Compression Sleeves for Tennis Elbow
Do They Work?
Players commonly use compression sleeves for tennis elbow, with many individuals reporting glowing results, but do they actually work, and if so, what benefits do they provide?
Although they’re not quite as popular as tennis elbow braces, they’ve been gaining popularity as an alternative or complementary solution in recent years.
This article explores compression sleeves to help tennis players become familiar with the topic, including what to expect from their use, when and how long to wear them, and various companies to explore.
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Tennis Elbow Defined
According to UCSF Health, “Tennis elbow, also called lateral epicondylitis, is a common condition involving the muscles and tendons of the outer forearm, just below the elbow.”
They go on to state that “The exact tendon most commonly involved in tennis elbow connects to a muscle called the extensor carpi radialis brevis. This muscle becomes overused with repetitive arm and wrist movements, such as in painting; using hand tools, such as screwdrivers and hammers; or from long hours of manipulating a computer mouse.”
Of course, as far as sports go, tennis is a common culprit. However, despite the condition’s name, people can develop it from various activities from athletics to work and hobbies.
If you’ve had it, you know the feeling, which can range from a subtle nuisance to altogether preventing you from enjoying the activity you love or are required to do to make a living.
Here are a few of the common symptoms that may cause pain:
- Lift something
- Make a fist or grip an object, such as a tennis racket
- Open a door or shake hands
- Raise your hand or straighten your wrist
For context, it’s a fairly common injury, which impacts roughly 1-3% of Americans and is most prevalent in people ages 30 to 50. If you’re struggling with tennis elbow, you’re far from alone.
Luckily, it’s not usually a severe injury, and there is a range of treatments you can use to improve your symptoms.
In addition, individuals often use tennis elbow braces and compression sleeves to help reduce discomfort.
Compression Sleeve Basics
A compression sleeve is a relatively broad term describing a specialized garment worn over a specific part of the body that applies equal pressure of varying force depending on the product and its rating.
For tennis elbow, players wear a compression sleeve over their elbow and a portion of their forearm and bicep. Here are some other common areas of the body where compression sleeves may be helpful:
Benefits for compression sleeves are wide-ranging:
- Protects skin
- Improves blood circulation
- Decreases swelling
- Enhances warmth
- Boosts recovery
- Prevents muscle soreness
- Reduces injury
Although tennis elbow might be a player’s primary reason for turning to compression sleeves, many individuals may find the benefits exceed their original needs for optimal support that helps them perform their best.
Compression Sleeve Ratings
The amount of pressure a compression sleeve applies to your body is its compression rating. Unfortunately, many products do not measure or share their compression rating, but some do, which may be helpful to consider.
The unit of measurement for compression sleeves is mmHg or millimeters of mercury, which can help you assess the amount of pressure you’ll feel.
We can break compression ratings down into four levels:
- Light: 10–15 mmHg
- Mild: 15–20 mmHg
- Moderate: 20–30 mmHg
- Firm: 30–40 mmHg
The higher the rating, the more compression or pressure you’ll feel. As a result, companies might use varying compression levels for different body parts or various objectives, i.e., general support vs. recovery.
It’s also worth noting that companies usually reserve the highest compression levels or those with medical needs that necessitate it, so you should be sure to check with your physician or a qualified healthcare professional if you have specific questions regarding the correct rating.
Graduated or Gradient Compression
Along the lines of compression ratings, some companies offer compression sleeves with graduated or gradient compression.
Instead of delivering equal pressure throughout the compression sleeve, they’ll have varying degrees of pressure.
For example, many compression socks will offer the tightest compression at the ankle, which decreases toward the top of the sock.
Types of Compression Sleeves for Tennis Elbow
There are various compression sleeves on the market, which athletes can wear on everything from their feet to wrists. However, we’ll focus on types of sleeves that are ideal for tennis elbow for this section.
Most players dealing with tennis elbow will likely gravitate toward elbow sleeves, which cover your elbow and extend roughly a quarter to halfway up your forearm and bicep.
Elbow sleeves will likely be your best option if you’re playing in warm conditions, as the sleeve doesn’t cover too much of your arm to help you stay cool. You’ll also want to make sure you look for breathable fabric.
Copper Elbow Sleeves
You may come across a few elbow sleeves from brands like Tommie Copper or Copper Compression, which offer the same great benefits of any compression sleeve with the added antimicrobial benefits of copper.
The primary benefit of infusing the sleeve’s fabric with copper is for the metal’s antimicrobial properties, which help reduce odors for as long as you own and use the garment.
Elbow Sleeves with Braces
Another development in compression sleeves for tennis elbow is the addition of a strap or brace for added support.
Tennis elbow braces are another popular product used to apply targeted pressure to a player’s arm. However, instead of buying two separate devices for support, some manufacturers have integrated them.
One of the most significant benefits we’ve experienced using these sleeves is that the strap portion is more likely to stay in place.
However, the biggest downside is that is only a handful of these on the market, so your options will be somewhat limited.
If combining the two, we prefer to purchase our favorite compression sleeve and elbow brace separately because it’s easy to wear the brace over the top of the sleeve.
Some players who struggle with tennis elbow will find the discomfort extends beyond their elbow. In such cases, you may find it beneficial to opt for a full-length arm sleeve that extends the entire length of your arm from your shoulder to your wrist.
The main benefit is that you’ll have more thorough coverage. However, the biggest drawback is that arm sleeves can be more restrictive and cause too much heat relative to elbow sleeves.
Efficacy of Compression Sleeves
Despite their popularity, widespread usage, and rave reviews, it’s worth noting that studies attempting to bring more concrete evidence to the extent of their benefits are in relatively short supply.
However, with that said, there are always new studies popping up and more than a handful that report positive results. Here are a few of our favorites worth checking out:
- Bringing Light Into the Dark: Effects of Compression Clothing on Performance and Recovery
- Is There Evidence that Runners can Benefit from Wearing Compression Clothing?
- Roles of an Upper-Body Compression Garment on Athletic Performances
- Compression Garment Promotes Muscular Strength Recovery After Resistance Exercise
- The Effects of Compression Garments on Recovery
However, looking beyond studies, perhaps the more interesting points of context are those using them and reaping benefits.
Compression sleeves are increasingly popular in basketball, baseball, football, and running, to name a few. From elite athletes like Lebron James to amateurs, it’s easier than ever to spot them.
Plus, many of the top products on websites like Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods have thousands of public reviews that support their efficacy, many of whom swear by them.
When to Wear Compression Sleeves
If you’re just getting started with compression sleeves for tennis elbow, then you may be curious about when to wear them.
The use of compression sleeves depends on an individual’s needs, and there may be benefits for wearing them outside of playing tennis. Here are the three best times to wear them.
- Before Playing Tennis: Wearing a compression sleeve before playing tennis may help activate your muscles ahead of time.
- During Tennis: When you’re playing tennis, compression sleeves can help provide support and improve performance.
- After Tennis: Once you wrap up playing tennis, you can continue to wear your compression sleeve to aid recovery and reduce soreness.
You may find that you only need to wear a compression sleeve at a specific time to get the desired results, so it pays to experiment to find out what works best for you.
Keep in mind that not all compression sleeves are created equal, and some may offer designs that you shouldn’t wear during activity. For example, they may be intended specifically for recovery.
With that in mind, you’ll want to refer to the instructions for the product your purchasing to confirm its ideal use.
How Long to Wear Compression Sleeves
Another common question regarding compression sleeves is how long to wear them, which may refer to the number of consecutive hours or the frequency of wearing them.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear-cut answer as different brands suggest different lengths of time. For example, Tommie Copper indicates that you can wear their products “all day at work, rest, or play.”
On the other hand, Zenzah states, “Our products can safely and comfortably be worn for multiple hours at a time. However, if for any reason you do feel discomfort or experience negative effects from wearing our products, please remove them immediately.”
Some companies even offer varying designs that are ideal for different durations of use. For example, Bauerfeind has Medical Line, which they suggest are softer and more comfortable for all-day wear. Their sports Line, on the other hand, is ideal for shorter use during intense activity.
Across the information presented by a wide range of companies offering compression sleeves, it would seem reasonable that wearing them for a few hours at a time is perfectly sufficient.
However, if the sleeve ever becomes uncomfortable or, for any reason, hampers your performance, then you should remove it. When in doubt, refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
Compression Sleeve Brands
In recent years, compression sleeves have blown up in popularity, so many new brands have emerged, while many existing athletic companies have added them to their product lines.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular companies brands or companies offering the best compression sleeves for tennis elbow:
|Brand||Elbow & Arm||Elbow||Arm|
|Run Forever Sports||X|
You may find that many of the larger athletic companies like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, New Balance, etc., offer sleeves. However, through our research, we found that none of these brands provide genuine compression sleeves.
Instead, what you’ll find is many brands have created sleeves purely for moisture control, skin protection, and warmth.
There’s no doubt, compression sleeves aren’t for everyone, but many tennis players have seen substantial benefits from using them to support their arm and provide relief from tennis elbow.
Luckily, many brands offer money-back or satisfaction guarantees, so if you’re on the fence, you can likely try them out and see if they offer any benefits. Overall, it’s an inexpensive experiment to run.
Hopefully, you’ve found the information in this article helpful as you consider practical uses for them.
Of course, if you have any questions, we’d highly encourage you to contact your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional so they can support you in your decision and use of compression sleeves.
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