What is the purpose of calf compression sleeves?

You can see runners, cyclists and soccer players wearing compression socks more and more nowadays. Many of these athletes prefer wearing compression sleeves vs compression socks. You can see even some marathon runners wearing compression sleeves, and they are very popular among triathletes. But what is the purpose of compression calf sleeves exactly? This article will explain the purpose of calf compression sleeves, and why you should wear them.

Why Wear Calf Compression Sleeves?

A calf compression sleeve is a tight, but elastic piece of fabric that covers your leg from the ankles to your knees. It holds your calf tightly, without restricting movement.

The tightness of the material puts pressure on the veins, which reduces their diameter. This results in quicker blood flow.

The tightness of the material also reduces muscles vibration. This leads to more efficient muscle movement, and reduced rate of injuries. These are the main purposes of calf compression sleeves.

What is the Purpose of Calf Compression Sleeves?

Compression calf sleeves in action

Compression calf sleeves apply pressure on the veins, thus helping blood circulation in the area they cover. Since these sleeves cover your calf, that is where they have their effect.

The improved blood circulation has numerous results. The muscles get more oxygen and nutrients, thus can work better. They can also recover quicker from exercise.

The quicker blood flow to the area means the T cells of the immune system can travel quicker to the muscle, hence the area recovers quicker from inflammation. This way the compression calf sleeve aids recovery and rehabilitation. This is one of the most common purpose of calf compression sleeves.

What does the science say?

There have been many studies looking at the effects of compression clothing, but few have investigated the claims behind the purpose of compression calf sleeves.

One of the most cited studies involving compression socks have been performed by Menetrier et al in 2011. They have found that compression sleeves increased tissue oxygenation, but this had little effect on running performance. However it made recovery faster and more effective.

Another, more recent study performed in 2016 by Engel, Holmberg and Sperlich found that compression sleeves improved endurance significantly, especially time to exhaustion. This positive effect was down to a combination of improved biomechanics, running economy and muscle temperature. Also compression sleeves reduce muscle pain, damage and inflammation.

You can find a review of more studies about running compression socks and compression shirts at these links.

What is the difference between compression sleeves and socks?

The main difference is that compression socks cover more of your leg, namely they cover your feet, while compression sleeves apply compression only on your calves.

For this reason it is essential to choose compression socks instead of calf compression sleeves if you want to cure plantar fasciitis or edema.

On the other hand compression foot sleeves are easier to put on, and they are easier to remove. Compression sleeves are also more popular among triathletes, since when you come out of the water after swimming they dry quicker.

If you want to know more about the differences between compression sleeves and socks, this article goes into the subject in depth: Compression socks vs sleeves.

Calf Compression Sleeve Benefits

Increased blood circulation

Increased blood circulation brings with it a whole list of benefits

First of all, the increased blood circulation achieved by the extra pressure put on the muscles leads to a lot of other benefits. Many people suffer from inadequate circulation in the lower extremities, because the veins get tired. They have to pump the blood against the force of gravity. This can lead to the walls of the veins loosening up. Compression sleeves apply pressure on the veins, thus reducing their diameter. This leads to quicker blood flow. If you wear compression calf sleeves more oxygen and nutrients flow the calf muscles. This is the main purpose of calf compression sleeves.

Quicker recovery

After exercise waste materials build up in the muscles. After running many people feel soreness in their calves. This phenomena is called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

DOMS is caused by the buildup of lactic acid and other waste materials. Quicker blood flow washes out the waste materials sooner, which makes the soreness subside quicker. Your calf muscles will be able to recover quicker.

Quicker healing

The increased blood flow leads to quicker recovery from injuries. The calves get more nutrients, which allows them to rebuild in a shorter time.

Injury prevention

Compression calf sleeves your calf muscles. The muscles perform movements in a more efficient way. This reduces energy consumption.

When moving the muscles perform micro vibrations. During running this comes from the feet touching the floor, and the vibrations from this contact are absorbed by the muscles. If the calves are cradled by compression sleeves, these vibrations are reduced. This way one of the biggest reasons for micro tears and soft tissue injuries is removed.

What to look out for when buying compression calf sleeves?

There are many different models on the market, and there is no one size fits all solution. Everybody’s situation is different and requires a different type of sleeve. But there are some things that are common among the best compression calf sleeves. The best calf compression sleeves all fulfill their purpose with the following features:

Seamless design: Poorly designed seams might irritate the skin. This can lead to chaffing, blisters and other skin damage.

Moisture wicking material: The best compression calf sleeves allow your skin to breathe. This way your skin can stay dry even during the most demanding exercise. There is nothing worse than running in sleeves soaked with sweat.

Anti bacterial:

Your sweat contains water and salts that provide an excellent environment for bacteria. The best compression sleeves contain anti bacterial material, which prevents bacteria growth. The most notable ones are CopperCompression calf sleeves, which has the highest copper content of all the calf compression sleeves on the market.

Machine washable: Just tossing your compression sleeves in the washing machine instead of hand washing them will save you considerable time and effort.

Graduated compression: Graduated compression applies the most pressure on your calves, and this pressure slightly gets lower as the sleeves is higher on your leg. This type of compression aids your blood circulation the most. The other type of compression – uniform compression – is only used for treating edema patients.


Compression calf sleeves are used by runners, cyclists, basketball and soccer players. Thanks to their positive effects on recovery and sports performance they are more and more popular.

What is the purpose of calf compression sleeves? The increased blood flow and protection it provides justifies wearing them. Many athletes who have tried them out now can’t imagine life without them. Why should you wear compression calf sleeves? Try out one and you will never go back to living without them.


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