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Two athletes in compression gear working out.
  • Writer's pictureCompression Athlete

Sport by Sport Guide to Compression Sleeves

Learn how athletes utilize compression sleeves in various sports.

Football player and basketball player wearing compression sleeves.

Is it just a coincidence that all those professional athletes are wearing compression sleeves while they perform at the highest levels in their respective sports?

Not likely.

In fact, compression sleeves have a lot to offer both professional and amateur athletes alike.

Those sleek and stretchy sleeves do a lot more than look stylish. They can help to boost performance and recovery, as well as provide key muscle support and stability to their applied areas.

Compression sleeves come in a variety of designs to fit the various limbs and joints of your body.

You may have also noticed how a certain compression sleeve design is commonly worn by athletes of the same sport and how athlete preferences vary from one sport to the next.

Here, we’ll get into all the various uses for compression sleeves across the world of sports and how different sleeve types and designs are used to meet the unique needs of athletes.

Note: Featured products are independently selected and reviewed by Compression Athlete. If you purchase through our links, we may earn commission.

Why Do Athletes Wear Compression Sleeves?

To begin, let’s start with some basics.

There are a handful of benefits that compression sleeves offer every athlete, regardless of your sport or activity.

When worn during activity, compression sleeves provide increased muscle support and stability to the applied area.

Whether you’re wearing a compression sleeve to assist an injured muscle or as a preventative measure, the additional support offered by the sleeve can boost your performance and focus.

Additionally, compression sleeves are a great way to protect your skin against scrapes, burns, and abrasions.

Track athlete wearing compression arm sleeves.

Compression material is both stretchy and durable, and certain compression sleeves even offer additional protective padding to protect against physical contact.

If your sport has you in contact with the court, field, ground, or even with other players, compression sleeves offer the best method of protection, as they won’t limit your mobility or slow you down.

Compression sleeves also improve circulation in the applied area thanks to their snug and compressive fit.

Improved circulation means better blood flow and more oxygen to your muscles, which in turn boosts muscle endurance.

In addition, this boost in circulation can aid muscle recovery, as blood flow helps to clear out lactic acid buildup and repair damaged muscle tissue.

In other words, compression sleeves can help your muscles recover quicker and get you back in action faster.

Up next, we’ll cover how athletes hone the use of compression sleeves to match the needs of their given sport.

Compression Sleeves in Baseball

Let’s kick things off with baseball, a sport where compression sleeves have seen widespread adoption by players.

The most common use of compression sleeves in baseball is a single arm sleeve that’s worn on the throwing arm.

Baseball player wearing compression arm sleeve.

So, what purpose does a compression sleeve serve on a baseball player’s throwing arm?

Baseball players wear compression arm sleeves to keep their arm muscles warm for optimal performance, as well to help prevent injury.

Baseball players place a lot of stress on their arms due to the many throws they make over the course of a season.

Compressive pressure from the sleeve improves blood flow and stabilizes muscles in the arm, which helps to reduce the chance of injury.

And for an added benefit, compression arm sleeves provide baseball players with protection against turf burn when diving for balls or sliding into bases.

Compression Sleeves in Basketball

In basketball, compression sleeves and other compression garments are worn practically head to toe.

The most common uses of compression sleeves in basketball are arm sleeves, knee sleeves, and finger sleeves.

So, what purpose do compression sleeves serve for basketball players?

Basketball players wear compression sleeves to assist their in-game performance, protect against injury, and improve muscle recovery between games.

Basketball player wearing compression shooting sleeve.

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Basketball players compete in physically demanding seasons that can put quite a bit of wear and tear on the body.

Some players wear a compression arm sleeve, also known as a shooting sleeve, to help with the effects of Shooter’s Elbow (elbow tendonitis). And compression leg sleeves are worn over the knee by some players for similar reasons.

Beyond these reasons, some basketball players wear a compression sleeve on their shooting arm to increase proprioception, which is your ability to perceive the position and movement of your body.

You may also notice that some basketball players wear padded compression sleeves over the elbow or knee.

Basketball player wearing padded compression knee sleeves.

The padding helps with injury prevention and reducing general wear and tear on the body, as all those bumps and bruises can add up over the course of a season.

Jammed fingers are also an unfortunate reality of playing basketball. Compression finger sleeves allow players to support and stabilize the injured finger while retaining crucial dexterity and remaining in the game.

Additionally, many basketball players, especially those at the college and NBA level, wear compression tights during both games and practices. Check out our Complete Guide to Basketball Tights.

Compression Sleeves in Football

When it comes to football, compression sleeves are a great way to add additional support and protection that’s lightweight, flexible, and breathable.

Football is a very physical and high-speed game, so any protective gear that doesn’t restrict a player’s speed or range of motion is a huge benefit.

It’s also common to see football players wear compression arm sleeves with additional padding on the elbow or forearm for added protection. Compression sleeves that provide padded forearm protection also go by the name “arm shiver” or “forearm shiver”.

Football player wearing compression forearm shiver.

Shop at McDavid: McDavid HEX Forearm Sleeves

Whether this is to protect a current injury or prevent one from occurring, a padded compression sleeve is a simple and effective means of protection for athletes.

So, why do football players wear compression sleeves?

Arm sleeves are commonly worn by football players to offer muscle support and stabilization, as well as provide additional protection against turf burn and collision.

Thanks to their applied pressure, compression arm sleeves increase blood circulation, which in turn boosts muscle performance and reduces inflammation for improved recovery.

These compression benefits, along with the additional padding protection for high-impact areas, allow football players to endure the physicality of the sport and compete at a high level.

Compression Sleeves in Golf

Here’s a sport that has begun to adopt compression garments and gear in a variety of ways in recent years.

In particular, golfers often utilize compression sleeves to address golfer’s elbow.

Golfer’s elbow, also known as medial epicondylitis, is pain that occurs on the inside of the elbow (and may extend into the forearm and wrist) when the tendons attached to your elbow experience overload from repetitive motions.

Arm muscles effected by golfer's elbow and tennis elbow.

You may have also heard of the term “tennis elbow”. Different sports, similar conditions. With tennis elbow, however, the pain occurs on the outside of the elbow.

So, does wearing a compression sleeve help with golfer’s elbow?

Compression sleeves increase blood flow to the muscles where they’re applied. In this case, improved blood flow to the arm helps to relieve muscle tension, offer additional support, and reduce inflammation.

Also, any time that you’re playing an outdoor sport for several hours on end, compression golf sleeves offer great sun protection while retaining your mobility and keeping you cool.

Compression Sleeves in Tennis

Tennis is another sport where we see compression sleeves having wide and effective use.

The sport requires lots of agility from your lower body and powerful swings from your upper body.

In tennis, the most common use of compression sleeves is to treat tennis elbow, also known as lateral epicondylitis.

Tennis player wearing compression elbow sleeve.

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Tennis elbow, just as we mentioned with golfer’s elbow, is pain that occurs in the elbow (and may extend into the forearm and wrist) when the tendons attached to your elbow experience overload from repetitive motions.

Note, however, that tennis elbow differs slightly from golfer’s elbow as the irritation occurs on the outside of the elbow.

So, do compression sleeves help with tennis elbow?

Tennis elbow tends to be caused by repetitive movements in your arm and wrist, so wearing a compression arm sleeve can help to treat and prevent this pain.

The compressive pressure applied by the sleeve increases blood flow to the arm, which in turn relieves muscle tension, offers additional support, and reduces inflammation.

Also, keep in mind that compression sleeves can provide these same benefits for other racquet sports, such as pickleball, racquetball, squash, and more.

Compression Sleeves in Track and Field

Here’s another sport where compression sleeves have been widely adopted and are regularly worn while training and competing.

Both compression arm sleeves and compression leg sleeves are worn at all levels of competition by track and field athletes, including Olympic athletes at the highest level.

So, why do runners wear compression sleeves?

The compression sleeves that runners wear have a sleek look that may give the impression that they’re worn to reduce drag and make you faster, much like a swim cap for swimmers.

Olympic track athlete wearing compression sleeves.

Runners utilize compression sleeves for a variety of benefits, such as improved circulation and added muscle support and stabilization.

Unfortunately, it’s worth noting that compression sleeves will not actually help you run faster.

Compression sleeves are worn by runners to reduce vibration (or oscillatory stress) on their muscles that occurs when making contact with the ground on each stride.

The snug compressive fit of the sleeve helps to reduce that oscillatory stress and delay muscle fatigue as a result.

Track athlete wearing compression calf sleeves.

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So, whether you’re sprinting or running long distances, compression sleeves can help to boost your endurance and performance.

Additionally, the compressive pressure from the sleeve can help to clear out lactic acid build up in your muscles, which is responsible for the burning sensation you feel when pushing your limits.

The buildup in your muscles leads to tightness, soreness, and pain, and keep you from running your best. By helping to clear out the lactic acid, compression sleeves can assist your body’s natural recovery process.

So, while compression sleeves won’t instantly make you run faster, they can help with your overall endurance and with boosting your recovery, so that your muscles are ready to go for the next run.

Compression Sleeves in Volleyball

Volleyball is a sport where we see compression garments being put to good use. For example, a high-quality pair of volleyball shorts is an essential part of the uniform for women.

All the diving, high-flying, quick movements, and more that’s required of volleyball players requires performance fabrics that keep up, stay in place, and allow a full range of motion.

Compression sleeves, or “passing sleeves” as they’re known in the world of volleyball, are another accessory that continues to grow in popularity among volleyball players.

These passing sleeves are typically a compression arm sleeve that extends from the wrist, over the elbow, to the bicep. Additionally, there are passing sleeves that simply cover the forearm from wrist to elbow.

Volleyball player wearing passing sleeves.

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So, why do volleyball players wear passing sleeves?

Thanks to their stretchy and durable compression material, passing sleeves help to lessen the sting of contact from the ball on your arms.

While, of course, receiving a volleyball is not particularly painful on its own, over the course of a practice, game, or season you may start to feel these add up.

With this in mind, some players may even choose to wear the passing sleeves intermittently or on occasion to help alleviate soreness.

Now, you might be wondering if passing sleeves actually help volleyball players?

Passing sleeves definitely help to dampen the impact of receiving a volleyball on your forearms. Additionally, some players also like the additional muscle support in their arms when receiving the ball.

What makes passing sleeves particularly effective is their lightweight and breathable design that offers protection without causing players to overheat.

In addition to offering some padding against the ball, passing sleeves also offer protection against court burn when digging.

And, of course, there’s the always essential knee pads when it comes to indoor volleyball. Check out our top picks for the Best Volleyball Knee Pads.

Tips For Choosing a Compression Sleeve

If you’re interested in trying a compression sleeve, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind as you make your choice.

You may have noticed from a cursory search that there are quite a few different compression sleeve brands and styles that are available out there.

The two most important features to prioritize when choosing a compression sleeve are quality and fit.

Athlete fitting a compression leg sleeve.

It’s worthwhile to invest in a high-quality compression sleeve that’s constructed with durable material, designed for athletes, and produced by a reputable brand.

Cheaper alternatives often end up costing more in the end, as these sleeves tend to come apart, require replacements, and don’t provide the same level of benefits.

In some cases, you’ll notice that brands offer only a one size fits all option. This typically works fine depending on the type of sleeve and where it will be worn on your body.

Additionally, the stretchy nature of compression offers a lot of leeway when it comes to sizing.

However, if you notice there are a variety of sizing options available, be sure to pay close attention to their sizing guide. This may require that you take circumference measurements at the area where you’ll be wearing the sleeve.

A properly fitting compression sleeve is key when it comes to attaining all the available compression benefits that your sleeve has to offer.

Remember, your sleeve should have a snug, second-skin fit but should not be so tight that it restricts your movement or causes discomfort.

How Compression Sleeves Boost Recovery After Activity

If you’re an athlete or an active person, you’ve likely heard at one point or another how compression sleeves and garments can be used to assist your muscle recovery.

It sounds great in theory, right? But you may be wondering if boosting muscle recovery is truly as simple as wearing a compression sleeve.

Unfortunately, simply wearing a compression sleeve while you’re active won’t prevent all muscle soreness in the applied area. It can, however, significantly help the matter under the right circumstances.

For starters, it’s useful to understand how compression can boost recovery.

Athlete wearing compression for muscle recovery.

That snug fit that you feel from your compression sleeve serves an important purpose, as the pressure helps to improve blood flow, which is crucial for recovery.

When we’re active and working hard, our bodies generate lactate, which is used to generate energy. Not all of it ends up used, though, and this excess lactate collects in the muscles and causes that familiar swelling, soreness, and pain.

Constricting the muscles with compression, however, prevents lactic acid from building by pushing depleted blood back toward your heart at a quicker rate. When the fluid buildup is reduced, swelling and soreness decreases.

So, if you’re looking to boost muscle recovery by wearing a compression sleeve, you’ll reap greater recovery benefits if you wear the sleeve both during and after activity.

Additionally, the best way to maximize post-activity muscle recovery using a compression sleeve is to utilize a graduated compression sleeve.

Basic or standard compression sleeves maintain the same level of compression pressure (mmHg) throughout the entire sleeve.

Graduated compression sleeves, on the other hand, vary the range of pressure with a greater amount on the far end of your limb, then decreasing in pressure up the limb.

Take a graduated compression arm sleeve for example. The sleeve would apply more pressure near your wrist than it did at your bicep.

This varying range of pressure promotes an additional boost to your veins as they flush away waste fluids and pump deoxygenated blood to the heart, as the gradient of the pressure is directed toward your heart.

In other words, compression sleeves can assist and boost your body’s natural muscle recovery process. They won’t, however, be your saving grace from experiencing any muscle soreness and pain at all.

It’s best to think of compression sleeves and garments as another useful tool in your muscle recovery toolbox.


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