow from the extremities back to the heart. Over time, age, venous hypertension, or injury can cause vascular structures to weaken. Compression sleeves provide the necessary support for healthy venous return.

Additionally, compression sleeves help clear waste materials from the vessels and surrounding tissues. Fluids like lymph fluid and enzymes that cause swelling in the arms and legs should pass through the circulatory system. Compression aids in fluid flow, preventing waste materials from accumulating in the limbs.

By compressing the veins, compression garments increase the velocity of blood flow. Similar to blocking a garden hose with your thumb, narrowing the circumference of veins promotes faster and more efficient circulation. Some leg compression sleeves and socks offer graduated compression, which further enhances the circulatory system by applying upward pressure to eliminate fluid buildup, a common result of prolonged standing or sitting.

Compression Sleeves vs. Socks and Stockings

Many compression sleeves function similarly to socks and stockings. Calf compression sleeves, for example, cover the leg from the ankle to the calf and can be graduated compression. However, unlike compression socks or stockings, compression sleeves cannot prevent swelling in the feet. While they may assist with certain forms of injury prevention and treatment, such as shin splint relief, they are unlikely to address foot and ankle conditions like plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.

Both compression stockings and sleeves can be customized based on specific measurements or pressure requirements. Custom sleeves provide a better fit, while custom stockings offer precise measurements. Although socks usually come in standard sizes and compression strengths, Comrad offers extra-wide sizes up to 20 inches, as well as various compression strength options.

Compression Sleeves vs. IPC Devices

Research suggests that graduated compression garments, such as stockings, may help prevent deep vein blood clots in at-risk populations, including airline passengers and post-surgical patients. However, most research on graduated compression therapy focuses on stockings rather than sleeves.

Doctors often recommend Intermittent Pneumatic Compression (IPC) devices as an alternative treatment to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Unlike sleeves, IPC devices use air-filled cuffs that inflate and deflate to apply intermittent compression to the veins. IPC devices are typically recommended for patients recovering from surgery, those with lymphedema, or stroke patients. However, these devices limit mobility and are typically used while seated, requiring connection to an electrical socket. Additionally, IPC devices are more expensive compared to compression garments due to their classification as medical equipment.

Choosing the Right Compression Sleeve

Depending on your intended use, it is essential to consider fabric durability or moisture-wicking properties. If you plan on wearing a compression sleeve during rigorous exercise, opt for breathable materials that are easy to clean, such as nylon and spandex. Comrad offers socks made from various fabrics, including nylon, recycled cotton, and Merino wool. Our socks benefit from SmartSilver technology, which prevents bacteria, mold, and fungus growth. Merino wool socks also possess antimicrobial properties, ensuring cleanliness and freshness. All our socks are machine washable for convenience.

Before purchasing a compression sleeve, ensure you check the materials and compression strength. Look for a range of compression measured in mmHg, as this signifies graduated compression and its associated medical benefits. Depending on your needs, such as reducing swelling, inflammation, or improving circulatory health, consider the specific coverage area and compression strength. Foam or neoprene sleeves that function as knee braces typically provide uniform compression strength and do not offer graduated compression.

Compression Sleeve Image

If you seek to reduce swelling, improve circulatory health, or lower the risk of DVT, try Comrad socks with True Graduated Compression. These socks offer more comprehensive medical benefits compared to leg sleeves:

  • Reduced swelling in the feet
  • Prevention and treatment of overuse injuries in the feet and ankles
  • More extensive research supporting their use for vascular health


  • Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running | The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research
  • Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengers | Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
  • DVT Prevention: Intermittent Pneumatic Compression Devices | Johns Hopkins Medicine
  • Graduated Compression Stockings and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness | The Engineering of Sport
  • Graduated compression stockings in the prevention of venous thromboembolism | British Journal of Surgery

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